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Of a Cold False-Hearted Lover

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All ye maidens fair and tender
Never trust the hearts of men
They will crush you like a sparrow
Leaving you to never mend

Little Sparrow - Dolly Parton

*

1.

Brenda feels a little shaky still, a little out of sorts. She’s been thinking about Captain Raydor’s advice for hours.

Get yourself an attorney!

She’s been thinking about the blood on the wall.

Fritz comes home to find her curled up on the sofa with a wine glass in her hand and her sweater wrapped around her, belted tightly at the waist. She expects him to see her and be soft with her, tender maybe. But instead, he throws his keys down and says, “You’re home!”

“Yeah,” she says, forcing a smile. But Fritz doesn’t smile back.

“Brenda, I’ve been calling you for hours! I’ve called a dozen times. You can’t be bothered to pick up your phone?” This is an old fight - the fact that Brenda will answer her phone for work no matter where they are or what they’re doing, but half the time he gets her voicemail.

But tonight she shakes her head and stands up, setting her wineglass down on the coffee table.

“I didn’t hear it,” she says, walking over to the dining table where her bag sits.

“Is it on silent?” he asks as she starts to dig through it. She shakes her head no again - she doesn’t even know how to do that and why would she? Why would she ever? She keeps digging but the phone doesn’t turn up.

“It’s not here,” she says.

“It’s not here,” he repeats.

“Maybe I left it in my pocket,” she says, turns and heads down the hall to the bedroom where the suit jacket she’d been wearing all day is just a heap in the hamper. She remembers, actually, she remembers slipping it in there right before she got back into Captain Raydor’s car.

But when she sticks her hand into both pockets, the phone isn’t there.

Fritz is standing in the doorway, watching her. She digs through the dirty laundry for the phone but it doesn’t turn up.

If her phone isn’t here, that must mean…

“Oh no,” Brenda says.

“Did you lose it? Is it totally gone?”

“No,” she says. “No. I think it must be in her car.”

Fritz blinks, waits for a moment while Brenda presses her teeth into her bottom lip and then, when no information is forthcoming he says, “Who’s car?”

“Hers,” Brenda says again, a sinking realization upon her. She’s going to have to go get it. She’s going to have to-

“WHO?” Fritz demands.

“Captain Raydor,” Brenda says dejectedly.

“What were you doing in Sharon Raydor’s car?” he asks.

She’s not going to tell him the truth, obviously. She’s not going to tell him it was so that Raydor could parade Brenda’s mistake in front of her. Brenda knows a come-to-Jesus talk when she gets one and that’s something she can’t bring herself to admit to her husband. That she’d done wrong. That she might be caught. That the consequences are starting to seem real.

“She rolled out with us is all,” Brenda says.

She calls Will because his is one of the few phone numbers she still has memorized. It’s not actually that late, only 7:30, and he’s still in the office, though obviously his assistant has gone home because he answers for himself.

“I need Captain Raydor’s home address,” she says without preamble.

“I… what?” he says. “No. The last thing I need is one of my officer’s killing the person in charge of officer involved shootings.”

“For heaven’s sake!” she says. “I left my phone in her car. I need to go get it!”

“Why can’t you go get it in the morning when you’re both at work?” he asks.

“Because what if someone gets murdered in the night, Will? I can’t be on call for you twenty-four seven if I don’t have my phone,” she says, exasperatedly.

“All right, all right,” he says. “Just promise me you won’t antagonize her.”

“I’m just gonna go get my damn phone,” she says and hangs up the moment she has what she needs. If anyone is antagonizing anyone, Brenda is the injured party here. She’s the one who’d ridden alongside Raydor in the car that smelled like expensive shampoo and something flowery and sweet. They’d had to creep through surface street traffic and Brenda had figured out where they were heading long before they’d stopped in front of the house and she’d held her tongue.

She rips the address off the notepad and tosses it into her purse, puts on jeans, brushes off Fritz’s offer to drive her. He’d glanced at her wineglass as he offered but she hadn’t been home long enough to get good and drunk like she’d planned.

“I won’t be but a minute,” she says, grabbing her keys and her purse all upset from her rummaging and heading out the door and down the stairs. Callous, maybe, to ignore his concern over her drinking and driving, but then she’s not the one with the problem, so it doesn’t seem fair to have to live her life like alcoholism is the third person in this marriage.

Sharon isn’t exactly her neighbor but she’s not too far. Brenda gets turned around only once, making an illegal u-turn to get back to a familiar street. When she makes the final turn, squinting at the street sign in the waning light, it’s on to a residential road lined with houses built in the thirties and forties, mature trees, moderately priced cars all parked in the driveways. She creeps along, looking at the numbers on the curb and finally parks across the street from a little bungalow with a front porch and a dark, wooden door.

The porch light isn’t on but it’s not absolutely dark enough to need it and Sharon’s car is in the driveway. Brenda touches the hood as she passes and it’s cool on her fingertips. Three steps up to the porch - a mat in front of the door with a swirly design. She decides to knock instead of pushing the doorbell but when she doesn’t hear anything on the other side, she rings it anyway and can hear it chime.

Finally, the door opens.

Raydor looks at her, her eyebrows creeping upward. Brenda is struck a little dumb because she’s never seen Sharon dressed down before. Comfortable looking pants, a soft jacket with a zipper. She’s pulled her hair back into a loose french braid. She looks just different enough that Brenda completely loses her place in the little script she’d worked up for herself in the car.

“Well,” Raydor says finally. “You’d better come in.”

Brenda steps up into the house, immediately admiring the gleaming floors, the dark wood baseboards, the ceiling fan spinning in the living room. There’s a tall lamp glowing warm and she can see down the hall to what must be the kitchen. An office on the other side. Raydor lets her stare, closes the door behind them. There’s a big picture window in the living room that looks out to the front yard and along that wall are cardboard boxes - some still open, some taped up and labeled ‘Living Room’ and one that just says ‘Emily.’

“Moving in or out?” Brenda says, finding her voice.

“Neither, actually,” Sharon says. She heads down the hall so Brenda follows. “I was going to sell it last year before the market crashed but it fell out of escrow and now I’m stuck.”

The kitchen is small but looks lived in. There’s a little table, plenty of counter space, a deep, farmhouse sink.

“Where were you goin’?” Brenda asks. Was she leaving L.A.? Leaving the force?

“Just downsizing,” Sharon says. “But I can’t buy a new place until I sell this one so… I’m sorry, Chief, what are you doing here?”

“Oh,” Brenda says. “Oh, I… I didn’t mean to barge in, you know, but I think my cell phone is still in your car.”

“Is it?” she asks.

“Probably down in between the seat and the center console,” Brenda says. “Fell out of my pocket. Fritz was apoplectic. He hates when I don’t answer my phone.”

“Okay,” Sharon says. “I’ll go look. Give me a moment.”

So Brenda doesn’t follow her. She looks around - the fridge is bare. No magnets, no pictures, no reminders for dentist appointments or postcards from well-traveled friends. She backtracks past the staircase and heads toward the little room she thinks is an office and peeks in there - there’s a small television on low. Brenda can see the TCM logo at the bottom of the screen and has come in just in time for Katharine Hepburn to say, “Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above.”

Brenda brings a hand to her neck, rubs down to her chest where it feels tight.

The front door opens and Brenda turns, looking down the long hall to where Sharon holds up the phone.

“Success,” she says. Brenda meets her halfway; their fingers brush in the exchange.

She looks down at the device - thirteen missed calls, seven new texts.

“Thank you,” she says.

“Look,” Sharon says. And when, exactly, had Brenda started thinking of her as Sharon? Maybe it’s the french braid, maybe her bare toes. Something, though. “I know you’ve had a hard day. Do you want something to drink?” Sharon glances at the phone in Brenda’s hand.

“I’d better not,” Brenda says. “Thanks for this,” She lifts the phone just a little. “And you have a very lovely home.”

“For now,” Sharon says with a smirk.

She lets Brenda out who leaves her with a wave and heads down the steps, trotting to her car. Sharon doesn’t wait at the door for her to drive away but Brenda can see her in the front window just the same.

 

2.

Nothing changes between them, not really, because Sharon is still FID, still haunting Brenda’s division waiting for the leak to slip up. But things are not quite the same, either. Not a change but a subtle shift. Whatever it is about Sharon that has been scratching against Brenda has started to wear down smooth.

When she rounds a corner to see Sharon leaning against Flynn’s desk or standing with her arms crossed in front of the murder board, she still thinks, “That woman!” but it’s more of a rote reaction than anything else.

Today, she rounds the corner and collides right into her. The big stack of files she's holding spill to the floor and she can feel Sharon’s “Oof!” as well as hear it, right in her ear. They should really put a mirror up in this corner. Oh right, she thinks as she looks up. She should really look at the mirror.

“Ow,” Sharon says pointedly when Brenda just stands there absentmindedly rubbing her arm where Sharon’s sharp elbow had jabbed her and dislodged her grip. Files, files everywhere. Most everything is secured inside the folders, luckily, but they’ve skittered right down the hallway, one slipping partially under her office door.

“Oh, look at this!” she whines and crouches to start righting the mess, teetering only a moment on her heels. “What a mess!”

“No, I’m fine, thank you for asking,” Sharon says, but she does bend to pick up the folder that’s on top of her pretty, pointy black heel. She hands it to Brenda, still clutching her chocolate brown portfolio in her other arm. Brenda can see the word ‘Coach’ stamped into the leather. And isn’t that just so perfect. Brenda’s a mess of person down picking up her life off the floor and Sharon’s carrying around a designer folder, literally looking down her nose at Brenda.

“Obviously it was an accident,” Brenda says which is all the apology Sharon is going to get out of her.

“Generally, if one were to use a carton to carry large amounts of paperwork-”

“Not lookin’ for suggestions just now, thanks,” Brenda snaps finally struggling to her feet and walking into her office backwards, using her rear to push open the door.

Sharon doesn’t follow her in.

It’s not until later, when she’s finally going through all that paperwork, sorting it into piles to tackle again in the morning, that she sees loose pages between two of her folders. Three crisp pages stapled together - part of an FID report. It’s been signed at the bottom by Sharon already. She chews her lip. Guess her fancy portfolio wasn’t as safe as it should’ve been, guess when Brenda slammed into her, something shook free.

She picks up her desk phone and dials the extension to Sharon’s office but it just rings and rings, so she hangs up and dials her cell phone instead.

“Yes, Chief Johnson, what can I do for you?” She sounds impatient and short-tempered.

“Captain Raydor, I have here on my desk a Complaint of Employee Misconduct form signed by you about a Sergeant Rodrigo Basulto, this ringin’ any bells?”

There’s a slight pause where she can hear Sharon inhale and then, “Those forms are extremely confidential, Chief.”

“I’ll keep it out of the church newsletter then,” she says. “You must’ve dropped it when we, uh, met in the hall earlier.”

“When you ran me over?” Sharon says.

“When we collided,” Brenda settles on. “Want me to walk it up to FID? Leave it on your desk?”

“No, I don’t think that would be appropriate,” Sharon says.

“I can keep it here until morning, you can come by my office to get it,” Brenda says.

“I’d rather not do that either,” she says. “I can come in now, I suppose, pick it up before you leave for the night. When were you planning to head home?”

“Oh, about five minutes ago,” she says and she can’t keep the annoyance out of her voice. She just can’t. Too often she’s had to work her day around this woman’s schedule and she’s not even a member of Brenda’s own division!

“Hmm,” Sharon says, as if truly stumped.

“Oh for cryin’ out loud, I’ll just drop it off on my way home,” Brenda says.

“Here?” Sharon asked.

“Yes, there!” Brenda says and hangs up the phone before Sharon has the chance to complain about that idea, too. It’s not that far out of the way and she can just shove it in the mailbox, ring the doorbell and peel on out of there.

There’s an accident so it takes an extra twenty minutes of merging down to two lanes instead of four and everyone watching the spectacle instead of the road. Brenda finds Sharon’s house this time without getting turned around and parks right in front of it instead of across the street.

She’d slipped the paperwork into a manila envelope and written ‘Confidential’ across it in red marker. Kind of as a joke. Kind of to stop herself from giving it more than just a passing glance.

She leaves everything in the car, just takes her keys and the envelope and locks the car behind her, marching up the walkway to the porch in the warm, evening sun. She’s so tired of summer she could just spit - the heat coming up off the pavement, the browning grass in all the yards.

Sharon opens the door before she even gets up the last step, like she’d been watching for her. But she’s got a phone to her ear and she waves Brenda in, saying, “You can come back, whenever, you know that but I still think you’ll get one.”

Brenda holds out the envelope but Sharon has already turned her back, disappearing into the house.

Brenda follows her down the hall, through the kitchen where Sharon pauses at the fridge and says, “That’s stupid. They’re not going to do that,” and pulls two beer bottles out before letting the fridge door close. Then she pulls open the slider that leads to the backyard and steps out, leaving the door open behind her.

The yard is small, but lovely. The grass back here is still bright green, there's an orange tree, several potted plants that seem healthy and well-tended. There’s a small redwood deck with a hot tub off to the side. It’s the perfect time of day to be outdoors and Sharon seems like she’s been settled at the table out here for some time. There’s a library book laying open with the spine up, a sweater on the back of the chair.

She hands Brenda one of the beers and then settles herself.

“Honey, there’s no way of knowing for sure so the best thing to do is prepare for either situation as best you can,” she says into the phone and then looks up at Brenda who’s just standing, holding her cold bottle of beer and her envelope, watching the scene before her with some confusion, and says, “It’s twist off.”

She holds her phone to her ear with her shoulder and twists the cap off her own bottle, as if to demonstrate.

“No, my friend is here,” Sharon says. “Yes I do!”

There’s a pause and then, “Brenda.”

Brenda tosses the envelope onto the table and sits down in the chair across from Sharon. If she really wants her to stay and listen to this weird one sided conversation and drink beer, who is Brenda not to learn all she can - maybe she’ll glean something she can use in the future. Maybe Sharon will slip up and Brenda will be able to boot her out of the murder room for good.

“Okay, well now I’m just being rude to my friend who is actually here and does exist,” Sharon says rolling her eyes. “Brenda!”

Brenda twists the cap off her beer and brings the bottle up to her nose to give it a sniff. She’s not much of a beer drinker, really. Her brothers like beer but it’s not something she buys for herself, not something she orders in a restaurant when wine is just as easily available and it’s definitely not something she keeps in the house, not with Fritz. It doesn’t smell bad. Kind of citrusy.

“She’s blonde,” Sharon says now. “A police detective.”

Brenda sips the beer and it’s strong at first, makes her crinkle up her nose but the aftertaste isn’t bad. Smooth and fruity. She could probably manage to drink enough to be polite.

“No, she solves murders,” Sharon says. “Okay, you know what? I will talk to you later, Emily. Let me know what happens. Love you, bye.”

She hangs up and aggressively sets the phone down.

Brenda pushes the envelope forward with her finger and says, “Here’s your stuff.”

“Thank you,” Sharon says. And then, “I’m sorry, I didn’t intend to be on the phone when you arrived, but my daughter so rarely calls, you have to catch her while you can.”

“Your daughter,” Brenda says. “How nice. You get to see her much?”

“She lives in New York,” Sharon says. “So not much. Every year she’s afraid they won’t renew her contract and starts thinking she’s going to have to move home and every year they do renew it and it’s fine… I just have to talk her off the ledge.”

Brenda shakes her head. “Contract?”

“She’s a dancer,” Sharon says. “Ballet.”

Brenda doesn’t know enough about that to carry on the conversation so she just nods and says, “Okay, I should go.”

“Look,” Sharon says leaning in. “I understand the need to be antagonistic in the murder room. You don’t want me there, that’s clear. But there’s no reason for it here. The polite thing to do is drink your drink, make small talk.”

“Small talk?” Brenda scoffs.

“I’m not so bad,” Sharon says, leaning back and taking a swig from her bottle. “It’d be nice if you figured that out.”

Brenda huffs, frustrated. “I know that!” she says.

“And,” Sharon says pointing at her, “I could learn a lot from Major Crimes if you’d only let me.”

“Learn from us?” she asks, surprised. Brenda knows she tends to operate as if Sharon is the enemy, an extension of Taylor or Will, lurking around to do their bidding, to report back to them but it hasn’t occurred to her that Sharon might actually want to be there. “You want to work with us?”

“Of course not!” she says. “But I have to! And you’re the best division in the force in terms of closed cases and turnaround time and since I have to do it anyway…” She shrugs. “How you get people to start talking, Chief is…” She shakes her head.

“Brenda,” she says.

“I’m sorry?”

“You can call me Brenda, you know,” she says. “Here.”

Brenda takes a drink of her beer and sets the bottle down carefully.

“I guess that’s a start,” Sharon says.

 

3.

Sharon’s not in the office the day their suspect gets a piece of Brenda. She’s doing her usual routine, really winding the guy up. They’ve read him his rights but he’s not under arrest, so he’s not cuffed. She’s leaning across the table, halfway out of her chair, really digging into him. Flynn’s in the room with her, leaning back against the door.

Brenda sees the moment the guy loses it, but it’s too late and he takes a swing at her. The punch she probably could’ve taken with some grace, but the guy’s ring gets her and she’s down, her hands against her face, the pain so sudden and hot that she’s afraid for a moment she’s going to blackout or get sick into her own lap. She’s not one hundred percent sure what happens next - by the time she manages to open her eyes and look up, Gabriel and Flynn have the guy against the far wall and Provenza is screaming about shooting him.

Brenda’s got blood all over her hands. Some uniforms come in to cuff him and it takes her a moment to realize that Lieutenant Tao is crouched next to her, talking.

“You okay? Chief? Can we get some paramedics in here? Chief!”

“I’m…” Is she fine? Her whole head feels like it’s twice it’s normal size and her ears are ringing a little. Tao grabs her and hauls her to her feet, slipping his arm around her waist and takes her out of the interview room and down the hall where news has certainly spread, because here’s Will now.

“Oh my god,” he says. “Oh my god. Did someone call an ambulance?”

There’s no need for an ambulance but a paramedic does come to give her two stitches to help stop the bleeding. Her left eye is swollen shut and now she’s sitting in her office with an ice pack to her face and her outfit is totally ruined.

Will and Gabriel come in and then Provenza from the other door and they all start talking at once. The paramedic had given her some tylenol but it’s not enough for all three of their loud, worried voices. She holds up a hand, lowers the ice pack from her face. It’s a bad sign when Gabriel winces. She hasn’t looked at it yet.

“I’ll call Agent Howard to come pick you up,” Provenza says.

“No,” she says. No, the last thing she needs is for Fritz to see her like this. He’s been so mad lately, so short-tempered. She should at least get the chance to change first. And they’d fought just last week about her job being too dangerous, about Brenda being reckless with her own life. She doesn’t want him to know that he’d been right about that. “Can someone please call up to Captain Raydor and have her come down here? I’d like to talk to her.”

“She’s not here,” Will says. “She’s out on a personal day.”

It’s not an officer involved incident. No one shot the guy, though from what Brenda hears, Provenza came real close. But with Daniels gone, she really wants a woman in here to help her figure out how bad the damage is.

“I’ll call Fritz,” Brenda says. “But Sergeant Gabriel can drive me home, if that’s all right with you, Will.”

“Of course,” he says. “Take tomorrow, too. Go have a real doctor look at that.”

She has no intention of calling Fritz and she has Gabriel drive her by Sharon’s house.

“Are you sure?” he asks a few times. “You sure you don’t want to go home? Where are we going? Are you sure?”

“I just want to see somethin’,” she says. “Turn here and then left at the stop sign.”

They roll by the house and Sharon’s car is in the drive.

“Stop,” she says. “This is good.”

“Where are we?”

But Brenda unbuckles the seat belt and pushes open the door.

“Hey!” he says.

Her head throbs hard in the afternoon sun and she thinks longingly of the sleeping pill the paramedic had given her to take before bed. Gabriel gets out of the car and jogs around to catch up with her. He’s not just going to leave her on the sidewalk, she knows.

“Chief!” he says, frustration and worry making his voice seem high.

She rings the doorbell twice in quick succession.

Sharon opens the door and she can hear Gabriel say, “Huh?” at the same time Sharon says, “Oh my god! What happened?”

Brenda just shakes her head, not sure what to say.

“Go on, Sergeant,” Sharon says, stepping aside to let Brenda in. “I’ve got it from here.”

“I’m supposed to drive her home,” Gabriel protests.

Brenda steps into the cool house and whispers, “I can’t go home like this.”

“I can drive her in a little while,” Sharon assures him, stepping back into the door as soon as Brenda is all the way in. She’s not sure if Gabriel puts up a fight, because she heads down the hall and shuts herself into the little half bathroom there between the office and the kitchen.

It’s the first good look she’s gotten at herself. No wonder it hurts. The gash is deep and she can see the stitches, the butterfly bandages over each end. The skin around the wound is a bright and angry red, already deepening to purple. It’ll look a lot worse tomorrow. Her eye feels like it’s impossible to open but it seems like the swelling isn’t so bad there. It’s the ring that had done all the damage, he hadn’t hit her hard enough to break bone.

“That’s lucky,” the paramedic had said. Some kind of luck.

She uses the toilet and washes her hands. There’s still dried blood in her nail beds.

Sharon knocks lightly after a while. Brenda’s just been staring at her reflection, the cold water running over her hands. She startles, shuts the water off.

When Brenda opens the door, Sharon’s holding clothes. Brenda had shed the sweater in the office, leaving it in the trash by her desk, but she hadn’t had anything to change into. She’d used her spare for the last overnight case they’d worked and hadn’t yet remembered to replace it.

“Here,” Sharon says.

Brenda takes them - a t-shirt, some cotton pants.

“Thanks,” she says.

“And then come into the kitchen for ice, okay? And we’ll talk about why you can’t go home,” Sharon says.

Brenda nods, her chin already wobbling. What is she going to do? What is she going to say to him?

Sharon pulls the bathroom door closed again.

Brenda unzips her dress.

Takes off the dress of this horrible day and wraps herself up in Sharon’s clothes and smell and inviting home. It’s all just pretend, it’s not her life at all and it can’t last but she can borrow it for a bit. She looks around the little room, trying to memorize details because she knows she’ll need it for later, when she’s home in bed with Fritz snoring beside her, her face aching.

She closes her eyes and pretends she doesn’t ever have to leave, even though the whole afternoon stretches before her.

Even now, when she’s right here at the start.

 

4.

Fritz goes to a meeting and Brenda decides she can just storm out too if she wants, so she takes the Crown Vic and is on Sharon’s street before she even thinks it through.

The house is dark, the driveway empty. Not even the porch light is on.

Still, Brenda spends ten minutes in her car and then gets out and sits on the front steps, snapping her phone open and closed and open and closed. She keeps thinking she’ll get up, brush herself off and go home but she sits there until Sharon’s car pulls into the driveway. Brenda can see right away there’s two people in the car and she pushes herself up, scooting back into the darkness of the porch.

“Shit,” she whispers. “Shit.”

The engine of Sharon’s car turns off, under the hood ticks and whines. Two doors open and slam shut and Brenda can hear quiet voices and then laughter. Heels on the concrete that pause before they get to the porch.

“You know what?” This is Sharon. “It’s late. What do you say we call it a night?”

“Oh,” says the other voice in obvious disappointment. Brenda wants to peek around the post to see her, but she doesn’t dare. “All right. Well, I had a good time.”

“Me too,” Sharon says. There’s a bit of silence and then, “Goodnight.”

The other woman’s footsteps recede, a car door slamming, an engine turning over, a car pulling away.

Sharon walks to the base of her porch steps and says, “Brenda?”

Brenda exhales, lets her head drop back against the post. “How’d you know I was here?” she asks.

Sharon steps up to look at her. “Your car is right there.”

“Oh.”

“What are you doing here? In the dark? On the ground?”

“I didn’t realize you’d be busy,” Brenda says. “I didn’t mean to ruin your…”

“Date,” Sharon finishes dryly when Brenda trails off uncertainly. “It’s okay.”

Brenda stands up, brushes herself off. “I can go.”

“I already sent her home,” Sharon says. “May as well come in and make it worth my while.” She unlocks her front door and pushes it open. The porch light flicks on and Brenda can make out her bare calves, her silver high heels, the gemstone bracelet on her wrist. It had never occurred to Brenda… Sharon has kids and it had just never once occurred to Brenda that Sharon might want women.

Brenda steps in, closes the door behind her. Sharon drops her slinky wrap on the back of the couch, her purse, too, pushes her glasses to the top of her head and looks over her shoulder at Brenda, all long lashes and glossy lips.

“What did he do this time?” she asks.

“Huh?” Brenda feels off her game, distracted. This new information is too much. What kind of women does Sharon like? Brenda wishes she’d been brave enough to try to get a look at her date so she could know what Sharon Raydor looks for in a woman.

“Your husband,” Sharon says, placing her hand on the back of the couch to steady herself as she steps out of one shoe and then the other. She loses a few inches and now Brenda can look her right in the eye. “Isn't that why you come here? To complain about your husband?”

“Y-you said we could be friendly,” Brenda says. “You said I should give you a chance.”

“Friends,” Sharon says softly. “Hmm.”

She walks down the hall to the kitchen. Brenda follows and watches her get out a bottle of wine and two glasses. Brenda crosses her arms against her chest.

“You can ask, if you want,” Sharon says.

“Ask what?”

“If I’m gay,” Sharon says with a small, pained smile.

“None of my business, really,” Brenda says. Sharon scoffs at this, snorts really, an undignified noise that immediately puts Brenda on the defensive. “What?” she demands.

Sharon takes her time, opening the bottle of wine, the cork coming out with a pop. She sets the corkscrew aside, not bothering to twist off the cork and pours herself a glass of wine, then one for Brenda.

“Why do you come here?” Sharon asks.

“I don’t… I don’t know,” Brenda says.

“Well, take a moment to think about it,” she says. She extends the wine glass to Brenda who takes it. Sips it. It’s good wine, better than what she buys for herself.

“You know about my life,” Brenda says finally. “But are not very involved in it.”

Sharon nods. “Okay.”

“I don’t mean-”

“I know what you mean,” Sharon says. “Your friend on the side.”

Brenda sets her wine glass down. “I’m gonna go.”

“I sold the house,” Sharon says. Brenda stops, furrowed brow and tongue between her teeth. “So say goodbye.”

“When’s the big day?” Brenda asks. Sharon narrows her eyes, sets her glass down.

“I’ll walk you out, Chief,” she says.

But at the door, Brenda pauses, tucks her hands into her pockets and says, “Well are you?”

“Am I what?” Sharon asks. Her lipstick is worn off, her teeth tinged dark with wine. Brenda can see the mascara caked on to make her lashes full and dark, can see the pale skin stretched across her chest.

“Gay, Captain,” Brenda says.

“What does it matter to you?” she scoffs, laughing, offended maybe. Brenda tilts her head. It’s been made clear that she’s not invited to return to this little house, that whatever pantomime of friendship they’ve been playing is over, and that no matter what happens here, she’ll be professional in the murder room and Brenda will too, so what’s left to lose?

“It was just as easy to like boys as it was to like girls and boys didn’t send my daddy into a tailspin,” Brenda says. “I made a choice. I live with it.”

Sharon’s mouth falls open a little; Brenda can’t help but stare.

“I’m not usually tempted to change my mind, is all,” Brenda presses. She leans in a little, not consciously, but Sharon doesn’t meet her halfway, doesn’t give in. In fact, she snaps back, yanks open the door.

“I don’t kiss married women,” Sharon says. “Goodnight, Chief Johnson.”

No sense in pretending it doesn’t sting. Brenda leaves without a fuss, drives home slow and steady, her white knuckles aching on the steering wheel. She parks on the street because Fritz’s SUV is taking his half out of the middle of the driveway. Maybe he thinks she’s been called in, maybe he thinks she’s not coming back this time. Either way, she’s walking up the sidewalk under the tree when something crunches.

She steps back, opens her phone to shed some light.

Three little baby birds, dead and fallen from their nest. The crunch under her foot had been bone and beak. She looks up into the tree but it’s too dark to see anything, the ill-placed nest, the mourning mother.

She unlocks the kitchen door swallowing and swallowing, trying not to cry.

 

5.

It’s not much work to find the new address. She drives by a few times, drives by the old house, too, until someone else moves in and it stops being Sharon’s house completely. But it’s not until she comes home from the funeral in Atlanta, it’s not until Captain Raydor does what she sets out to do and finds the leak that Brenda drives over and parks, peering up at the tall building through her windshield.

She stands off to the side and watches the glass door until she sees the elevator open and someone exit, headed for the locked door. Then she walks up like she belongs there and stands at the closed door, rummaging through her bag. The man opens the door and she says, “Oh! Thank you! I can never find my keys in this thing!”

“No problem,” he says, holding open the door for her to walk in.

Easy as anything.

This place is not nearly so charming as her old house. Long hallways, patterned industrial carpet meant to hide all manner of stains and wear. She looks at the sticky note in her hand, matches the numbers on the door and then drops the note in her bag. Knocks hard so she doesn’t chicken out.

Sharon does look surprised when she opens her door. Maybe that Brenda has found her, maybe that she has the gall to show her face. Brenda knows how she looks - rumpled and mean and desperate. It’s the desperation that has brought her here, speeding across town, lying her way into the building, slipping into the condo when Sharon makes even the slightest move back. An open door is an invitation, after all, and Brenda doesn’t wait for Sharon to ask her in.

“I’m sorry about Sergeant Gabriel,” Sharon says. “I know he didn’t mean it; I know that you’re close.”

“I don’t want to talk about that,” Brenda says. “I don’t want to talk about anything. I don’t want to feel anything but better.”

“Chief,” Sharon says, already shaking her head, firm but apologetic.

“Sharon,” Brenda says, her voice breaking a little. “Please.”

Sharon purses her lips, tilts her head in consideration. “I still don’t care for you,” she says. “You’re selfish and thoughtless and you take me for granted.”

“I know,” Brenda says, closing her eyes. “I know it, I know.”

“This doesn’t change that,” Sharon warns her.

“Fine,” Brenda says. She’ll say anything she has to. She’ll do whatever Sharon asks.

Sharon’s bedroom is dark, only partially unpacked. There’s still a row of boxes under the window. There’s art in frames leaning against the bare wall where they’re meant to be hung. But the bed is big and a little rumpled, a pale pink robe across the foot of the mattress. Sharon picks it up, tosses it into the closet where it falls to the floor.

“Shoes off,” she says. “Coat, too.”

Brenda complies immediately, grateful to mindlessly take orders, terrified that if she doesn’t, Sharon will turn her away again. She leaves her shoes by the door, her coat draped across the empty top of a mahogany dresser. Sharon moves to the bathroom door, flips on a light and with it, a loud fan. Brenda stands in her bare feet, watching Sharon dig through a drawer, find a hair elastic, gather all that hair over her shoulder and secure it. The carpet of the bedroom is plush and soft and Brenda curls her toes into it.

When Sharon turns her focus back to Brenda, looking her up and down, she says, “The dress, too, I suppose.”

Brenda pulls the zipper down her side enough to loosen the dress and then has to pull it up over her head. It’s not the most dignified piece to remove that she owns but when she manages to get out of it and blows the hair out of her her face, Sharon is unbuttoning her own top. She glances up at Brenda and says, “You’re very beautiful.”

But she says it like it’s some sort of extra burden. Like how her mother used to look through expensive furniture catalogs. How she’d say, “It’s beautiful, but where would it go?”

“Thank you,” Brenda says, nonetheless.

Sharon is lovely too, ivory skin and breasts small enough to still sit higher on her chest whereas Brenda’s own have started to truly sag. Sharon leaves her bra on, and her underwear too, pushing her pants down her legs. She walks over, pulls the covers back.

Brenda hesitates, starts to have second thoughts. Not because of Fritz, her husband and their rocky marriage, but because of the blank look on Sharon’s face.

“In,” Sharon says. “Don’t backpedal now.” Brenda’s face is certainly betraying emotion, then.

So she crawls in and Sharon does touch her bare back, runs her fingers along the bumps of her spine. Brenda turns over, allows Sharon to stretch out next to her, to touch her stomach, her ribs, her shoulders. Brenda’s breath speeds up when Sharon cups her breasts, she groans when Sharon’s fingers slip under the elastic at her hips.

Sharon rests her head on her hand, propped up by her elbow, and she looks almost bored. She hasn’t even taken off her glasses. Her fingers are certainly engaged, however, and Brenda lets her head fall back against the pillow. Groans deeply when Sharon pushes a second finger into her.

“Good?” Sharon asks. It is good. She’d thought - well, she’d worried that she’d talked herself into wanting this so badly that the reality would be disappointing but Sharon hooks her fingers and presses hard inside her and Brenda bucks her hips.

“Yes,” she pants. She reaches out blindly for Sharon, throws an arm around her waist and pulls. It upsets Sharon’s balance and she rolls right into Brenda. Her fingers stop for a moment while she gets her bearings but it’s nice, all that skin. She’s warm all over, soft where Fritz is hard, reserved where he is aggressive. They’re close enough now that Sharon is looking right into her face. Brenda leans up, presses her mouth to Sharon’s jaw. Sharon moves her fingers again, Brenda pushes her face into Sharon's neck. “More,” she says.

Sharon pulls her hand out and Brenda is about to complain or beg, but Sharon pulls Brenda’s underwear away, down her legs and flings them off the bed. Brenda looks down at herself, swollen and wet. Pleasure is a tricky thing, a daily struggle for Brenda. She’s always been a pleasure seeker, has always found herself weak in the face of it. Chocolate or pretty shoes or big glasses of fine wine. She’ll make the bad choice every time, choosing instant gratification heaped with consequences just for that short burst of serotonin. Always so sure she can outrun whatever bad thing nipping at her heels.

Sharon’s mouth on her is a pleasure that is going to be tricky to give up. Brenda has one foot on Sharon’s back, leans forward just enough to pull the glasses right off her face. Threads her fingers through that dark hair, shakes and wriggles and moans and pants.

“Brenda,” Sharon says. “If you want me to get you off, you have to hold still!”

“Sorry,” Brenda says. “You’re just really good at this.”

“Thank you,” she says and though it is delivered dryly, she does smirk on her way back down. Brenda focuses, then, on being still, on accepting the pleasure and not fighting against it. She came here to forget, after all. To be willingly lost. And so she closes her eyes, lies back, hands herself over. Shuts off her brain as best she can. But she soon realizes that the hottest part is the person going down on her and so she has to open her eyes again. She has to watch.

And ultimately, it’s the watching as much as anything else that delivers the orgasm. It’s Sharon’s fingers and tongue that do the leg work, but watching her do it is so good, too. And right when she starts to whimper, her thighs clenching, Sharon looks up and she watches Brenda right back.

It’s hard, but she maintains the eye contact through the waves and the shudders and the spasms.

Sharon sits up, panting and wipes her mouth with the back of her hand. Stares at Brenda for a long moment, her lip caught in the white row of her teeth and finally says, “Damn.”

Something has changed. Gone is the expressionless, passive woman. She looks upset, her eyes dark with wide pupils, her cheeks flushed. She crawls up Brenda’s body, slides them together, all warm skin against skin, and when they’re eye to eye again, Sharon kisses her hard. Brenda opens her mouth, relieved and elated to feel Sharon’s tongue, the peculiar taste of this woman who she knows well but doesn’t know at all, and underneath something so familiar as her very own flavor. Sharon kisses her while she reaches around to unclasp her own bra, lets the material fall away. Brenda touches her breasts, her hair, her hips. Touches her all over and Sharon allows it. Pushes her own panties aside and brings Brenda’s hand between her legs.

She’s wet and warm and lets out a shaky breath when Brenda slips a finger inside, puts her mouth to Sharon’s breast. Sharon’s hand slips in over Brenda’s, their fingers working against Sharon’s slippery clit. Like always, they work well together when they put their minds to it. Brenda goes in when Sharon goes out, pushes where she pulls, gives where she takes. Sharon’s hips roll against her and Brenda keeps her lips pressed against Sharon’s hair. She’ll always remember this, she thinks, the smell of sweat and shampoo and sex, the flutters she feels against her fingers buried deep inside Sharon, like the faint beating of wings.

Sharon arches against Brenda when she comes, crying out and then falling heavy against her.

Her plan had worked, anyhow. She lies tangled up in Sharon for several long minutes, blissful and free until Sharon says. “I shouldn’t have done that.”

“Felt good,” Brenda says.

“Shouldn’t have done it to you, shouldn’t have let you do it to me,” Sharon whispers. “This was a mistake. A big one. We can’t do this again.”

There’s no sense in arguing, obviously. Sharon’s got a lifetime of Catholicism behind her, even after a same sex pity fuck. So Brenda does what is never easy for her. She keeps her mouth closed. Sharon’s regrets have not yet extended to kicking Brenda out of the bed so she lies there a little longer, trying to decide what’s worse - thinking about David Gabriel’s betrayal or the betrayal she has committed against her own husband.

They’d married at the end of August, in the last waning days of a long, hot summer. It’s no time to start a marriage, Brenda thinks, now that she’s waist deep in it. When you’re already wrung out and itchy and ready for a sharp change, not a good time for settling deeper into something. It’s August now, she realizes. Goes through her mental calendar to find that her wedding anniversary is only a handful of days away.

Sharon sits up, methodically disengages from Brenda, moving until they are completely separated. Brenda has kept her bra on through this entire encounter, Sharon her underwear, though they’re worse for wear. The elastic she’d used to hold her hair back has slipped down and hair has come loose to frame Sharon’s face. She looks kind without her glasses. Her round cheeks, her cat like eyes. The features her glasses obscure are perhaps the features Brenda likes best. She reaches out, slides the elastic the rest of the way free and Sharon’s hair falls loose.

“You should go home,” Sharon says.

“Okay,” Brenda agrees. “I’m goin’.”

Sharon’s right not to like her, right not to be her friend. Brenda just shows up here to take what she needs and then disappears again, heedless of the damage she causes.

But this is her life, this is what her life has been since the moment she moved to Los Angeles. Beautiful things and terrible things that happen side by side.