Disclaimer: None really, except to say there will be women in love (eventually) and there’s a bit of cursing and mention of abuse, but nothing graphic at all.
Author’s note: I appreciate all of those who have sent emails inquiring about the story. My desire to write had gone to the wayside for a bit, but it is back now. Also, I’ve tweaked the story a bit and have rewritten some parts. Nothing major, but probably enough to warrant starting at the beginning again. I hope you enjoy.
Feedback, as always, is appreciated. email@example.com
The auburn haired woman groaned as she swung her feet off of the bed. Her right foot landed on her worn slipper, her left foot in something warm and viscous. “What the hell?” She rasped as she lifted her foot from the mess.
She’d been catapulted from slumber a scant few seconds earlier by a phone call from her best friend asking where the hell she was. She was half an hour late to her dress fitting.
“Cooper!” Jesus Christ, are you still in bed? Can’t you set your goddamn alarm?!” Her best friend Rachel had bellowed, vibrating her still asleep skull.
If Sergeant Jill Cooper had even a millisecond this particular morning to see the cosmic ass kicking irony that was her life, she would probably never have gotten out of bed. It seemed the only time this crisis negotiator’s life was crisis-free was when she was doing her job.
It wasn’t that the woman had poor judgment or bad instincts; it was quite the opposite. She just had trouble saying no whenever family or friend called on her. Her empathetic nature wouldn’t let her deny anyone help if she were in the position to offer it. The character trait made her great at her job, but kept her personal life in a permanent state of disorder.
Her latest predicament, it turns out, involved her best friend Rachel’s wedding and her brother Joss’ need for a place to crash for a few days. He had been kicked out of the house by his girlfriend - which was not uncommon. This time though, she kicked out the cat as well. Seems the cat had developed a propensity for chewing through wires and vomiting uncontrollably and Joss refused to get rid of it. Of course none of this was explained to Jill when she found Joss distraught on her doorstep with a cat crate and an overnight bag.
After hopping one-footed to the bathroom to clean her foot, she checked to see why her alarm didn’t go off. Sure enough, she pulled the cord, finding no resistance, as it was no longer attached to the wall. Her jaw clamped down as she saw the frayed wires of her fairly new and fairly expensive bedside alarm clock.
She stalked to her bedroom door, noting it was still shut. “JOSS!” Jill yelled as she stomped down the hall. “How did your damn cat get in my room?”
“Huh?” Joss said as he poked his head out of the guest bathroom. Steam was escaping around his head and his face was half covered with shaving cream.
“Your cat ate through my alarm clock!” She accused, holding up the object.
“Oh, I’m sorry, sis. He must have snuck in when I went in to borrow your softball mitt last night. I’ll replace it.” He said around an amiable grin.
“And keep the damn cat out of my room. And so help me if I find puke on anything else, I will take the cat to the shelter myself, got it?”
The smile slipped off of his face and he nodded dutifully. He knew he was already on thin ice for the alarm clock. “I’ve got an appointment with another vet today. Hopefully he can find out what’s wrong with Coal.” At the sound of his name, the black cat appeared from nowhere and was now circling his master’s wet, hairy legs.
Jill’s tone softened as she read the concern in her brother’s face. She would never understand the appeal of cats, or dogs for that matter. All they did is poop, eat and chew up your stuff.
“Rach, is there a law that all bridesmaid’s dresses look hideous?” Jill asked absently as she swung around to try and get a look at the back of the chartreuse tea-length dress.
“Why, yes there is. You all must look ugly so I can look all that much more beautiful.” Her best friend said matter-of-factly, oblivious to the snicker from the seamstress. Jill caught it and she winked at the slight Latina woman. I am such a flirt.
Rachel floated around Jill, scrutinizing the dress as the seamstress took in a bit around the waist and chest. Jill’s earlier boldness completely disappeared as the woman ran the measuring tape right across her nipples. Was that a slight smirk? Jill could feel her face flush. On a redhead, she might as well have ‘Wow am I embarrassed!’ tattooed on her forehead.
“And listen, Miss Cat-Ate-My-Alarm, you are one of the few people on this earth that can pull that color off. Plus, you have the legs for that length. So shut up and go take it off so the lady can make the alterations and we can go get lunch.”
Jill hadn’t realized the woman was now standing before her, her measuring tape being rolled up in fine-boned hands.
“Right, I’ll be out in a second.” Jill forced out as she stepped into the dressing room and pulled on her t-shirt and jeans.
Jill sat across from her best friend of 5 years, listening to the latest gripe about her soon-to-be mother-in-law. Rachel was not one to give up control of anything and to have the elder Mrs. Finch stepping in with not so subtle suggestions was driving Rachel insane. Normally, Jill would just sit and commiserate, but this morning’s events had left Jill a bit testy and she was about at the end of her rope hearing about it.
“You know she will be grandmother to your children. If you can’t handle her butting into your wedding…” She left the rest unsaid, leaving Rachel to either put up or shut up.
Rachel sighed dramatically and began to fiddle with her coffee cup. Without looking up at her friend she took in a deep breath.
“I know. She really is a nice woman. Raised a wonderful son with excellent taste.” They shared a silly smile. “It’s just that she knows everything. It drives me nuts!” Rachel finished in huff.
“Well, look at it this way. The wedding is almost here. Virtually all of the big decisions have been made. If it won’t kill you, give her a little job to do, something to keep her busy and out of your hair, put her in charge of finding the perfect guest book or something like that.”
Rachel took in Jill’s words. Then she smiled widely at her friend. “I knew there was a reason I became friends with you all those years ago.”
“Shut up. You are lucky to have a friend like me.” Jill said with mock indignation.
“I am.” Rachel smiled warmly, looking Jill in the eyes.
“And so you won’t forget it, I’ll have you pick up the bill.” Jill said as she patted her friend on the hand and made her way to the restroom.
The two friends had met on the job when Jill had made sergeant and was assigned to the Crisis Response Team full-time. Being a Victim’s Advocate there had been a few of Rachel’s cases in which Jill had been called in to testify because she served as the negotiator in a domestic hostage situation in which Rachel’s client was involved.
They both shared very similar philosophies about their jobs and found it quite easy to commiserate with each other. Being able to share the successes and failures that come with helping people at their most vulnerable and most desperate times was what kept both women focused and enthusiastic about their jobs.
“So how is work these days?” Jill asked as she tried to find a radio station not playing a commercial.
“Somewhat quiet, believe it or not. We are finishing up final details on the Confidential Address Program. It’s going to help a lot of domestic violence victims keep their identities and new locations secret from. It won’t be perfect, but it will make it pretty damn hard for the abusers to find out where they live. I can’t tell you how many of these bastards know their way around and can get their victim’s information rather easily.
“Huh, yeah, those are usually the ones I get called out on.” Jill responded, not looking up from her station search. “It sounds like a good program though, Rachel. Hopefully it will save some lives.”
Rachel nodded in agreement as she pulled into her driveway. “Speaking of being saved, come rescue me?” Rachel pleaded as she saw a maroon Buick pull up in front of her house.
Jill made a show of turning in her seat to watch the portly graying woman struggle out of her seatbelt. “Sorry, babe. I’ve got a ton of laundry to do.” Jill chuckled then turned to her friend. “Remember what I told you. Keep her busy.” Jill intoned as she slid out of the passenger seat.
“Yeah, yeah… Have fun with Joss and the vomiting, wire chewing cat!” Rachel called to her friend’s back as she climbed out of the car. She was promptly answered with a universal hand gesture that made her bark in laughter.
The shrill noise brought Jill out of her rather pleasant dream so quickly it took her a second to comprehend where she was. Then she was flipping her cell phone open and reading the text. ‘CRT Mobilizing’ it read. She glanced at the new alarm clock as she began dialing the Operations Command Center to get the location and rough details of the incident.
As she quickly dressed for work, she digested the small amount of information given. It was a hostage/barricade, with an unknown suspect barricading himself and half a dozen hostages at the Stop n’ Shop on 14th Ave. It was a robbery that had gone bad, as far as the officers on scene first could tell.
Jill knew that particular area of town well as she had been called out there more than a couple of times. She remembered a particular incident involving a heroin addict who had locked himself and his grandmother in her one bedroom bungalow for two days. Jill and the CRT had worked tirelessly trying to figure out a way to bring it to an end peacefully.
They had some intel on him from his sister that indicated he’d been a career petty thief with a $200 a day heroin habit. Jill sensed the guy was very nearly at the end of his rope and worked mainly on getting the grandmother out safely.
The man ended up letting his grandmother go, but then became belligerent, brandishing a weapon upon coming out of the front door, apparently deciding that suicide by cop was the way to go. He very nearly succeeded too, but he ended up surviving. It had been one of her very few unsuccessful negotiations in which she’d failed to bring about a completely peaceful resolution.
Shaking off old memories, Jill grabbed her cell phone, keys and police-issued firearm and rushed out the door. There was no need to leave a note for her brother, he knew what she did for a living and knew sometimes she was called away in the middle of the night.
When Jill arrived at the scene around three in the morning, she sought out the CRT leader, Lieutenant Jesse Vick. She saw the tall, silver-haired man talking to one of the SWAT team leaders. She glanced around for her friend, Pete, not seeing him around. She noted the rest of the SWAT team was getting into position around the store as the patrol officers took position around the outer perimeter. She closed her coat tighter around her to ward off the frigid night air.
“Cooper.” She heard the lieutenant call as she swung her eyes away from the scene to her boss. “Morning.” He said around a ghost of a smile. The man was quiet by nature, but had a commanding presence. He was decisive, fair and had great acumen when it came to reading people. He held a tight line of control and respect between SWAT and the Negotiations team by making sure all were on the exact same page. While both teams always had the same goal, everyone out, everyone alive, their ways of ending a standoff or hostage situation tended to differ greatly. Lt. Vick always gave time for his negotiators to work and when it looked like things were going south, he’d make the necessary tactical decisions. It was for these qualities that Jill admired him immensely.
He was also the reason she decided to apply for special assignment on the Crisis Response Team as a patrol officer seven years ago and a big reason why she’d risen to sergeant in just two of those years. As he had said to her all those years ago, “I know talent when I see it.” And indeed he did, for she excelled in training and passed the sergeant’s exam easily. She had also become one of the best negotiators he had ever trained.
“So what do we have, Lieutenant?” Jill asked as she pulled out a stick of gum. She silently offered one to the lieutenant, but he shook his head. He studied the perimeter for a moment and then looked down at his notebook.
“According to the DMV records, the suspect is named Jason Largent. Seems he walked into the place about 1 a.m. and ordered everyone down on their faces. There were about 6 customers at the time, two made a dash for the door and got out. They are standing over there.” Vick nodded in the direction of two teens, looking dazed and frightened.
“Cashier pressed the silent alarm, but Largent got wise to it. He barricaded the door as soon as the first unit rolled up. There are 5 hostages, including the cashier. Largent has not made any attempt to communicate with us.”
He gestured over to the Mobile Command Center van. “I’ll have you take lead on this one. We’ve got the phone company already out and they’ve seized the phone line. We’ve got uniforms out canvassing his apartment complex. We are just waiting on more intel about this guy. I’ll have one of the guys run it over to you when they get back.” Vick added as they began walking to the van.
“I’ll go talk to the two witnesses, see if I can get any insight on Largent’s demeanor in there.” Jill commented as she began moving to the teens.
About 30 minutes later, Jill felt she had enough information to begin negotiations with Largent. She’d found out from the canvassing officers that he had recently lost his job as a car stereo installer and that he was suspected of doing drugs, possibly methamphetamines. If he was on them now, it was going to be a long night. It was hard enough to negotiate with a scared, desperate person, let alone one under the influence of drugs.
He had no family to speak of, at least no one that could be reached. He lived alone, had no pets and up to a month ago had been a model tenant, according to his landlord. He had become twitchy and rude and had been keeping up neighbors with his music at all hours of the night.
So, armed with some specifics on Largent, Jill initiated the first call. The first 5 calls went unanswered, but on the sixth, she could see through the glass doors that he had picked it up. She calmly introduced herself, keeping it simple.
“Hi, Jason, I’m Jill Cooper with the Fresno Police Department. I would like to help you.”
“It’s a little too fucking late.” He spat into the phone. Jill knew getting him talking was a huge step. She just had to keep him on the phone.
“How come it’s too late, Jason?” She would continue to use his name to build a familiarity with him.
“What’s your name again?” He asked.
“Jill.” She answered. She probed again. “Why is it too late, Jason?”
She heard heavy, hitched breathing. “My life’s a fucking mess. I can’t hold down a job, I can’t stop getting high. I can’t even rob a fucking liquor store, man. This shit is just fucked and I’m so goddamned tired of it all.” He said.
“Jason, you have the power to start making things right, here and now.” Jill could empathize with the kind of powerlessness this man was feeling right now. Bad decision after bad decision had led him to this moment in his life and he had no idea how to get out of it. She knew any slight judgment of the man could set him off, so she focused on solutions. There were small things this man could do right now to help himself. Hopefully it would lead to a quick and peaceful surrender.
“Without further fucking myself? Right.” He snorted.
“Listen Jason, everyone runs into trouble now and again. You can get yourself out of it, starting now. Please let me help you. What do you need?” Jill asked.
“What do I need? I need a new fucking life. I need to not be so goddamned weak.” He said brokenly.
They talked back and forth for about another hour and Jill heard the story on how he got caught up in drugs because of a girl he used to see and how everything had gone bad from there. When he’d lost his job, he still needed money to feed his habit. He’d gotten the idea to rob a liquor store from a T.V. show.
Jill felt he was almost ready to give himself up, but she didn’t want to press just yet. After about a fifteen-minute lull in conversation, Jill surreptitiously looked at her watch. It was nearing 6 a.m.
“Jason, can I get you anything?” She asked amicably.
“Yeah, you can get me out of here.” He said finally.
Smiling inwardly, Jill signaled for Vick to start surrender procedures and she calmly told Jason exactly what to do in order to surrender himself peacefully.
“Well done, Sergeant Cooper.” Jill heard as she entered the police station for her debriefing meeting. It was her good friend and fellow CRT member Peter Vaughn. He had been assigned to the SWAT team only last year as a patrol officer, but had proved himself invaluable with his quick, decisive thinking and good instincts.
“Thanks, Pete.” She said as she smiled at him. “You just coming in?” She asked as she remembered he wasn’t at the scene this morning.
“Nope, going home. Second shift was short one patrol, so I filled in. Heard the call go out though. Figured you’d have it all under control.” He said around an easy smile.
“Thankfully, it was one of the easier ones. He just needed someone to talk to. He almost looked relieved when he was being taken into custody. It’s really sad, you know. He was young, seemed to have it together at one time.” Jill mused.
“Hmph.” Pete rejoined absently. As they were about to part ways, he touched her arm. “What are you doing Saturday?” He asked sweetly.
“Why?” She asked skeptically. It smelled like a favor.
“Do you remember my sister?”
“The one with the 6 kids or the one in the band?” Jill asked, praying it was the latter one.
Pete snickered. “The one in the band. They are playing at this bar I go to and they need another guitar player …again.”
“And what happened to the old one?” She asked cautiously.
“She broke her arm skiing.” Upon seeing Jill’s reluctance, he added quickly. “It’s only for this one gig. They still play just cover songs. I bet you still know most of them anyway.”
“Just this one gig?” She asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Yep.” He answered with surety.
“You remember what happened when I filled in before. I ended up playing a month of Saturdays in a redneck bar.” She still shivered at the memory.
“I remember, vividly.” Pete said with a slight chuckle. He thought he’d have to pull the sergeant off of a couple of the cowboys that really wanted to start a fan club for the ‘purty redhead girl with the geetar’.
He had gotten a quick education on his colleague that first night and from what he could tell, the fiery temper stereotype was held firm and very much true in Jill Cooper. By the last Saturday, she’d just ended up grabbing a mic and announcing she preferred the company of women.
“This bar is nothing like that, I promise. It’s downtown, but on the revitalized side. It’s called In the Drink.” He said.
Still Jill hesitated. She loved playing, but taking this on meant a couple of hours of practice each night.
“Please? I’ll owe you.” Pete said, as if that would be the deciding factor.
Sounding more resigned than she really felt, she replied, “Oh hell. Email me the playlist no later than tonight. I don’t want to look like a fool up there.”
“You rock!” He shouted as he clapped her on the back. “You’ll have the playlist by the time you make it home!” He said as he headed to the station locker room.
Jill adjusted the guitar strap as the other band members began tuning their instruments. She’d been able to practice twice with the eclectic mix of musicians and for that, she was relieved. She found their company easy and they were actually quite talented. They’d even coerced her into singing some back up when they found out that she had a pretty decent voice as well.
There was Sarah, Pete’s sister, who played keyboards and Ray, Sarah’s sometime-boyfriend who played the drums. Then there was the bass player, Kaz. He was the most entertaining in the group. He could have easily had a career as a comedian. He kept everyone laughing with silly anecdotes and impersonations.
Rounding out the band was Ralph, the lead singer and other guitar player, who was a big bear of a man. He reminded her of a more gregarious version of her father.
She saw that the house lights were beginning to dim and there was a hushed move towards tables and booths. The nervousness she felt earlier had increased ten-fold and she momentarily forgot which number they would be opening with. She looked over at the playlist taped to the front amp and caught eyes with a svelte, good looking, dark haired woman who was coming up onto stage. They shared a quick polite smile and then the woman stepped up to the main mic.
Lan looked out over the bar, waiting a beat before introducing the band. She didn’t have to do it often, but when she did, she liked to get it over with quickly. Standing on stage and being the center of attention, no matter how briefly, made her uneasy.
“Continuing the tradition of bringing you the finest local bands, ladies and gentlemen, please welcome One Too Many!”
And with that Lan made her way off of the stage and back to the bar to listen to the Southern Rock cover band.
Jill began the opening licks of “Sweet Home Alabama” and the rest of the night became a euphoric blur. She was enjoying the gig immensely and the crowd was lively. They immediately began dancing on the small dance floor in front of the stage.
Ralph, the lead singer was a great showman and really played to the crowd. Jill hadn’t remembered having this much fun in ages. She sang along enthusiastically to each of the numbers, sometimes even alternating chorus lines with Ralph, who gave an approving nod and smile in her direction.
“Hey, Lan!” Pete called across the bar to his favorite bar manager. He’d seen her pause in her duties to watch the band, shaking her head and smiling at their antics. He wondered if it would help his cause if he told her he knew them. He thought he’d give it a try.
“Pete! How’s it going?” She asked amicably. She’d gotten used to seeing the handsome man in the bar at least a few times a month and they’d gotten to know each other a bit and had become something more than acquaintances but not yet friends.
“Great! Isn’t this band awesome?” He asked over Jill’s guitar solo during “Fortunate Son.”
“They are amazing! It looks like they’ve been playing together for years!” Lan said enthusiastically.
Pete smiled slyly. “Funny you should say that!” He shouted over the crowd’s applause. When Ralph announced they were going to take a short break, he continued, no longer having to shout. Lan took a quick look to make sure Ross and the other bartender had the bar covered and turned her full attention to Pete with a curious expression.
“The keyboardist is my sister.” He said proudly.
“No way! That’s cool!” Lan replied as she grabbed his arm. He pretended not to notice as he pointed to Jill coming towards him.
“And this lady is just filling in. I work with her.” He said around a big, goofy smile.
Jill caught the last sentence and smiled widely at the bartender. She held out her hand in greeting, which Lan took eagerly. “I’m Jill, and I’m no lady.” The friends laughed at what appeared to be an inside joke. “I hope he told you I’m just filling in. I’m a bit rusty.” She said, a little winded from playing and singing back up.
“Hi, I’m Lan, and it sure doesn’t show. You guys are wonderful up there.” Lan said excitedly.
“Thanks. It ain’t me though. They know what they are doing, I’m just along for the ride.” She said as she gestured towards the side of the stage where the band was mingling and talking to bar patrons.
“Well, you seem to hold your own.” Lan responded with a smile.
“Thanks. You are being too kind.” Jill said with mild self-depreciation. Their eyes held for a beat until Jill broke contact under the pressure of propriety.
“So you are an officer too?” Lan asked conversationally as she began gathering some dirty glasses off of the bar.
“She’s part of the CRT Unit. She’s a Crisis Negotiator.” Pete answered for her. Jill nodded affirmatively.
“Wow, that must be quite a challenge.” Lan said, impressed. She imagined there weren’t many women in that field.
“Day to day, it is pretty mundane. It’s pretty much just paperwork, teaching new recruits how to talk down drunk guys in wife beater t-shirts, training and then more training. But yes getting a call and knowing you’ll be needed in that capacity is a challenge.” Jill replied.
“How about you, I bet you have some great stories to tell as a purveyor of wine and spirits.” Jill said with smiling eyes.
“I have one or two.” Lan said around a good-natured grin.
“Perhaps we can swap sometime.” Jill replied.
“Perhaps.” Lan smiled, nodding at the redhead.
Jill turned to her friend and colleague to say something and caught the tail end of what looked to be an eye-roll. “What?” she mouthed silently around a shrug, but Pete shook her off.
There was a lull in conversation as Lan stepped away for a moment to grab a bar rag. Jill suddenly remembered why she had come over and promptly punched Pete in the arm.
“What the hell was that for?” He asked, rubbing his arm.
“You know damn well, what that was for. Who told Ralph I wanted to sing? Hmmm?” She asked, daring him to deny it.
“Ah, come on. Sarah asked if you did any singing because they needed some back up. I answered truthfully.” He said, flinching in anticipation of another knuckle punch.
“A drunk rendition of “Mustang Sally” during Karaoke Night six months ago does not constitute ‘singing’.” Jill intoned with air quotes as she said the last word. She took a deep breath and stared blankly at Pete. Pete just shrugged his shoulders.
Lan had returned and watched the two with amusement, enjoying the play between the two.
“I’ll get you back Officer Vaughn. You just wait.” She said through slitted eyes.
“Can I get you anything to drink?” Lan broke in with a quick smile. Jill turned her attention to Lan and smiled widely.
“That would be great. Just water, thanks.” She said as she straightened up in her stool slightly and watched the retreating form for a moment.
“You want dibs?” Pete inquired casually.
“Do I want dibs?” She asked slowly, incredulously.
Pete automatically backtracked, realizing just how caveman that sounded. “Just asking. You are working the flirt pretty hard.” He stated.
“Come on Jill.” Pete said, disbelief in his voice.
Then after a beat, she asked, “Are you interested in her, Pete?”
“More like, is she interested in me? She said something about a boyfriend, but I think she just told me that to put me off.” He said dejectedly.
“You think she bats for the other team, then?” Jill asked half-jokingly. One could hope, thought Jill. She’d felt something stir in her the moment she laid eyes on her and would’ve liked to explore the opportunity to get to know her. Alas, if Pete were interested in her, she would steer clear. Pete rolled his eyes and started to respond when Lan showed up with her bottled water. The two just exchanged looks for a moment before turning their attention to the bar manager.
“Thanks, Lan.” Jill winked. She hopped off of the stool she was occupying and put her hand on Pete’s shoulder. “Do you like to bowl, Lan?” Jill asked as she took a drink.
“Uh… I haven’t in years.” She responded, a bit surprised at the question.
“Great. All the better, because we are really bad. We have a police bowling league on Wednesday nights. Would you be interested in joining us?” Jill asked, draping her arm now over Pete’s shoulder. “You can bring your boyfriend too.” She threw in casually. She felt the heat from Pete’s neck and imagined if she looked down, Pete would be the color of her hair at the height of summer.
Lan looked between the two, sure she was missing something. “Um, I don’t have a boyfriend.” She answered completely flummoxed at that question.
“Oh, okay. Still, if you’d like to join us, we’d love to have you. Pete can give you the details.” And with that Jill was off to finish her last set of the night. Consider your self gotten back, Officer Pete. Jill thought as she slipped back onto stage. If Lan were interested in her good friend Pete, only time and an evening of bad bowling would tell.
“Hey, Jill, you have been doing great tonight.” Sarah said as they began setting up for the last set.
“Thanks.” Jill said around a smile. “You guys make it easy.”
“You are a great singer too.” Sarah continued.
Uh oh. “Well, I do alright, I guess.” Jill said quietly.
“Listen Jill, I know you know these songs backwards and forwards. You know Ralph is just getting over a cold and I was wondering…”
“And for our last number of the night, I’d like to re-introduce our guitar player, Jill Cooper who will be singing lead on our last number. She’s going to be taking us out tonight with a Credence Clearwater Revival classic.” Sarah stepped behind her keyboard making way for Jill to take center stage as Ralph floated back to where Jill had been all night.
As she took a deep breath, she looked over towards the bar and caught Lan’s smiling eyes. The look of expectation and mirth on the bartender’s face seemed to bolster Jill’s courage and with a smile and a wink towards the bar, she belted out an impressive version of “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?”
“I hear you have a date.” Chris stated conversationally as he sat down at the bar, watching Lan count the money from the night’s register.
She looked up, still counting, with confusion in her eyes. Chris waited patiently for her to finish the stack of ones before explaining himself.
“Ross told me someone asked you out.” He said around a small, teasing smile. He paused in mid-sip of his brandy to pin her with inquisitive eyes.
“Oh, well, Ross heard wrong. Jill, the guitar player asked me if I wanted to join them for bowling. Some police league or something.”
“Oh.” He said slightly confused.
“You know the guy who comes in here sometimes, the police officer?” Lan asked, with a mild irritation she couldn’t understand.
“Yeah, Pete. He has a thing for you.” Chris said matter-of-factly. His statement was met with a blank stare. “You do realize that is why he comes in here, right?” Chris asked. When will this woman ever catch a clue about her attractiveness, inside and out?
“I figured it was because he liked our seasonal ale and low-key atmosphere.” Lan said in mock seriousness. Making Chris bark with laughter. “Besides, it was his friend, Jill, who asked me about the bowling. He just gave me the details about it.”
“Uh huh.” Chris responded with a knowing smile. “So, are you going to go bowling?” He asked, leaning over the counter now in rapt interest.
“I told Pete it sounded like fun. I don’t get out much except for the occasional photography class. Perhaps it’s time to get out and make some friends.”
Chris clutched at his chest in mock hurt. “You mean we aren’t your friends here?” He grimaced dramatically.
Lan just rolled her eyes. “It’s time to make more friends.”
Chris seemed satisfied with that. Finishing off his drink, he slid from his stool and came around the bar to where Lan was standing. “You realize we’ll be hounding you for a full report, right? And if Mr. SWAT Guy tries to make any moves, you just tell Bart.” Chris said in half-serious tones. Lan smiled at the protectiveness evident in her boss’ voice, even as she thought it was unnecessary.
“Yes, Dad.” She said as she tossed the dirty bar towel in his direction.
He grinned warmly and laid a big hand on her shoulder, giving it a squeeze. “Now get outta here and go get some sleep.”
As Lan waited for sleep to come in the pre-dawn hour, she thought over the previous hours. After the band’s last set, Jill and Pete stuck around to chat a little bit more. Lan could only join them sporadically, but when she did, she enjoyed the easy company of the two friends. They were both very funny and took a lot of pleasure in teasing each other.
As she drifted off to sleep, Lan realized she was very much looking forward to Wednesday.
The bowling alley was one she had been to a few times as a child and later maybe once or twice. As she slipped in through the heavy glass door, the instantaneous sounds of the place; the clacking of the pins being reset and the crack of the balls hitting the pins, the smell of fried food and rented shoes carried her back to a happier time with her mother, before Stan. She carried the memory of her first strike with her until she reached the raucous crowd at the far lanes.
She spotted the red head of Jill instantly and smiled as she stood on the perimeter, waiting shyly to be noticed.
“Hey, Lan!” Jill said, louder than necessary. It made Lan giggle a little. Realizing her enthusiastic greeting was taken well, Jill threw her arm around Lan’s shoulder and introduced her to the group of bowlers.
“That is Enrique. He’s a sandbagger. He’s usually partnered with Sam who frequently knocks down pins in the next lane.” Enrique just stuck his tongue out at Jill who winked back.
“Those two hacks over there are my best friend, Rachel and her fiancé Scott.” Lan looked over to where Jill gestured and smiled politely. She was greeted with a big grin and Lan felt a stab of recognition when Rachel approached her.
“Don’t listen to what she says, she’s the worst bowler in the league.” The stocky but pretty blonde retorted. “Where’s Pete?” Rachel asked as Scott joined her, shaking Lan’s hand.
“Beer run.” Jill replied. “I’ll take you over to get shoes.” She said to Lan, who obediently followed the red head.
“Glad you could make it.” Jill smiled as Lan came up even with her.
“Yeah, me too. I haven’t been bowling in years.” Lan mused as she told the man behind the counter her shoe size.
“Don’t worry, you can’t possibly be worse than me.” Jill said seriously.
“This might be a stupid question, but…”
“Why do we bowl?”
“Yeah.” Lan chuckled.
“Well, we can drink more bowling than while playing softball and darts are entirely too dangerous.” Jill intoned.
That brought a genuine laugh from Lan. “Well, when you put it that way.”
The two made their way back to the lanes the group occupied and found Pete distributing beers to all.
“Hey, Lan!” Pete said happily as he handed her a beer.
“Hi, Pete.” She said with an easy smile. When she saw what was being handed to her, she said, “Oh, no thank you, Pete.”
“You sure? I know I always bowl better after a few.” His statement was met with snorts and a “yeah, right!” from Enrique. He ignored the heckling as he waited for Lan’s response.
“I don’t drink, actually.” Lan said hesitantly, looking around to the surprised yet curious faces.
“Oh, okay. You want a soda, then?” Asked Pete as he quickly handed the beer over to Jill.
“Wait, a bartender that doesn’t drink?” Enrique said incredulously.
“Bar manager.” Both Jill and Pete corrected simultaneously. Lan shifted her eyes to them, oddly pleased by the correction and a bit surprised she’d been the topic of conversation already.
“Still, seems an odd line of work for a teetotaler.” Enrique continued. Before Pete or Jill could defend her, Lan spoke up.
“That may be, but I’m good at what I do and can mix any drink you can name. That’s all that matters.”
“Indeed!” Cried Jill, clapping Lan on the shoulder affectionately. Pete winked at Enrique who obediently backed down.
“Touché.” He said around a grin.
“Are we gonna bowl or what?” Rachel bellowed, officially getting the evening started.
Since Sam, Enrique’s bowling partner, wasn’t there that night, Jill partnered with him. Enrique said it was a pretty even trade, earning him a smack in the arm.
That left Lan to partner with Pete, and he was grateful. Not only for the company, but she could actually bowl pretty well.
“So are you all in law enforcement?” Lan asked Jill as she took a seat next to her. There seemed to be an unspoken understanding that Lan had come to see Pete, yet at any opportunity she found herself sitting and talking to Jill. Likewise, Jill would seek out the spot next to Lan if it was empty between their respective turns.
“All but one. Rachel works as a Victim’s Advocate. She helps victims of abuse get support and a safe place to stay and sees them through any court proceedings or paperwork. Enrique and Sam are both patrol officers that are assigned to the CRT part-time.” Lan’s brows furrowed at the acronym and Jill explained that it stood for Crisis Response Team. “Scott is just along for the ride. He’s an accountant.”
“He’s got my number.” Rachel purred as she got up off of Scott’s lap to take her turn. Everyone groaned at the terrible pun. Lan laughed.
“Don’t mind her. Her brain is hopelessly warped and will only get worse as the big day arrives in…” Jill pantomimed a count down… Rachel didn’t disappoint as she spun around, addressing the others behind her.
“26 days…” looking at her watch, “22 hours…” looking at her watch again, “14 minutes.” Rachel announced enthusiastically. She then set her feet, approached the lane and promptly threw the bowling ball into the gutter.
That got everyone howling and the night pretty much took off from there. Lan found herself enjoying the joking, and joined in happily as soon as she had become fair game in the good- natured teasing when she had dropped her bowling ball on the back swing during one of her turns.
She got the last laugh, however, because by the evening’s end, she’d ended up with the highest individual score of the night. Of course, any real bowler would have been embarrassed by a score of 112, but to the others, Lan was their bowling idol.
“You know, we start up a new round next month.” Pete said as he walked Lan to her car at the end of the evening. He couldn’t remember having such a great time bowling and he knew it was because of Lan. He found that the more he got to know her, the more he liked her. She fit in effortlessly with the motley group, giving as good as she got with no evidence of taking anything personally. And she could actually throw a strike here and there.
“Uh huh.” Lan drew out, knowing what was coming next. She’d already been propositioned by both Enrique and Rachel and had left her answer open.
“You want to be my bowling partner?” He asked in a rush.
“What about Jill? You just going to dump her?” Lan asked somewhat seriously.
“You kidding? You saw how she bowled.” A bark of laughter and a nod from Lan spurred him on. “Besides, I wasn’t her first choice in partners, anyway. She’d be happy to switch.” He said by way of explanation.
“Well, I do have Wednesday evenings off now…” She mused as if talking to herself.
“Please?” Pete said, bringing his hands together pleadingly.
“Oh, okay.” She said and smiled at his answering smile.
“Cool.” He said casually. Then he took a deep breath and began to study his shoes. “I really had a great time tonight.”
“So did I.” Lan said, trying to get him to look up. When he did, he rolled his lips between his teeth for a beat before speaking again.
“Um, would you like to go out… sometime? Not bowling… maybe to a movie?” He asked hesitantly.
Lan smiled at his nervousness. She didn’t understand how he could do what he does for a living and be so shy. Then it hit her. He’s asking me out on a date! At the same instance she’d comprehended what he was asking, she’d noted that she wasn’t nervous at all. She thought back to high school and the ensuing years after she moved out. She’d been asked out plenty of times as a bartender, but never accepting any offers. She had an idea what they wanted from her and that didn’t appeal to her one bit.
But Pete didn’t seem like that. She had a sense that she would be very safe with him and the anxiety she was expecting to feel wasn’t surfacing. She looked into his dark brown eyes, replaying the times they’d chatted in the bar and the fun they’d had tonight. She knew she had found a friend. Beyond that, she didn’t know. She figured time, and her heart, would tell.
It was official. Sergeant Jill Cooper was having one of the shittiest days on record. She grabbed her fourth half-cup of coffee, which was triple her usual coffee intake a day, and stormed back into the class after a short break. Two hours to go, she thought with a modicum of relief.
The day had started out pleasant enough. Her brother Joss and his girlfriend had finally made up after he had found an elderly woman to adopt and care for the high maintenance cat. Even though she enjoys her brother’s company, it was nice to have her small apartment to herself again.
After a brief run through the foothills behind her house, she showered and dressed for work, going in a little early to prepare for the class she was going to teach on first responders to a barricade/hostage situation. Each new recruiting class got training on it and it was Jill’s responsibility to run the classes.
The day began to go bad once she got to work. Lieutenant Vick had called her into his office to inform her that due to budget cuts; she was being reassigned to only part-time duty in the CRT Unit. Her new primary duty was now serving as a sergeant in the Patrol Unit.
Both Vick and Jill knew that what that meant was a doubling up of her duties. She would be expected to assign, schedule and supervise the Patrol Unit in her district while still maintaining the training aspect of the CRT unit. She would continue to be on call as a negotiator, but also would be required to go out on routine patrols.
Jill saw her limited, yet fulfilling social life fade away with each of Vick’s words. Her thoughts went to Wednesday night bowling and how much she would miss it. She’d come to rely on that night to unwind and have fun with friends. Her shoulders slumped at that news and she left Vick’s office a bit out of sorts.
Then, she had run into Pete who had gleefully told her that Lan had accepted a date with him. She managed to share his enthusiasm on the outside, but inside she felt something give way. Perhaps it was multiplied by the news she had just received, but somehow she couldn’t put the blame squarely there.
No, Jill couldn’t be happy for Pete earnestly because she wished she was the one whom had asked Lan out. Weird thing was, it hadn’t occurred to her until that very moment. Jill was never hesitant about her attraction to women, nor was she hesitant to act on it. She found Lan attractive, but it was she that pushed the issue and asked Lan out for Pete.
Jill chuckled ruefully at the irony. She and Lan had met in such an innocuous way that Jill missed the significance of the effect Lan had on her. It took hearing Pete’s news to realize that a date was exactly what she wanted with Lan. However, it looked like she would never get the chance. Besides, she had no idea if she even batted for the same team.
Now she had to go and spend two more hours with the latest recruiting class who had seen one too many cop shows in which the only answer to a confrontation was a clever quip and unrealistically heroic gun fire exchange until the bad guy was dead.
Sometimes, she really wished she’d become a physical therapist like her parents had wanted.
Jill had really just wanted to go home and go to bed but she’d forgotten that she had agreed to dinner with Rachel and Scott earlier that morning, before everything went to shit. She thought about asking for a rain check, but decided that perhaps the company would help her sullen mood. Jill wasn’t one to wallow in her own misery for any amount of time and she knew that this day was testing her self-pity capacity.
So, she raced home, showered and dressed and headed to their favorite Italian restaurant downtown. She had been seated maybe five minutes when she heard the tinkle of the bell on the door and looked up to see Lan, dressed in sweats and a ponytail heading for the take-out counter. Jill only hesitated a second before finding that her feet had already made the decision and she was standing behind Lan tapping her shoulder before she had realized she’d moved.
“Hey.” Jill said quietly as to not scare the woman.
“Jill! How are you doing?” Lan said, genuinely happy to see her.
“I’m doing well. Just meeting Rachel and Scott for dinner.” She explained.
“Cool, tell them I said hi.” Lan said as she slid a twenty across the counter to pay for her meal. The meal and the change were handed over with a hearty smile and ‘see you again soon, Lan’ from the owner. Lan stepped away and turned towards the door, Jill right behind her.
“Uh, I will.” Jill stumbled, not quite ready to end her conversation with the pretty brunette. “Do you come here often?” Wow, that sounded so lame. Jill tried to save herself from a social grace nosedive by explaining herself. “I mean, it seems the owner, Leo, knows you and all.”
“Yeah, I guess I do. Usually, I’ll pick something up here for dinner on my days off. It gets old, cooking for one.” Lan stated.
“I know what you mean. Listen, I won’t keep you. I just wanted to say hi.” Jill said, noting Lan seemed to be in a bit of a hurry.
Lan smiled. “Hey, I’ll see you Wednesday, right?” She asked, figuring Pete had told her Lan had joined their league.
“Wednesday? Oh, bowling, right. Actually, no. They changed my duties at work and I’ll probably be working that night, well, all Wednesday nights for the foreseeable future.” Jill explained, trying to keep the true disappointment out of her voice.
“Really? That sucks.” Lan said succinctly, causing Jill to chuckle at her candor. “Well, you’ll just have to come by the bar when you get a chance. I believe we still have some stories to swap.” Lan said brightly.
Jill smiled, pleased that Lan still remembered they talked about swapping work stories and that she still wanted to see her.
Bolstered, Jill responded with an easy smile. “Count on it.”
“Good. I’ll see you soon, Jill.” Lan said with her own easy smile and then made her way out of the restaurant, leaving a much happier Jill in her wake.
About 5 minutes later, and true to their time stretching nature, Rachel and Scott entered the restaurant, all smiles and giggles.
“Ya know, sometimes you two make me want to barf.” Jill said with mock disgust.
“Love you too, Loser.” Rachel smiled and enveloped her best friend in a hug. Scott immediately followed with a manly half-hug and the irritating hair ruffle that made Jill feel ten years old.
“So, how was your day?” Rachel asked as she slid into the booth after Scott.
“Shitty. Real shitty.” Jill responded as she absently opened the menu. “Budget cuts came down today and I’ve been reassigned to Patrol Unit. I’m still part-time CRT, though. It is essentially double duty. I’m replacing Sergeant Mack who I guess is moving to Nevada.” She blew out a deep breath and thumbed through the menu.
“Will you still be able to bowl on Wednesdays?” Asked Rachel.
“Doubtful. I’ll be pulling some patrol shifts and I think Wednesdays are best for me. Gives me the weekend to concentrate on CRT.” Jill explained while trying to decide between the chicken ravioli or the veal Parmesan.
“Oh, man. Things won’t be the same without you!” Scott said sounding quite bummed out.
“Yeah, our league average will go up.” Jill said seriously.
“And you’ll miss the budding romance between our Petey and Lan.” Rachel stated as she turned her attention to the waitress who had just arrived at the table.
As she recited the specials of the night, Jill secretly bristled over Rachel’s words. It didn’t surprise Jill that Rachel had figured out what was going on with Pete and Lan. But she just didn’t want to hear about it. She hoped Rachel would forget the subject after they’d finished ordering. She knew she could only hold out for so long before Rachel would pick up on her reluctance to discuss Lan and Pete and would begin asking questions.
Fortunately, the rest of dinner was spent talking about the upcoming wedding and teasing Scott about what kind of bachelorette party Jill was planning that weekend. Soon, Jill was immersed in conversation about the potential perils of open bar receptions, non-offensive music selections and the importance of guest table assignments.
The rituals of getting ready for a date were lost on Lan. She figured she would want to look nice and took Joyce’s advice and put on something dark and casual. It was easy as those were the kind of clothes she tended to wear anyway.
As she put the finishing touches on her make up, which was really just eyeliner, mascara and lip-gloss, she took a moment to study herself in the mirror. Tiny lines had appeared around her hazel eyes a couple of years ago, but they had yet to really deepen. Her nose sported only a few freckles that were barely visible against her smooth olive skin. She had to thank her mother for that. Her legacy would be carried on in her daughter’s great skin.
Hearing the doorbell ring, she swooped to intercept the dogs and shut them up in her bedroom. Then she slipped on her shoes and headed over to the door, checking through the peephole before opening it. She grinned when she saw Pete popping a breath mint into his mouth.
“Hey, Pete. You look great.” Lan said as Pete came in and stepped into a casual hug.
“That’s my line!” He argued around a smile. He took a moment to appraise his date in her dark slacks and burgundy v-neck sweater. Wow, she does look great, thought Pete.
“Um, I’ll just get my coat and let out my dogs.” Lan said awkwardly, not knowing what else to say. Pete grinned and nodded.
“You might want to step out, they can get pretty rambunctious.” She explained as she began making her way to her bedroom door.
“Oh, no problem. I would like to meet them though.” He said hopefully.
“Oh… uh, sure. Just be warned, they are small but they are full of energy.” Lan warned as she began to open the door.
As soon as it was opened a tiny, a black nose pushed it the rest of the way open and barreled out. A second smaller mutt trailed right behind. When they saw the guest, the made a beeline, barking happily and jumping up to be pet.
“Whoa, guys!” Pete said as he bent to pet both, taking care to distribute the affection equally.
“The larger one is Hook, he’s the man of the house.” Lan said loudly, over the cacophony of barking and sniffing. “My little girl here is Bait. They were rescues from the shelter. I had to take both, as they are brother and sister. I couldn’t bare to split them up.” Lan said as she began ushering them away from her guest.
“Well, they’re adorable. I wish I could have a dog. I’m just never home enough.” He said somewhat wistfully.
“They do enrich your life.” Lan stated.
“They do, don’t they? I used to have a dog growing up. A huge Shepard named Duke that would follow me around everywhere. I loved that dog.” He mused, thinking of the Shepard for the first time in years. “You ready?” He asked, snapping back to the present.
“Sure.” She turned to the dogs who had made themselves comfortable on the blanketed side of the couch. “You two behave.” She intoned seriously. She got two furiously wagging tails in response, which caused both her and Pete to laugh.
“So, you were pretty ambiguous over the phone. Where are we going tonight?” Lan asked as she climbed into Pete’s late model Dodge truck.
“Well, I’ll tell you up front, I’m not a very creative guy.” Pete said, glancing at Lan as he pulled away from the curb.
“Let me guess, dinner and a movie?” Lan speculated.
“Are you disappointed?” Pete asked.
“Well, Pete, counting you, I’ve been on exactly…” She pretended to calculate in her head, “One date since high school.”
Pete looked at her in utter disbelief. “Are you serious?”
“Quite. With the exception of a few fumbling first dates when I was in high school, I haven’t dated.”
“Why?” He asked before he could stop himself. He tried to elaborate. “I mean, you are very pretty woman. You are funny and smart…” He left off, bewilderment still evident in his voice.
“For many years, I wasn’t what you would call dating material.” She said matter-of-factly. He looked at her, still confused. She knew she would have to explain further, but didn’t want to get into her past right now. She settled on the bare facts. “I left home very early and struggled with making it on my own. I had lots of dead-end jobs with no thoughts about my future beyond getting through the day. I hadn’t the time or the desire to even consider dating. Then in later years when my life became more settled, I was a little under whelmed at what was out there.” She said with a small chuckle.
He echoed her chuckle with one of his own. He knew what she meant. Still…
“Why me?” Pete asked after a few seconds of silence.
“I feel safe with you. Comfortable.” She said without hesitation. Truth was, she had thought about that a few times after Pete had asked her out.
“Well, you should, knowing what I do for a living.” Pete responded with light sarcasm. She swatted him on the arm, tossing a mock glare his way.
“Smart ass.” She mumbled. He smiled at that.
“What I meant was, I feel safe with you, emotionally. That’s big for me. I really have no friends outside of my co-workers at the bar and my neighbors. I keep to myself mostly. I always have. But lately, I’ve been more comfortable around others. Like the bowling league, I never would have done that a couple of years ago.”
“Well, you’ve got Jill to thank for that. She’s fast on her feet that one. I never thought to ask you if you bowled.” Pete said.
“I have to admit, I was caught a bit off-guard by the question, but I’m sure glad she asked.” Lan said in a teasing tone.
“Yeah. I’m going to really miss her on Wednesdays.” Pete expressed sadly.
“I ran into her last week and she told me about a change at work?” Lan probed.
“Her boss told her she would be reassigned and only be on the CRT part-time due to budget cuts. She’s still training new recruits and she’s on call as a negotiator, but she has to pull some night shifts on patrol along with her full-time duties as a Sergeant for the Patrol Unit now.”
“Geez, that sounds like an awful lot.” Lan thought.
“It is. But it’s the nature of the beast. Bureaucrats only see dollars being spent, not the amount of work that needs to be done.”
“Well, we’re here.” Pete announced as they pulled into a popular steakhouse restaurant.
“Oh, I love this place!” Lan happily reported as she slipped out of the truck before Pete could go around and open her door. His parents brought him up right and he was one of the few men who knew what chivalry was. He shook his head in amusement. I’ll get the door for her when we leave. He thought as he caught up to her at the front of the truck.
Dinner was quiet and pleasant as they both traded their personal histories. Lan wasn’t surprised that Pete was a third generation police officer. He talked fondly of his father and grandfather who were now retired but lived vicariously through Pete’s stories.
“You’re lucky to have such a close family.” Lan said, hoping the wistfulness she felt hadn’t surfaced through her words. Pete knew enough to know Lan didn’t and she didn’t want him to feel like she didn’t want to hear about his.
“Yeah, I guess I am. It certainly kept me out of trouble. So many of my friends growing up didn’t, ya know?” He shrugged absently. “I did the stupid rebellious things when I was younger, but luckily none ever stuck. My father would have laid into me if they had.”
“Hmm.” Lan murmured thoughtfully. “I was such a goody two shoes growing up. You’d think with the way my mother used up men when I was young, I’d be more jaded, or worse. When she settled with Stan, my step-dad, I just saw everything I didn’t want.”
Pete sensed Lan was beginning to get introspective and reached out a hand, settling his on hers. She smiled at the quiet support. “Thanks. Sorry to bring such a nice evening.” She said apologetically.
“No need to be sorry. I want to hear about these things. Figure out what makes Lan tick.” Pete said lightly.
“Right.” She said with mock sarcasm. They sat in silence for a bit as they waited for the bill. After a bit of arguing, Lan relented, letting Pete pick up the tab after he promised to let her pay for snacks at the movie.
“So, what are we seeing, Mr. Creative Dater?” Lan teased as they pulled onto the street and headed for the new multiplex on the west side of town.
“Uh, there are a few that start around the same time. I figured we could choose when we get there.” He said, chancing a glance at Lan to see if that was acceptable.
“Oh, good idea. I will warn you though. I hate gore, horror and anything with Adam Sandler.” She informed her date.
“Man, picky, picky!” Pete laughed. “You are a girl, aren’t you?” He said around a smile.
“No, I’m a woman and I have taste.” She said with a sense of superiority that made Pete laugh all the more harder.
“Well, this outta be fun, then.” Pete said as he pulled into the near full parking lot.
They’d settled on a romantic comedy, which Pete actually found himself enjoying. He’d wrestled with the temptation to grab Lan’s hand or put his arm around her shoulder, but the right moment just never presented itself. He chuckled at himself for being such a teenage boy. Lan brought that out in him though.
When they’d said their goodnights, Lan took the lead, wrapping Pete in a hug at her door. He’d stood there awkwardly for about fifteen more seconds before asking her if she’d like to attend Rachel and Scott’s wedding with him in a couple of weeks. She agreed, and that was more than enough for him. He stepped off of her porch with a little hop after watching her safely enter her house, as happy as he had been in a long time.
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