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Giving Up On Greener Grasses

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'Cause I am giving up on making passes and
I am giving up on half empty glasses and
I am giving up on greener grasses
I am giving up

- Giving Up - Ingrid Michaelson

*

The new apartment is kind of a dump, but Brenda blames that on herself as much as the unit. Yes it’s an older building and yes it’s much smaller than what she’s gotten used to but the neighborhood is nice and so close to her office. The landlord had told her that the building had character and that was certainly true. Hardwood floors, crown moulding, and it was a smaller building, only twelve units. Brenda was on the second floor - if she wasn’t a workaholic, it might be an issue. The noise from above and below, but she basically just comes home to sleep so it’s fine. Everything is fine.

She’d taken the guest bed with her and the loveseat but left the couch. She’d bought some things online and took a friday off so she’d be home when they arrived. David came over that Saturday to help her put them together. It wasn’t that she was incapable of reading the directions - she could read them in three languages for heaven’s sake, but she didn’t really have the tools and some things - like the bureau or some of the bookcases - were just too heavy for her to handle on her own.

“Want some help?” David had offered. She’d hesitated only a moment before nodding.

“Thank you,” she’d said. “Sure. Yes. I’ll even buy you dinner.”

She is closer to David Gabriel now, though she spends less time with him overall. He’d come with her to the D.A.’s office and while she is still his superior, they aren’t police officers anymore and so it seems like a real friendship won’t cause any conflict. They eat lunch together a lot and sometimes get a drink after work. He’s better at making friends than she is. Two years into this job she still feels like an island and David is her only bridge to the mainland. Part of it is that they work with so many lawyers and she just doesn’t trust lawyers, not after all the experiences she’s had with them over the years.

So she has furniture now, but it still doesn’t look like anyone actually lives here. Half her clothes are still in the huge cardboard wardrobe box - apparently walk in closets weren’t a thing in the 1920s when this “vintage” building with “tons of character” was built. She’d bought a set of dishes so now she has four plates, four bowls, four mugs, and she’d taken a some of the silverware when she’d left because none of that had ever matched anyway so she didn’t feel badly about breaking up the set. But it was hard to remember what pots and pans had come with her first house in L.A. and what had come with Fritz so she’d left all that kitchen stuff. What is she going to do anyway, cook?

When she gets home from work on a Friday night, she looks around dejectedly and promises herself that she’s going to really put some effort into making this place presentable this weekend, if only for herself. The only person who has seen it so far is David and though they share meals, she can’t picture inviting him over just to hang out. She doesn’t even have a television. What would they do other than sit around and mope over their terrible taste in significant others? That doesn’t seem like a healthy way to kill time.

Fritz isn’t terrible, she reminds herself for the hundredth time. The end of their marriage was terrible, yes, but that was her fault too. She’d just… stopped. Stopped trying, stopped coming home, stopped being in love. To be fair, she stopped feeling anything. Love or hate or drive or passion. It was hard to hold a marriage together when you didn’t care about anything.

Maybe if her mama had still been alive, she would’ve given into Fritz’s requests for counseling. First for Brenda alone and then together but Brenda can still barely think about the sharp turn her life has taken, why would she want to talk about it to death? To a perfect stranger? No, the only thing she’d been firm about at all in the last year was that she didn’t want therapy. Then what was Brenda’s plan, Fritz had wanted to know. How would they get through this, Fritz had demanded, without help?

“Maybe we won’t,” Brenda had offered.

After that, it was just a matter of details. Yes, Fritz could keep living in the duplex and anything else he wanted. Yes, she’d pay alimony if he thought that was fair. After all, he’d dumped most of his savings into getting her the best lawyer in Los Angeles when she’d been duking it out with Goldman. No, she didn’t need his help moving or finding a place. She’d sort it out on her own.

Now she’s one month into this rental lease and they are legally separated. Divorces take time. Assets to divvy, finances to untangle. She’s not a patient woman by nature but she feels oddly placid about the whole process the second time around. Her first husband had smacked her right across the face and from that moment forward it was a race to get out but this she wants done right and fairly. She wants Fritz to get the better end of the deal, even, because he deserves it. He’d stuck with her for nearly ten years. Ten! She can barely stand herself for ten minutes on a bad day so yes, Fritz deserves the house, the cat, the newer car, the money, all of it. She’s willing to start again from zero if it means being free.

One of the things she’d started doing there, at the end, was avoiding coming home. She’d work late and leave early. This job is certainly not as challenging as police work but it is demanding and she always has something to fill her time. Between managing the budget, the sheer amount of paperwork involved in an open investigation or twelve, and always going in and out of court, the day is over before she even gets to something like a special project or updating their increasingly out of date policy and procedural manual.

No, this is not the most exciting job she’s ever had but it’s the best offer she’s gonna get in Los Angeles and strangely, she doesn’t want to leave. Like so many transplants before her, she has moved out here to the desert and found her home. Keeping busy at work isn’t the problem, it’s her off hours that tend to drag by.

She wakes up early Saturday morning and gathers her hair up in the dull light of the dawn, securing it with a beige hair elastic and then pulling on workout pants, her sports bra, and a light jacket that zips. Socks and then she finds her running shoes still in a heap by the door. She’d never been much for disciplined exercise but she’d started telling Fritz last summer that she was going out running so she could get away for awhile and then she’d realized it was actually easier to just run then figure out a place to hole up for an hour.

It had been rocky at first. Stitches in her side, a rolled ankle, once she’d nearly been hit by a car. But it’s habit now and she does kind of feel good. Stronger and faster and clear-headed.

The good thing about this new place is that it’s about two blocks away from a pretty decent park. There’s lots of grass and a playground but there’s a great running path that circles the whole thing and if she does it twice, it’s a mile. On weekends, she’ll make four loops. She tries, anyway. It isn’t yet seven when she shuts her front door behind her and starts down the steps to street level. She’s not much of a sleeper, anymore.

She tucks her keys and her driver’s license into the pocket of her jacket and zips the pocket closed, taking a moment to stretch on the concrete steps of her building before tucking her chin against the morning chill and heading off toward the park at a brisk walk. She never runs until she gets there, just uses the couple blocks to warm her muscles up. This is the first weekend she’s come so early. She could run at almost any time during the winter but now, even in early April, it gets too hot by mid morning and she ends up a sweaty mess with a sunburn across the bridge of her nose. This early, it’s still cool and not so crowded either. When she approaches the park, she can see that the playground is empty. The only people around are runners, like her, a young man on a bicycle zipping by, and a few people with dogs on leashes.

Brenda misses Joel just for a moment but doesn’t let the thought fester. The cat is much better off with Fritz.

As soon as she hits the running path she breaks into a trot and then from a trot to a run. She’s not running for speed so she doesn’t bother to push herself to go fast and she always hates the first five minutes of any run. This is stupid, she thinks, Why on earth am I doin’ this?

But then something happens, something that always happens. She stops thinking. Focuses on breathing, the thud of her feet on the asphalt of the trail. Her focus narrows to the few steps in front of her, to ducking that tree branch that has grown low and is in need of pruning, dodging the divot in the trail that could stand a patch. She passes two older women walking in matching red t-shirts, a man passes her, running fast and hard.

On her third lap she starts to slow a little, tired and thirsty. When she passes the water fountain she stops to take a long drink and then stands, dragging the back of her hand across her damp forehead and looking out across the park. There are more runners, now, working the loop and Brenda watches all of them, awareness of her surroundings settling back into the forefront of her mind. If something bad happened, what could she remember? The African-American man in the grey muscle shirt who’d lapped her twice already, the women in their red shirts, the young girl with the poodle, leaning over to scoop up her dog’s leavings into a bright blue bag. The other lone woman running in expensive purple shoes, her dark ponytail swinging.

Brenda squints. There’s something familiar about that woman. Something about the graceful lines of her body, running with her head held high, long arms and legs. There’s something about those legs that are really niggling at her.

But the woman runs around the bend and Brenda can’t see her anymore through the trees and so she shakes it off, thinks three laps is probably good enough for today, and starts the slow walk home, warming down as she goes. By the time she makes it up the stairs and into her apartment, she’s more focused on breakfast and a shower. By the time she’s dressed and ready for grocery shopping and dry cleaning and other Saturday errands, all thoughts of the park have drifted away.

But the next Saturday, she gets up early again, puts on her running things, walks to the park and spends more effort noticing her surroundings. Who does she recognize? Are the same people she sees on Tuesdays and Thursdays here on the weekends? That girl with her pooping dog was here last week but the old ladies aren’t here and there are three men running laps and she can’t tell if one of them is the same one who’d shamed her last week. She recognizes the old man on the bench with a newspaper - he’s here everyday. Weekends, weekdays. Brenda had come once at twilight and he’d still been there, reading a paperback instead of a newspaper.

Brenda looks for the woman with the dark ponytail and graceful gait but she doesn’t see her. She runs six laps, three miles, before the sun starts beating down on her shoulders and she heads on home.

oooo

The thing about being alone is, she actually really likes it. She’s had patches of being alone - between Will and meeting her first husband - that small stretch of time between her divorce where she toiled away on the Atlanta P.D. waiting for something interesting to happen in her life. A few days in Los Angeles before Fritz had appeared to alter all the plans she’d made. But for the most part she feels like she has bounced from man to man and she finds now that this solitary life suits her. A few dishes in the sink, her sweater always where she leaves it. The back of a chair, the foot of the bed.

She spends a Sunday afternoon at Target pushing her cart down practically every aisle and buying anything she wants. She buys sheets for the bed, a set of pastel pink ones and a set of white covered in tiny yellow roses. The top sheet is frilly and she buys a couple ruffled pillows to throw on the couch for good measure, too. She buys more dishes to fill out her cupboard, ones that are white and covered with a pattern of bright orange poppies. She buys a shower curtain that is entirely victorian lace, off white, and cream hand towels with a bright blue letter B stitched into them.

She buys a rug for her bedroom that is exotic looking, all deep magentas, with bits of silver and gold. By the time she gets to the checkout line, her cart is an explosion of color. She tosses in a few kit kat bars, proud of herself. When she lugs it all up the steps into her apartment (two trips), she surveys her bounty and tries to think of what her mother would think.

It doesn’t exactly go, Brenda Leigh.

“So what?” she replies carelessly. “I like it all. I like color!” And she does. She puts the towels in her little washer in the hall closet with the dryer stacked on top and starts a load now that she’s actually bought detergent. She stands perilously on the edge of her old solid porcelain tub and hooks the new shower curtain on ring by ring. The little window lets the afternoon sun in and it shines through the lace, dappling across the white tile floor. She spends twenty minutes sitting on the counter in her kitchen, peeling price tags off the bottoms of her new poppy dishes.

Her mother’s voice lingers. What happened to the pretty dishes you and Fritz got for the wedding?

“Fritz kept all that stuff, mama,” Brenda says into the quiet room, dropping another ball of sticky paper into the trashcan that sits just below her dangling feet. “I wanted a clean start.”

It’s tempting to put them all in the cupboard, the pink plastic tumblers she’d purchased, too, but she does the right thing and sticks them in the mostly empty dishwasher. And since she’s standing there, she puts everything in the sink in the dishwasher too and squirts in some lemon scented soap and starts the machine up. For as old as this unit it - cracks in the wall and crumbling plaster, having a washer/dryer and a dishwasher was a luxury she couldn’t pass up.

She digs her cell phone out of her purse to find no texts, no calls.

She hops up on the counter again and calls for Chinese food.

She and David have lunch on Monday, running up the street to the deli and then he drops her off at the courthouse. She’s supposed to serve as an expert witness in a trial. She doesn’t mind that kind of work - she doesn’t have to be familiar, necessarily, with the case but can testify to procedure easily enough. It’s never anything exciting - no murder trials. She’s been called back once to testify on something she’d done as an LAPD officer, had spent weeks fretting over seeing everyone again and then the trial had been postponed and she hasn’t heard anything about it since.

So it’s strange, then, to be sitting in the little cafe adjacent to the courthouse, waiting for her time on the stand, and see Lieutenant Provenza come strolling in. He sees her too, they lock eyes for long enough that one of them has to say something.

“Good afternoon, Lieutenant Provenza,” she says with a nod and that smile her mama used to just hate. The forced one she had in all her school pictures that made her mouth look like someone was pulling it apart with two fingers.

“Chief!” he says.

They look at one another for another few beats.

“How is everyone?” she says.

“Good,” he says. “I was just going to get some coffee.”

“Oh,” she says. “By all means, Lieutenant.”

She stares down at her own cup while he moves off to place his order. Her little table has work on it, but she can’t take any of it in when he’s there, the words just blur and she pulls her reading glasses off in frustration and tucks them into the neck of her dark blazer, buttoned snug across her chest. She straightens up her papers and tucks them into the file folder, closing it, and then shoving the whole thing into her black bag. She still has at least fifteen minutes before she has to meet the Deputy District Attorney assigned to this case but she can stand out in the sunshine or hide in the restroom. She doesn’t have to sit here and wait from other ghosts from her past to come waltzing on through.

She stands, coffee in hand and glances back at Provenza who is watching her from the counter where the creamer and sweeteners are, little wooden sticks to stir it all together.

“You look great, Chief,” he says because they’ve locked eyes again. “It’s nice to see you.”

This takes the steam out of her frantic escape and she smooths her free hand down her hip.

“Thank you,” she says. “I hope that things are goin’ well for you all.”

He smiles, nods. He’s holding two cups and she sees him glance at the clock that hangs over the door.

“Don’t want to be late,” he says. “But you know. Don’t be a stranger.”

“Oh well,” she says. “We ran into each other today, didn’t we?”

He pushes out the door with his back and she can’t help but watch through the window as he heads for the courthouse steps. She has to take a few steps away from her table to keep watching and then she sees more of them - she might not have noticed them at all if not for Provenza’s coffee run. Lieutenant Flynn and Detective Sanchez and there’s Provenza, extending a cup of coffee to Captain Sharon Raydor.

He leans in, says something into her ear and she straightens up, turns to look right at the coffee shop and Brenda steps back though it’s doubtful that Sharon can see into the shop with how the sun hits the glass at this time of day. She’s worried, suddenly, that more of them might come in to see her but no one does. Raydor turns away again and then everyone moves away from where she can see them.

When Brenda finally heads into the courthouse, feeling unsettled and on display, the only person she recognizes is the D.D.A. assigned to her case and when she’s done, her testimony complete, she doesn’t see anyone from Major Crimes then, either. Just David in the parking lot to pick her up again, like old times.

“Want to get some dinner?” he asks.

“Not tonight,” she says, trying to sound regretful. She just wants to go home, eat the rest of the pad thai from the night before while sitting on her loveseat and watching a movie on her laptop. She wants to take a bath and slip quietly into bed, maybe pick up the book on her nightstand and read a chapter or two before falling asleep. "Thanks, though."

She wants to ask him if he misses it, their other life. The long hours, the sleepless nights, the heavy weight of a pistol at their hip. She does - but not all of it. Not Will, not the lawsuit, not the pinched look on Fritz’s face or the way Goldman seemed to pop up wherever she wanted him least. But she misses the work, the rush of the chase, the power she felt when she was in an interrogation room.

David brings her to her car and waits until she’s tucked inside of it before driving away.

Tuesday morning she runs a single mile and then heads home to get ready for work. She leaves the longer runs for the weekend when she has more time, but she hadn’t slept especially well and so she sort of gives up halfway through and walks home, her hands tucked into her pockets. It’s early enough that the commute traffic is really just gathering steam at this point and by the time she showers, dresses, and gets into her car, it’s practically gridlock. She lives maybe ten minutes from her office in no traffic but it takes her the better part of an hour to get there.

She doesn’t run on Wednesday but she feels antsy when she gets home and finds she doesn’t want take out, doesn’t want white containers and plastic utensils and little single serving packets of sauce. Her mama says, Go to the store, Brenda Leigh! A woman cannot survive on chocolate alone!

It’s not like she never goes, but she usually only buys staples like coffee and creamer and boxes of snack cakes. But it’s lovely out and the sun is just setting. She knows it’ll be busy with everyone getting off of work but she doesn’t care. She pulls into the parking lot of the grocery store and finds a spot not too far away. Her heels echo on the linoleum inside and she skips her usual hand held basket in lieu of a shopping cart. She’s going to grocery shop. She’s going to buy real food and not just food, but ingredients.

She buys a circle of brie cheese and some crackers. She buys four apples and a clear plastic box full of dark purple grapes. Fritz had always bought the green ones because they weren’t as sweet but now she can get what she likes. Some bananas, an avocado. A head of lettuce. A loaf of sourdough bread, a dozen eggs, a package of boneless, skinless chicken thighs. A jug of lemonade. Her mama had always had lemonade on hand in the summer and Los Angeles is warming up fast.

She is turning her cart into the cereal aisle when she sees a familiar face scrutinizing the Pop Tarts.

"The ones without icing ain't even worth it," she offers helpfully.

Rusty turns, his blue eyes wide. "Brenda?"

"Hey," she says and this time her smile is real because he looks so good, clean and strong and well-fed.

“Wow,” he says, looking friendly enough but, still. “I haven’t seen you in… forever.”

“I know,” she says. “How are you doin’? You doin’ okay?”

“Yeah,” he says. “Great. Really good, actually. How are you? I see Fritz sometimes but we don’t really talk.”

“Oh,” she says. “I’m good. We’re… fine.” Which is not technically a lie. She is doing well and she and Fritz are as fine as they can be, considering. And who stands in front of sugary breakfast snacks and tells a boy about their divorce?

“Good,” he says.

“Rusty,” she says now. “I’m sorry that after what happened I didn’t stay in touch with you.”

“It’s okay,” he says and he looks like he really believes that, too, which is kind of soothing to Brenda. She’s had such a rough patch of it, so many people disappointed, so many bridges burned that it’s immediately gratifying that this doesn’t seem to be one of those things. “Sharon explained about your mom and how you had to start a new job and I mean, who wants to hang out with the person they almost got murdered with?”

“That was a tough stretch,” she agrees. “But I should’ve called and I’m just so glad you’re doing so well.”

“Yeah,” he says. “I’m going to Santa Monica College now.”

“Congratulations,” she says. “That’s great.”

“Sharon is like really proud of me so that makes me have to try and not screw it up,” he says.

“She’s quite the task master, as I recall,” Brenda says but the ire is all false. She certainly can remember the frustration she felt when Captain Raydor first started haunting her murder room but by the end of her tenure as Deputy Chief, Raydor felt like the only friend she had left. Well, the only person she could trust. She couldn’t say that they’d become friends, exactly, but they were certainly fighting on the same side. Hadn’t they been?

Brenda looks at Rusty’s cart now, filled with meat and fruit and bags of rice and dry beans, leafy green vegetables and whole wheat bread. Nothing a teenage boy would voluntarily buy.

“Are you still staying on with Captain Raydor?” she asks.

“Yeah,” he says. “We live really close to here actually.”

“Do you?” It’s surprising. She doesn’t volunteer the fact that she lives close now too, doesn’t want to complicate this pleasant exchange. “Tell her I said hello.”

“I will,” he promises.

“It was… it was really great to see you, Rusty,” she says. “But I should get goin’.”

“Oh,” he says glancing at his watch. “Yes, me too. Sharon’s actually home tonight which never happens.”

“She’s got a tough job,” Brenda says knowingly. He smiles again, nods.

“She does. See you later, Brenda,” he says. Brenda pushes past him and turns out of the aisle, abandoning cereal. She goes right to the check out. It was nice to see him but running into him in a different aisle would just be awkward and she wants to go home, eat something and fall asleep.

Maybe this time she won’t dream. Maybe tonight she’ll get the restful, undisturbed sleep she’s been chasing for so many years.

oooo

Brenda runs Saturday morning and when she sees the tall woman with the swinging ponytail and expensive shoes she thinks, finally, oh shit because she knows exactly who it is, why she had seemed so familiar, why those legs are like a red flag to Brenda’s subconscious. She’d watched every man in her division stare at those legs for three years and she’d done a little staring too, truth be told.

She doesn’t tuck her tail and leave or anything but she slows down a little to make sure she’s on the opposite side of the track and then speeds up when she realizes that if she keeps going this slow, everyone is going to lap her, even the two old women who today are wearing purple t-shirts and red visors, their gray hair teased out the top.

She’s on her last lap, tired and already jumpy when she rounds the bend and someone steps out from behind a tree and says, “Brenda!”

Brenda has never had a heart attack, but she thinks it must feel something like this. She jumps and then feels her ankle roll and down she goes. She at least manages to fall mostly on the grass, not the pavement but it’s hard to catch her breath with her heart in her throat, sweat stinging her eyes, and her ankle now throbbing something fierce. If she’d been carrying a gun, she probably would’ve gotten a shot off.

Captain Raydor is standing over her, not even looking that concerned.

“For cryin’ out loud!” Brenda manages finally, embarrassed and a little bit mad. “You scared me half to death!”

Raydor considers this, her stare still stoic and Brenda can’t say she likes the dynamic of the Captain literally standing over her but she doesn’t feel quite ready to sit up. She realizes now that she’d scraped her knee on the way down and blood is seeping through the tear in her spandex pants and now that she knows about it, it’s that shallow scrape that hurts worst of all.

“Are you all right?” Raydor asks, finally.

“Do I look all right?” Brenda snaps.

Raydor straightens up and puts her hands on her hips and finally says, “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

“Yes,” Brenda says. “You did.”

“Chief Johnson, are you following me?” Raydor asks.

Brenda brushes off her hands and thinks she’ll try standing. She pushes up and her ankle gives an angry throb but she ignores it, managing to get to her feet. Of course the scraped knee is the other leg. Wouldn’t want to contain all her misery to just one side. She looks down at her self, shifts her weight to her good leg, and then looks back at Raydor.

“What?” she asks, finally. “Am I what?”

“Following me!” Raydor says, her eyes flashing. She’s not wearing her glasses and has no makeup on, either, and those two things together - it completely changes her face. And her hair is in a low ponytail, also unusual. Brenda sees now how she didn’t immediately recognize Captain Raydor from across the park. She barely looks like herself even now.

“Why on earth-”

“The courthouse. The grocery store!” Sharon says. “You haven’t said a single word to Rusty since you left Major Crimes!”

"I saw Lieutenant Provenza at the courthouse and I saw Rusty at the market. You I haven't seen in ages," she retorts. Not on purpose, anyway. A glimpse the other day and the park is an honest mistake. Who would expect her here anyway? She seemed like the type to run on the treadmill in silence but Brenda can see she has white earbuds tucked under the collar of her shirt.

"You've been running here for weeks," Raydor points out and Brenda feels a familiar surge of triumph - Captain Raydor has given her the upper hand. She walks away now, hobbles toward an empty bench and then sits. Raydor stares after her and then, begrudgingly, follows. But she doesn't sit next to Brenda, just crosses her arms under her breasts and hovers, watching Brenda ease her running shoe off.

"You recognized me here?" Brenda says casually, focused more on peeling off her sweaty sock. But she glances up and Raydor's mouth has puckered a bit and Brenda has her answer. "Why didn't you say anything?"

"At first I..." She doesn't finish that thought and changes tactics. "There is no reason for you to use this park. It's not in walking distance from your office and you don't live remotely near here."

Raydor is worried about a turf war which on one hand Brenda can understand but on the other, there's no need for it. Brenda gave up Major Crimes and she let it go easy. She didn't call to check up on Raydor, she has never dropped by the murder room. She gave Raydor all the space in the world to run that division and now she thinks that, what? A couple years later she's going to try to snatch it back? Brenda may have some nostalgic feelings about those times but even she knows there isn't any going back now.

"You see that palm tree?" Brenda says, pointing behind Raydor into the sky. "The one that leans left?"

Raydor nods.

"Just below. The red roof. That's my building," Brenda offers. Raydor turns back to look at her, a fixed, distant gaze that never wavers.

Brenda shrugs. She can see that Raydor needs more.

“Fritz and I are separated,” she says because why not be kind to Raydor now? Why not talk her down off this paranoid cliff she’d managed to climb up on? Brenda doesn’t want Provenza, she doesn’t want Rusty and she’s fine with sharing the park.

“Oh,” Raydor says.

“I’m not following you, Captain,” Brenda says. “We’re just neighbors, I think.”

Raydor glances back her head tilts up and Brenda thinks she’s looking at that high rise of condos and that makes a kind of sense. Brenda can imagine her there. Raydor turns back and the hard edge of her expression has softened somewhat.

“Your ankle is swollen,” she says.

“Yes, Captain,” Brenda says. Though… “Commander, now, though, probably, right?”

Raydor sighs and finally plops next to Brenda on the bench. She reaches around to a pocket in the back of her seemingly pocketless pants and pulls out her glasses, putting them on her face carefully. “Captain,” she says.

“What?” Brenda says. “That’s some bull!”

“Promotional freeze,” Raydor says.

“Unless you're a smarmy rat named Russell Taylor,” Brenda says and Raydor glances at her sideways and cracks enough of a smile to show teeth.

“You must think I’m completely ridiculous,” Raydor says.

“I honestly didn’t recognize you,” Brenda says. “I mean, I recognized you but I didn’t know that it was you, Captain.”

“I’m sorry about you and Chief Howard,” she says.

“Thanks.”

“And spooking you,” she adds, pointing to the ankle. “You going to make it home?”

“It’s only a couple blocks,” Brenda says.

“I’ll walk with you,” Raydor offers. “It’s on my way.”

Brenda looks at her, the breeze moving the trees above them, scattering the light. She looks sincere enough. Like the Sharon Raydor she’d left behind to run her department, not the Captain who’d opened a use of force investigation on David all those years ago.

“Okay,” Brenda says. She puts on her shoe without the sock, easing her toes in. It’s swollen but not broken or bruised. She can limp on home.

“Do you like your new place?” Raydor asks as they head toward the sidewalk.

“It’s different,” Brenda says. “Smaller than I’m used to but I think I do like it. It’s my own and that’s good, I guess.”

“I felt the same way when I sold the house,” she says. Brenda doesn’t know enough about Sharon’s life to know about her previous address, her life before Major Crimes or outside of it really. She could ask but that might turn out to be a minefield. So she doesn’t.

They falter as they move out of the park and down the street. It’s a slow pace, Brenda limping and Raydor glancing sideways at her. This is unfamiliar territory for them. No hierarchy to fall back on, no rank to pull. Brenda is as professional as possible under the circumstances but if there were a way to snap her fingers and get the Sharon Raydor back of her last few days as a police officer, she’d do it now. It seems like time has made them strangers again.

She takes a particularly hard step and falters a bit, pain shooting up her calf.

“Guess I’m in flats for a few days,” Brenda says through gritted teeth.

“I could go get my car-”

“No,” she says. “Not necessary.”

“If you’re sure,” Raydor says.

“Rusty seemed really good,” Brenda says, desperate for a distraction. “In school and everything.”

“He’s doing wonderfully,” Raydor offers. Her face softens in the most incredible way and Brenda can see what she must be like when she’s with her family, when she’s completely unguarded. How she might have looked when she was 25 or 30 years old. Rosy and full of life. But she’s full of life now, too, maybe more than Brenda who’s limping down the street and bleeding from one knee. Sharon looks healthy and happy and warm to the touch and Brenda should be jealous, maybe, but she isn’t. She just feels like Major Crimes is in good hands, something she wasn’t certain of before and it’s a good feeling.

"You guys get along as roommates?" Brenda asks carefully.

"We do," Sharon says. "Actually we made it formal. I adopted him not so long ago."

“That’s amazing,” Brenda offers. “How wonderful.”

Sharon nods, pleased. “Thank you, Chief.”

“Oh, just Brenda is fine, I think,” she says.

“Okay then,” she says. “Sharon would be fine, too.”

Brenda stops, puts a hand on her hip and sighs. There’s a small flight of steps up to the first floor and then another full flight to her apartment. Maybe she can just sit here on the stoop for awhile until the throbbing stops.

“This is your building?” Sharon asks. “Let me guess. No elevator.”

“Apparently being old and not ADA compliant means a place has a lot of character,” Brenda says.

“Put your arm around my shoulder,” Sharon says.

“Oh, you don’t have to do all that,” Brenda says. But Sharon sends her a stern glare over the dark rims of her glasses and Brenda realizes that Sharon wasn’t making a request. So she acquiesces, puts her arm around Sharon’s shoulder and Sharon, in return, puts an arm around Brenda’s waist and together they take the first step.

“This will only be helpful if you actually give me your weight,” Sharon says as if Brenda is nearing the bottom of her well of patience.

“I wouldn’t need you to be helpful if you hadn’t jumped out at me like that,” Brenda snaps.

“I wouldn’t have had to ambush you if you weren’t actively avoiding me,” Sharon barks back.

“That’s rich,” Brenda says leaning into Sharon as they make it up the front steps and into the building. “How could I be avoidin’ you and stalkin’ you all at the same time?”

“I never said stalking and even you have to admit three times in one week is quite the coincidence,” Sharon says as they head up the next step of the stairs. Sharon’s arm tightens around her and Brenda braces herself between Sharon and the handrail so she can swing her foot rather than step.

“Well I’m sorry I moved into your territory, I didn’t know,” Brenda says though the apology is as hollow as it sounds.

“Maybe working in homicide instead of Internal Affairs has made me a touch more paranoid,” Sharon says after a considerable pause.

Brenda glances over at her and they’ve both worked up another sweat but they’re nearing the top now and once they reach it, Sharon lets go and Brenda does too, leaning for a moment against the wall on one leg.

“Yeah,” she says, finally. “Murder’ll do that.”

Sharon wipes her palms on her hips and says. “Okay. I hope you feel better.”

“Oh, Sharon,” Brenda says, suddenly exhausted. The run and the slow walk home and the lack of food makes her feel a little light headed and there’s no sense in going back to the awkward, stilted silence - what is Brenda going to do? Wait another couple years before talking to her again? That seems unlikely. “Come on in, I’ll get you some water.”

Sharon shifts her weight for a moment from foot to foot and then sighs dejectedly and says, “Fine.”

Brenda fishes out her keys from her pocket and unlocks the door. “I haven’t been here all that long,” she reminds them as they walk in. She limps toward the kitchen but Sharon just points to the sofa.

“Sit down, Brenda,” she orders. “I can do it.”

It’s more a kitchenette than a kitchen. An extension to her living room. She’s spend a good chunk of time making this little apartment feel cozy and like her own, but this is the first time she’s had someone besides David over and it’s hard not to see the place through Sharon’s discerning eyes. Not enough counter space, cracks in the ceiling, several days worth of mail piled on the little table doubling for her dining room table and her desk.

“Cups to the left of the window,” Brenda says.

She takes off both shoes and drops them to the floor and uses one of her new ruffled couch pillows to prop up her foot on the little coffee table. Her back is to the kitchen and she listens to the unfamiliar, yet comforting sound of someone else rummaging around. If she slips her eyes closed she can imagine it’s anyone - her mama, Fritz, anyone but she finds that having it be Sharon doesn’t torture her like it once might have. Sharon in her little apartment is kind of okay. Just like how toward the end there, finding Sharon in her murder room had flooded her with relief, not resignation.

“Here.”

She opens her eyes to find Sharon extending to her a pink tumbler of water and ice.

“Thanks,” she says, taking it. Sharon goes back to the kitchen and returns swiftly with her own water and with a plastic sandwich baggy of ice in a yellow dish towel.

“For your foot,” Sharon says. Brenda takes that too, the little bundle of plastic and towel and cold. It’s such a motherly thing to do, something her own mother would have done exactly and suddenly, Brenda doesn’t want Sharon to leave.

“Have a seat,” Brenda says. The only options are the other end of the sofa or a rocking chair she’d bought at the consignment shop. It’s old and wooden but it reminded her of the south and had been small enough to fit in her car, so she’d bought it.

Sharon picks the rocking chair. Sips at her water and looks around. “It does have character.”

“You hate it,” Brenda accuses.

“I didn’t say that,” Sharon says. “It looks like you.”

“Cheap? Trashy?” Brenda says.

Sharon’s eyes widen and she leans back, the chair creaking. “Homey,” Sharon says. “I was going to say.”

"Oh." Brenda looks around too and then says, "Fritz never liked color. Everything always had to be brown or beige or gray."

"Neutrals," Sharon says with a nod. "That's certainly not the case here."

Maybe Sharon is plainly unaware of how condescending she sounds. Maybe she doesn't realize that her tone is what gets Brenda's hackles up, that she's forever talking down to Brenda. Either way, Brenda is tired of being on the defensive so she decides to let this one - one! - slide.

"How long have you been in the neighborhood?" she asks.

"Hmm," she says. She makes this little sound when she's thinking and Brenda remembers it well, like a tiny engine revving in her throat. "Six years?"

They falter again. The homemade ice pack on Brenda’s foot shifts and makes a crinkly noise as the ice starts to melt. Brenda wants to ask about the squad and the job but she doesn’t want Sharon to feel like she’s getting interrogated, like Brenda is checking up on her. She’s just curious.

“Will seems to think he’s king of Los Angeles,” she says, finally. She’ll come at it from the side, try to circle back around.

“Ahh,” she says softly. “Yes. Our industrious Chief. He’s too important to micromanage Major Crimes, now. Besides, he has Taylor to do that for him.”

“You like it, though?” Brenda asks. “Better than Internal Affairs?”

“It’s different,” Sharon says. “They’d take you back in a heartbeat, if that’s what you’re getting at.”

“I wasn’t getting after anything!” she says. “I’m just makin’ small talk. For heaven’s sake, this isn’t going to work, is it?”

“What isn’t?” Sharon asks.

“Us bein’ friendly,” Brenda says. “I thought maybe… you know, now that things are different but all we do is jump down each other’s throats!” Brenda sits forward, lets her elbows rest on her knees, her hands on her forehead.

Sharon is silent for a moment and then leans over to set her water cup on the coffee table. She’s going to just leave, put them both out of their misery and Brenda can go back to overworking, to eating take out from styrofoam boxes, to running alone. But she leans back again and says, “You make me nervous.”

“No I don’t,” Brenda blurts without thinking much about it. Sharon looks irritated, a crease forming between her eyebrows. “I mean, it sure doesn’t seem that way.”

“I’m telling you that it is that way and you do,” Sharon says firmly. “I feel like we had once gotten to a place where we had a good rapport.”

“We did,” Brenda confirms.

“Do you think we could manage that again?” Sharon asks.

“I’d like to,” Brenda says, though the confession feels costly. She half expects Sharon’s face to harden, for her to use an overture of friendship against her, somehow, but Sharon just nods.

“Me too,” she says.

“I hope you don’t think that-” Brenda stops. “What I mean to say is, if anyone were to take over Major Crimes, I couldn’t imagine anyone more qualified than you, Captain.”

“Thank you,” Sharon says.

“Unless you were a Commander. That would make way more sense and be the least of what you deserve,” she adds.

“I think Chief Taylor would demote me if he could,” Sharon says.

“Well I think he wanted to shoot me, so it’s progress anyway,” Brenda says. “So we callin’ a truce or what?”

“Truce,” Sharon says. “Yes, all right.”

But Brenda doesn’t see her again for two weeks.