Lan pulled the Land Cruiser into the half full parking lot of the sports complex and looked around for burgundy and blue softball jerseys.
“Do you know which field it is?” Tina asked as she swung the passenger door open.
“Well, I’m sure I did at one point. All I remember was burgundy and blue uniforms.” Lan helpfully supplied as she looked out onto the 10 fields or so. I never knew this place was so big.
“We can ask around.” Tina said as she ushered the kids onto the sidewalk. Lan nodded, joining them on the sidewalk.
Lan had thought herself very clever when she asked Jill if Pete would be playing too. When she said he would be, she then checked with Jill to make sure it was okay to invite Tina and the kids.
“I see Pete!” Exclaimed John, taking off towards one of the fields to the left of the parking lot. The rest of the group just chuckled and followed, realizing their short search was over and headed in the direction the excited young boy was heading.
“Pete!” John yelled about ten feet from the man. Pete swung around from his bat bag and greeted the boy with a huge smile.
“Hey! What’s going on?” He shouted, surprised yet delighted to see the boy. After giving him a light hair ruffle, he looked over John’s head to see the rest of the group in tow.
“Hey, Pete.” Lan smiled as she gave him a quick hug. “Hope you don’t mind having a small cheering section.” Seeing that Pete was still a bit confused, Lan began to explain how she’d heard about the game and how she thought Tina and the kids would enjoy watching as well. Just then Jill had spotted them and came over to join the group and finally meet the family Lan talked so highly of.
“Glad you could make it. You must be John.” Jill said smiling down at the young boy who stood next to Pete. She stuck out her hand and John politely shook it.
“Are you a police officer too?” John asked with big curious eyes.
“I am.” Jill supplied jovially. “This must be your family.” She continued, smiling and shaking hands with Katy and Tina as John introduced them. He sounded like such a young man. It made Lan smile.
“It is great to finally meet you guys. I’ve heard lots about you.” She said looking warmly between the three with her eyes finally resting on Lan’s.
“Likewise. We’ve heard lots about you too.” Tina said looking to Lan as well. The statement caught Jill by surprise and she raised an eyebrow at Lan.
“Don’t worry, Jill, it was all good.” Lan replied lightly, trying to hide her mild embarrassment.
“Yeah, she’s right,” Tina said. Waiting a beat, she added, “We’ll mostly.”
“Oh, she’s a funny one.” Jill intoned around a big smile. They all laughed easily and Lan was inordinately pleased that Tina and Jill had seemed to hit it off instantly.
As the group began making their way to the stands, Pete fell in step with Tina. “Came to watch us put the hurt on the vice unit?” Pete joked, figuring Lan had filled her in on who they were playing as well.
“You bet.” Tina replied, looking up into his eyes. They stopped at the bottom of the stands and Pete shifted from foot to foot awkwardly.
“Well, I guess I better go get warmed up.” He paused for another second. “I’m glad Lan invited you guys.” He finished shyly.
“Me too. Good luck.” Tina replied, touching his forearm briefly. Pete grinned and nodded and made his way back down to the dugout, mentally pumping his fist in the air.
Jill, being the ever-observant person that she was, noticed the little conversation between Pete and Tina. She knew they’d met when Lan took him over for the barbeque, but she sensed something else. Interesting.
Jill pulled her baseball hat lower down over her forehead to combat the afternoon sun. She was glad for the fact that her good-natured yet chauvinistic colleagues remembered she turned two double plays during last year’s game and awarded her second base again.
Even though she moaned and groaned about playing each year, she did enjoy a chance at showing the boys up. She loved playing the infield and relished the challenge of fielding a nicely paced ground ball and throwing them out at first or catching a line drive and hearing the groans from the opposing team. It was her own little way of getting even in a male dominated field.
Snapping her gum like a seasoned professional, she bent her knees, held her glove out in front of her and faced the batter, ready for action. Up to bat was a guy named Gleason whom Jill had heard about. He was a newly promoted detective who barely looked old enough to vote.
Jill settled into her stance and just as promptly fell out of it as she saw the young detective point and wink at her. What the hell?
The sharp, hollow clank of the ball hitting aluminum reverberated through the park and Jill sensed rather than saw the ball rocketing toward her. On self-preservation instinct alone, she threw up her gloved hand in front of her face and was shocked as she heard and felt the impact of the ball smacking into her glove. She squeezed making sure it didn’t fall out and then raised it above her head in a triumphant smile. Winking back at the now sheepish looking detective, she rifled the ball to first base and held up her pinky and index fingers indicating two outs, all the while blowing a huge pink bubble. The third out came quickly when the next batter popped it up into center field.
It was patrol’s turn to hit and as Jill made her way to the on deck circle, she noticed that Gleason was catching. “Oh, great,” she muttered to herself.
When it was her turn to bat, she stepped up to the plate. “Nice catch, by the way.” She heard the smirk in his voice from behind the plate. “But you’re going to be the third out.” He said with confidence.
“You think so?” she asked around an equally confident grin. They both settled into their positions to wait for the first pitch. It was a high, loping pitch and Jill jumped on it, sending it over the shortstop’s head. She smiled as she dropped the bat and hustled to first base, safe by a mile.
Taking off her batting gloves, she looked over to the catcher just in time to see him wink at her again. What is it with this guy? She gave him a smirk of her own.
“You’re barkin’ up the wrong tree, detective.” Gleason heard as he squatted down behind the plate. He looked up to the slightly overweight older man who had just stepped into the batter’s box.
“Oh?” Ventured Gleason as he caught the first pitch for a ball. He winged it back to the pitcher.
“She’s a dyke.” The man said bluntly as he settled back into his stance.
“Damn.” The catcher said plaintively. “She’s really hot.”
“Well, it makes my stomach turn.” Said the older man right before he lunged at a low pitch popping it up. It was easily caught and he cursed as he went back to the dugout.
“Wow, what an asshole.” Murmured Gleason. He was bummed he wouldn’t get a chance to ask the redhead out, but he didn’t begrudge her for her preference of the fairer sex.
The older man’s pop up was the third out so Jill began jogging back to the dugout. “Nice pop up, Russell.” Jill said teasingly as she patted him on the shoulder.
Coupled with his foul mood at being the third out, his envy for Jill’s playing ability and an overall dislike of what she was, he spat out, “Well not all of us are big fucking dyke softball superstars like you.”
Jill pulled up, shocked at not only the words but the vehemence of his tone. She had no idea the older sergeant felt that way about her. She stared at him in disbelief.
Pete had heard the exchange and was quicker to act. He got up in Russell’s face ready to knock the bigot right out of him. It angered Russell further. “It’s unnatural what she is. Fucking sick,” he sneered.
On the other side of the fenced dugout, Lan and Tina heard the exchange as well. Both women sat with their mouths open slightly, not believing the ugly turn of events.
The patrol team began shuffling around, torn between picking up their gloves or watching what was going to happen next. It was enough time for Jill to regain her wits and her voice and she stepped in between her fuming friend and the indignant older man. “Hey, no brawling, boys.” Jill said, trying to diffuse the situation. They stepped back but still looked at each other with anger.
To Pete, she said, “Thanks for sticking up for me, but he just isn’t worth it.” Then she turned to Russell and said calmly, “I don’t give a shit what you think about me. I’m not ashamed of who or what I am.” She stared at him for another second and then added. “If you think you’ve accomplished anything here by outing me, all you’ve done is shown what a homophobic bigot you are.”
After another still moment in which Russell just looked at her vacantly, Jill turned away from him. She took a calming breath and looked out the dugout fence, shaken at having been outed so vehemently. She didn’t hide the fact she was gay to co-workers, but she didn’t advertise. She preferred to come out privately to people she trusted.
She looked out at the stands and saw Lan and Tina looking at her. She saw a bit of shock on Tina’s face, but it was not accompanied by disgust as far as she could tell. She then looked at Lan. Lan had a proud smile. Jill returned the smile with a small one of her own. It grew wider as she watched Lan mouth, ‘well done’.
“You okay?” Asked Pete as he came up behind her.
“Yeah.” She said with growing confidence. Fuck ‘em if they can’t accept who I am, she thought. Then she noticed that no one had left the dugout yet, except for Russell. They all had small, benevolent smiles on their faces. Smiles that to Jill said, I accept you. This changes nothing. Russell is the exception, not the rule.
“We gonna play or what?” Called the young detective from the other team. The patrol team looked to Jill.
“Yeah, we’re coming!” She called and grabbed her glove and headed out to take her spot at second base.
The rest of the game continued on uneventfully, well if you could call Jill’s two doubles and Pete’s grand slam uneventful. True to Pete’s prophetic words, patrol did put the hurt on vice. They ended up winning 10-2.
To celebrate both teams piled into Stockard’s Pizza, a frequent hangout for local softball leagues. Pete took the initiative this time and invited Tina, Lan and the kids to go with them. Both John and Katy eagerly accepted the invitation for all of them.
“Could you teach me to hit like that?” John asked Pete as he squirmed onto the already crowded bench seat next to him.
“You bet.” Pete said around a smile as his eyes met Tina’s across the boy’s dark head. She smiled back, daring to hope that Pete really meant it.
Just watching him interact with her son gave her great pause. John was getting to the age where he really needed a positive male role model in his life. But she didn’t want to impose on the officer.
“Tell you what, how about we ask your mom if we could go out next weekend to the batting cages? I was planning on going anyway. I could give you some pointers.”
Before John could begin his pleading, Tina nodded as she swallowed a bite of her pizza. “That would be fine. Pete, that’s very sweet of you.” She said, her eyes shining a bit. She felt as if the man read her earlier thoughts. Pete’s thoughtful, happy smile made her think that perhaps he did.
The moment was feverishly interrupted as John threw his arms around his mom’s neck and thanked her and then promptly asked for some quarters for the video games that occupied a whole wall of the pizza place.
The two were sitting side by side again, laughing at the whirlwind that was her son.
“Pete, that’s a really nice thing you did. Since his step-father…” Tina faltered. She wasn’t ready to tell her dark secrets to a man she was quickly coming to admire and like a great deal. She knew sometime in the future she’d be telling all to this man, but not today.
Sensing her discomfort, he wanted to put her at ease. “I wanted to Tina. He’s a pretty cool kid.” He said simply.
He knew there was a story behind why their dad, and apparently, stepfather too, weren’t in the picture. He also knew Tina wasn’t ready to tell it. He hoped to be around long enough to where she’d trust him with it, and then even longer still. He smiled to himself as he realized just how quickly and completely this family had taken hold of his heart.
Pete had always been one to fall easily, but this time, he sensed, was different. He knew though he’d have to take things pretty slow for both the kids and Tina’s sake. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to realize the family had already been through a lot.
“Listen, I do have the whole next weekend off. I was wondering if maybe you’d like to go out? Dinner or movie or something?” Pete ventured, hoping he wasn’t being too forward.
“Oh. Um, sure, I’d like that.” Tina said in slight surprise. She’d hoped down the line perhaps they could maybe start seeing each other. But now was good too. She really liked the officer.
“Cool.” He said with a crooked grin.
“So, softball stud.” Lan said in way of greeting as she sat down across from Jill who was eating a well-drenched salad with gusto. Her baseball hat was now on backwards holding in place her loosely pulled back hair.
“Yeah, that’s me.” Jill said around a mouthful of lettuce and Italian dressing, her eyes smiling for her.
Lan regarded her for a moment, using the brief seconds the sergeant spent looking down at her salad, trying to spear a cherry tomato.
She had the classic features of a redhead, light skin and a healthy smattering of freckles, most of them falling between her small nose and cheeks. It gave her the appearance of being much younger than her 35 years. Her cobalt eyes seemed to add to the myth too, shining with mirth when she was happy or being silly. They would turn just a shade darker when she turned serious or upset. Like today at the softball field.
Lan’s heart had gone out to her friend. She knew Jill was strong and indeed she’d dealt with the situation with what seemed to be to Lan, her regular aplomb, but still it had to hurt for a colleague to say those things in front of her peers.
“What? I have something on my face?” Jill asked as she began wiping at her chin.
“No.” Lan said absently, just becoming aware she was staring. “You okay? I mean from today and all?” Lan asked as Jill slowly lowered her napkin and regarded her.
“Yeah. Just caught me by surprise is all. I know there are plenty of guys on the force with that attitude. I’m usually lucky enough that they keep it to themselves, though.”
“Well, you handled it brilliantly.” Lan said, a little shyly.
“You think so?” Jill said, genuinely thrilled that Lan thought that. She’d been so embarrassed by the whole thing. She realized most of that embarrassment stemmed from the fact that Lan had heard it all.
“I do think so.” Lan said, deepening her voice as she gave Jill a very warm smile.
On the way to take Tina and the kids home, Lan broached the subject for the first time since overhearing Pete and Tina’s conversation at the pizza place.
“So you have a date, then.” Lan stated as she looked over at Tina. She said it low enough that the kids in the back playing ‘slug bug’ couldn’t hear.
“It is. I guess.” A sideways look from Lan prompted Tina to put her hands in surrender. “Yes, it’s a date.” She said in a loud whisper.
A smile spread across Lan’s face as she slipped on her blinker to turn right. “I’m glad. I knew you two hit it off immediately.” Lan said, extremely pleased with herself.
A deep sigh from Tina gave her thoughts away. Lan wanted to respond but knew she couldn’t do the conversation justice with the kids in the car. She settled for an understanding smile at Tina and a squeeze of her forearm.
“So, you wanna babysit?” Tina asked a little more loudly.
“Lan, you gonna babysit us?” John piped up. “When?” He asked as he leaned up as far as his seatbelt would let him.
“We’ll talk about it when we get home, honey.” Tina said as she twisted around to look at her kids. She noted that Katy had a rather troubled look on her face.
They pulled up to the house and Katy was out of the car and up the drive in a flash.
“What’s wrong with Katy?” John asked as he slid out of the seat towards the open door.
“Not sure.” Tina said a bit worriedly. She turned and looked at Lan through the passenger window as she shut the door to the Land Cruiser firmly. She gave Lan a plaintive look.
“I’m sure she’ll be okay.” Lan said reassuringly. She didn’t really know what was going on in the young teenager’s mind, but she knew Katy to be a reasonable, mature young woman. Whatever was bothering her, her and her mom would be able to sort it out.
Tina gave her small smile. “I guess I better go see what’s bugging her.” Tina said with attempted casualness.
“Call if you need.” Lan said and meant it.
“I will.” Tina said as she turned to go into the house.
It had turned out that Katy had some misgivings about her mom dating again. Being the bright, observant girl she was, she had picked up on what Lan and her mom were talking about. It had just taken her by surprise. She liked Pete. She just didn’t want her mom to be hurt again.
After a long talk with her kids, Tina explained that she would take things one day at a time with Pete and that no major decision would be made without their input from now on. Katy seemed satisfied with that and John was just plain overjoyed at the prospect of seeing Pete more often now.
“Lieutenant, you wanted to see me?” Asked Jill as she knocked on the doorframe to Lt. Vick’s office.
“Come on in, Cooper.” He said with his usual gruff friendliness. She came in and took the seat in front of his desk.
“I heard what Russell said to you during the softball game.” He said without preamble.
Jill sighed. She was only slightly surprised it got around to him. Then she turned a little angry. If he’d gotten wind of it, it was all over the precinct. Great.
“Yeah, well, it’s all sorted.” She said, not really wishing to bring it up again.
“So, he apologized?” Lt. Vick asked pointedly, leaning towards her putting his elbows on his desk.
“It was no big deal, Lieutenant. I’ll stay out of his way, I’m sure he’ll stay out of mine.”
“Not acceptable, Cooper. His actions need to be dealt with.” The lieutenant said seriously. Jill could see this going nowhere good. As far as she was concerned the matter was over.
“Sir, please, it could make matters worse. I’d rather not pursue this. Besides, he was the one who left the field with egg on his face, not me.”
“Yeah?” Vick said, surprised at his sergeant’s candor. He’d heard that along with what Russell had said that pretty much all the players there had Cooper’s back. Perhaps it would be best to let it blow over.
“Yeah.” Jill said, chuckling to herself a bit as she saw an almost imperceptible smile cross the lieutenant’s face.
“Alright, Cooper. However, he so much as looks at you funny, or if anyone tries to take this further, you come to me. That’s an order, got it?” He said seriously as he rose from his desk.
“I got it sir. Thanks.” Jill said and turned to go, a small smile on her face. She had no doubt that the lieutenant would have raked Russell over the coals if Jill had asked and it made her feel good to be not only respected, but cared for by the man she’d grown to see as a mentor as well as superior.
Lan woke with a sudden start. Her eyes shot open and she winced at the fresh memory of the dream. It was her mother, kneeling beside her bed, her face contorted in sorrow, palms raised in some sort of desperate appeal. It seemed she was trying to say something to Lan, but there was only the motion of her lips, no sound. The pain her mother seemed to be experiencing was palpable. Lan still felt it heavy on her. “Fuck.” She groaned out, hands coming up to rub her eyes.
She fought the temptation to look over at the floor next to her bed. The dream had seemed so real. She finally sat up, the last vestiges of the dream sliding away with the onset of consciousness. Her dogs began to gather themselves in her lap, innately aware of her distress.
She hadn’t thought about much less dreamt about her mother for a long time. Why now? She thought to herself as she swung her legs over the edge of the bed. Lan wasn’t one to dwell too heavily on dreams or their meanings, but this one was a bit disturbing. If she cared enough to give it more thought. Fact was, she didn’t. Her mother had been out of her life for many years now and Lan rarely felt the loss anymore.
Not willing to spare anymore of her valuable time off on analyzing the dream, Lan rose and ambled into the bathroom. She had a few things to take care of today and wanted to make sure they all got done. She also hoped to see Jill since she knew the sergeant wasn’t scheduled to work until tonight.
After witnessing the incident at the softball field a few weeks ago, her admiration for Jill had grown tenfold. When Jill came out to her, Lan hadn’t really considered what it might be like for someone in her field of work to not only be gay, but to be open and not apologize for it.
Jill’s response to the homophobic officer offered Lan a small glimpse into the mind and heart of the brave, self-assured sergeant. How she wished she had a friend like Jill when she was younger.
“You out on patrol tonight?” Pete asked as he joined Jill in the hallway on the way to the squad room.
“Yep. Sam’s partner’s wife should be giving birth any minute so I’m filling in for him.” Jill said, nodding to Sam as she spotted him. He grinned and automatically threw her the keys.
“Oh no, Officer Cortez, you’re chauffeuring me around tonight.” Jill informed him, tossing the keys back to him with a smirk.
“Well, be careful out there.” Pete said in a deep voice, reciting a favorite line from an old cop show.
“Will do.” Jill replied in the same tone. “Let’s go keep the streets safe, Sam.” She aimed at her partner for the shift, slapping him on the back good-naturedly.
They had been out on patrol for about 2 hours and so far the night had been pretty uneventful, with only one, albeit, interesting traffic stop. It was just the way Jill preferred it.
Her attention turned to earlier that day when she had gotten an unexpected phone call from Lan, asking her out to lunch. They’d gone to a little sandwich shop not too far from Lan’s place.
As she sat opposite Lan, listening to her recount a funny story about John and Katy, she thought about how her feelings for Lan had evolved. In the two months they’d known each other, Jill had gone from fledgling interest to a kind of docile jealousy when she’d been dating Pete, to an authentic desire to get to know this woman better. She also realized her affection for the bar manager had increased the more she spent time with her. Her mind came back fully to listen to Lan’s story and an uncontrollable smile spread across her lips as she looked at Lan intently.
“What?” She heard Lan say, a warm smile caressing her face. Lan had stopped her story when she sensed Jill had lost the plot. It didn’t bother her, though. How could it when she was on the receiving end of such a smile?
“Do you want children? I mean, you know, in the future?” Jill asked awkwardly. Her embarrassment at the blurting out of the question was instantly eclipsed by the sudden need to know the answer.
Lan looked at her thoughtfully, pleasantly puzzled by the not so much incongruous as surprising question.
“When I’m around those two, I do think about it.” Lan said. Then she looked down at her half eaten club sandwich. “But I can’t imagine doing it alone, you know?” She paused for Jill’s reaction, getting a nod. “How about you?” Lan tossed back as she picked up her sandwich.
“I guess same as you. I haven’t really been around kids all that much, but the idea of being responsible for a child, teaching them what I know, it’s appealing. But doing it alone? I don’t think it would be very fair to the kid.” Jill reasoned.
“Yeah.” Lan replied, sandwich forgotten. She looked at Jill with an unreadable expression. Jill wanted so much to ask what she was thinking, but held back, an innate feeling telling her now was not the time.
“You know, if that guy hadn’t been such an ass, we wouldn’t have given him a citation.” Sam voiced, breaking Jill out of her thoughts. He was referring to their one traffic stop, a failure to stop for a pedestrian.
“No shit. He was entertaining, though.” Jill replied, chuckling at the guy’s ineffectual attempt at flirting his way out of a ticket. When he realized he was getting nowhere with her, he started to name all the police officers he knew and how they would never give a ticket for this kind of ‘ticky-tack’ stuff.
“Man, give me that kind of stop any day.” Sam said as he shifted slightly in his seat.
Jill grunted affirmatively. She knew that routine traffic stops could be anything but routine, especially in the area their division patrolled.
Suddenly the radio crackled to life. “We have a 415 at 1243 Watson. Units in the area, please respond.”
Jill picked up the mic, “3 Adam 20, our ETA is 3 minutes.” Jill also heard another unit respond that was within 6 minutes of the call. She let them know if they needed the second unit, she’d call them in.
“Hmm, let me guess, boyfriend beating the shit out of his pregnant girlfriend?” Sam speculated, knowing more often than not these disturbance calls were almost always domestic abuse calls.
When they rolled up on the scene, it was eerily quiet. Jill double-checked the address she’d scribbled down before proceeding to the front door of the rundown bungalow. Sam flanked the other side of the door as Jill knocked loudly. “Police officers, please open the door.” Jill paused briefly to listen for any sound coming from the house. She heard heavy footsteps making the floor creak and then the door was pulled open roughly.
“What the fuck do you want?” Rasped a mountain of a man, predictably wearing a dirty white t-shirt and ill-fitting jeans. He was barefoot and Jill could smell the stench of alcohol on his breath.
“We’re responding to a disturbance call and wanted to make sure everything was alright. Are you alone, sir?” Jill asked with a well-born mix of professionalism and concern.
“Most times, I wished to hell I was.” Deadpanned the man with a deep sigh that told of years of apathy, alcohol and capitulation. Jill almost laughed, but knew it could make the situation, which was still a mystery, go south real quick.
“Are you currently alone in the house?” Sam tried. The two took turns trying to look into the house, but had no luck looking around the body that filled the doorway completely.
“No, the missus is in the bedroom sleeping it off. She was in a rant about James pissin’ his bed.” He said as if it happened often.
After getting the man’s name and the name of his wife, Jill made a move towards the door, “Mind if we come in and take a look around?” The man gave a gesture of ‘be my guest’ as he moved out of the doorframe and into the house.
“Sorry, the maid went back to Mexico.” He announced acerbically as he kicked some old newspapers from the middle of the entrance. The house smelled of stale fast-food grease, sweat and dust. The furniture was worn, especially the faded floral print couch that had two deep dents, one large one smaller, in the cushions, obviously from many years and many hours of sitting.
“Where can I find James?” Jill asked as she looked around the front room thoroughly, taking in details of the front room: Old console television across from the couch, a slanted bookshelf with a few dusty romance novels and well worn 1000 piece puzzle boxes under the front window, battered coffee table with more newspapers and some fast-food wrappers.
“He’s in his room, door on the right,” The man gestured down the hall.
“Thanks,” She said as she knocked lightly and then opened the door. The room was dark and smelled faintly of urine and sweaty tennis shoes. “James?” Jill called out as she searched for a light switch, finding none. She opened the door wider to let in more light and told Sam to go check on the mother.
“James?” She tried again a little louder. “I’m Officer Cooper, can I speak with you a minute?” The column of light let in by the hall fell across a young boy, no more than eight, Jill imagined, with green eyes as big as saucers. She immediately bent down near the bed so she wasn’t towering over him. She assured the boy in a soft voice, “I’m just checking in on you. There were some loud noises and someone called us.”
The boy sat up and switched on a bedside lamp. Now illuminated, Jill could see that the boy had been crying, his eyes puffy and red. She began to visually inspect his face and neck for any signs of bruising as she asked, “Can you tell me what happened tonight?”
The boy sniffed and rubbed his hand across his nose and Jill wished she’d had a tissue for him. She took a quick glance around the room. It was sparse, with a battered dresser missing most of its knobs and a couple of cardboard boxes with some toys in them.
“I peed my bed and mom got real mad.” He mumbled. Jill looked down at his thin arms and hands, laying limply on his sweatpant covered thighs. All she wanted to do was hug this kid.
“Did she hurt you?” Jill asked, knowing that if he said yes, CPS would be called. He sat for a minute and after a very adult sounding, weary sigh he shook his head no. “You sure? How about your dad?” Again, he shook his head no. “Do they ever hit you or hurt you, James?” She asked softly.
“No, my mom, she just yells a lot. I do a lot of things wrong.” He said quietly. It broke Jill’s heart. It made her angry. Angry at the powerlessness she felt to help this boy’s lot in life. It wasn’t his fault he was born into this situation. She also knew that for every James there were many other kids who were worse off. She looked at the boy, seeing the top of his head as he was looking down at his lap. She couldn’t imagine how scared and confused this boy must feel.
With no physical injuries she could see and with the boy’s answer, and no obvious signs of physical neglect, she knew there was no grounds to make any arrests. She had the means to stop him from being bruised and broken on the outside, but not the inside. The thought of having to leave him here made her sick. She pulled herself together and affectionately brushed the boy’s hair back.
“Listen to me, James. Do you know how to use the phone?” He nodded, his face brightening a bit. “Excellent. I’m going to give you my card,” she said taking one out of her breast pocket. “If you ever need someone to talk to, or if someone hurts you, you call this number here,” she continued, pointing to her number. “Ask for Sergeant Cooper.” He repeated her name and nodded again, this time with a full smile on his face. It transformed his features. What a handsome boy, she thought.
Before she stood, she put her hand out in front of him. He reached out and gave her a most gentlemanly handshake. “You know what James, I think you are a really cool kid.” She chuckled a bit at his enormous grin and ruffled his hair, letting her hand linger on the top of his head for a moment. She then stood and walked out the door, barely in control of her emotions.
She met Sam out in the hallway, snapping back into professional mode. “The wife is passed out in the room,” he said pointing to the back of the hallway with his thumb. “The dad said she didn’t lay a hand on the boy, just lots of yelling.”
“Yeah, that’s pretty much what the boy said too.” Both shook their head, knowing they were thinking the same thing. They left the dad with some anger management and AA class information, hoping, but knowing the information would probably not be used. They climbed into their squad car and hoped to finish out the rest of their shift in relative peace.
Jill slammed back into her car seat outside of the bar, inordinately disappointed. Unable to shake the sadness she felt for the boy that was at the disturbance call, she could only think of one person she wanted to talk to about it. It was only after she’d pulled up to In the Drink and started to get out of her car that she remembered Lan was not working this night.
With a deep sigh, she pulled her seatbelt over her chest, started her car and drove off, feeling as alone and as sad as she’d felt in a very long time.
Jill awoke feeling only slightly better than she had last night. She could count on one hand the times a call had affected her that much. Taking a deep breath, she felt compelled to figure out why she reacted the way she did. On calls like that, an officer’s only focus should be on the facts of the situation, knowing where they needed to step in, and to keep people from harming each other, and if they did harm each other, arrest them. But that was just it, thought Jill. I couldn’t stop that boy’s parents from harming him emotionally and it completely got to me. Sometimes, Jill really hated what she had to deal with on the job. On the other hand, she couldn’t picture herself doing anything else.
She also pondered her intense need to talk to Lan last night. She could reason that before she realized Lan wasn’t working, she’d be the only one up at that hour to talk to. But Rachel was her best friend, surely she would have been more than willing to take a call from her if she was distraught, no matter what time of night. But she hadn’t even thought to call Rachel. It was only Lan that was on her mind.
Putting the topic out of her mind for now as she had no ready answers, she threw back the covers and made her way into the bathroom.
“So how are things with you and Pete?” Lan asked from her seat at the kitchen counter. She had come over to Tina’s to pick up the kids so they could go to the park and wear out the dogs. Lan watched Tina’s face light up at the question. It was answer enough, but she leaned forward, awaiting details as she watched her put up the last of the plates from the dishwasher.
“So far, so good. We are taking things slow. Real slow.” She said, checking the hallway absently for her kids. “I’m so scared still, Lan. My track record with men is so shitty.” She sighed deeply and came to stand across from Lan, snagging a sip of Lan’s too-sweet tea. She grimaced a bit and slid it back to her. It made Lan chuckle. She looked at Tina thoughtfully.
“You know Pete is different.” Lan waited for Tina to agree. She did. “How’s he doing with the kids?” Lan asked, herself checking the hallway to make sure the kids were not within listening distance.
“He’s real good with them. Not too eager to please them. He’s taking his time to get to know them.” She paused briefly, continuing in a lower voice. “I was mostly worried about how Katy would react, after the incident in the car, you know. But she’s really come around. She’s fascinated with his job, and asks lots of questions about procedures and stuff. She’s so inquisitive.” Tina finished with a mix of amusement and pride.
Lan was about to comment, but heard the kids come bounding out of their rooms, smiling and flushed. “Are your rooms clean? And I don’t mean, ‘stuffed things in weird places to get them out of the way’ clean, either.” Tina said seriously.
“I can only speak for myself,” Katy said, sliding her eyes to her brother, “but my room is very clean.” John gave her a dirty look and said his was just as clean if not cleaner. Tina sauntered into their rooms and made a show of inspecting them. With some quick peeks under beds and closets she deemed the kids ready to leave the house.
As they started to follow Lan out the door, Katy held back and spoke quickly and quietly to her mom, “You didn’t spill the beans did you?” Tina scowled at her daughter incredulously.
“Whom do I look like, your brother? Just remember we need her here next Saturday at 2 p.m.” Tina said, leaving it up to her daughter to get Lan to their house under false pretenses, for they and some of Lan’s friends were planning a surprise birthday party for her.
“Hey Lan, I was wondering if you could come over to our house next Saturday, to help me with a… a... report I’m doing for school.” Katy finished lamely. Now she had to come up real quick with what the report was supposed to be about. And why her mom couldn’t help her.
Luckily, she’d already told John to just keep quiet while she laid out her ruse today. He was keeping quiet all right, sitting across from Lan and Katy at a picnic table. But his ridiculously bright smile could give it away and Katy gave him a stern look when Lan turned her attention to the dogs for a moment before answering.
“Um, well I did have plans for that afternoon.” Said Lan slowly. Katy instantly looked mortified; John did too for good measure. Misinterpreting Katy’s distress, Lan quickly said she could change her plans. Obviously the kid really needed her. Why, she wasn’t sure, but... “I’ll just call my friend Jill and reschedule.” Lan was a bit bummed at the prospect, though. Jill had called her last week, surprising her by not only remembering her birthday, but asking her out to lunch to celebrate it. She hadn’t seen Jill for a couple of weeks and was looking forward to lunch with her.
“Oh, well. I hate to have you cancel your plans. What time
were you supposed to have lunch with her?” Katy asked. Perhaps this could still work out.
“I’m meeting her at one o’clock. I could meet you before, maybe?” Lan asked hopefully.
“No!” Katy said a bit too loudly. This was getting too complicated. She was sure she was going to blow it. Lan looked at her quizzically and was just about to say something when John piped up.
“Maybe you guys could come over afterward. Katy could use Jill’s help too.” John offered looking pointedly at his sister. “You know Katy, you could interview Jill too for your ‘Women in Non-Traditional Jobs’ report.” John finished, grinning brilliantly. He’d remembered the female police officer guest speaker that came to his school last month for just that very topic they’d been discussing in class.
Katy looked at him as if he’d just jumped into a burning building to save dozens of kittens. “That’s right! She’d be perfect! Do you think you two could come over?” Katy asked, almost hysterical with relief.
“I could see if she has some time afterward. I don’t know if she has to work that night…” Lan left off as she saw Hook starting to saunter off towards the trashcan.
When Lan dropped them off at home, Katy gave John a huge bear hug and kissed his cheek. “You are brilliant little brother!” She exclaimed, looking at him with newfound appreciation. “How did you ever think of that topic?”
“Like you said, Katy, I’m just brilliant.” He said smugly as he turned and headed to the kitchen, feeling 10 feet tall. Katy followed him with a smirk.
“Hey mom, we forgot to invite Lan’s friend Jill to the party. She and Lan actually had plans to have lunch the time of the party.” Katy reported as she approached the kitchen counter and plumped down in the same stool Lan was in an hour before. She then told her what had happened at the park, letting John tell about his role in the subterfuge.
“Well, I’ll tell Pete to make sure Jill gets her here as close to two o’clock as possible.” Tina reasoned, kicking herself for forgetting to invite someone who had become important to Lan.
Pete had gotten to Jill the Friday before she was to take Lan out for her birthday, so she was privy to the plan. So, she had just planned on asking Lan if they could push back their lunch date to two and just driving straight over to Tina’s. The only thing was why would she go over to Tina’s? Lan had unwittingly solved that problem by asking if they could stop by Tina’s to help Katy with a report. No doubt it was part of the plan to get Lan there, so she suggested doing that first and then going to an early dinner instead.
“So, why did you become a police officer?” Lan asked as they made their way to Tina’s. Lan couldn’t believe she hadn’t asked this question before. Katy’s report had gotten her to thinking about Jill’s choice in profession.
“Well, it wasn’t what was expected of me.” She said, thinking of their friend Pete, a fourth-generation cop. “My mom wanted me to become a physical therapist.” She paused to get Lan’s reaction, which was just a little smirk. She wanted to add how she was good with her hands, but thought better of it. Instead, she recalled the moment she had decided to become an officer.
“One day during my freshman year in college, I was hanging out in my dorm room. I heard someone yell, “Hey, that’s mine!” and then I heard the sound of someone running down the hallway. I poked my head out just to see this guy in dark pants and hooded sweatshirt head out the door. He’d stolen a wallet and Walkman from one of the rooms. I didn’t even think; I just started running after him. I tackled him midway through the quad and basically sat on him until campus police showed up. Turns out he had been responsible for a whole slew of robberies on campus.”
“So you were the big hero.” Lan said with a teasing, albeit warm tone.
Jill just chuckled, “A bit stupid, more like it. I had no idea if the guy was armed or anything. But it did excite the hell out of me. I remember thinking to myself, ‘I could do this for a living.’ So I switched to criminology the next semester.”
“What has been your most memorable call, you know, so far?” Lan asked, feeling proud that she was getting to know the terminology.
The call at the young boy’s house a few weeks ago jumped into Jill’s thoughts and she reflected again on how close she’d come to making a fool of herself had she actually found Lan in the state she was in. It wasn’t that she was afraid to show emotion in front of Lan. It was just the amount and intensity she was feeling that night. She’d scared herself with it. She couldn’t image how Lan would have felt seeing her like that.
“Well, that would have to be my first call in which I was negotiator. It was a man, barricaded alone in a seedy hotel downtown. Seems he’d been threatening other tenets and going on about his big gun collection he had with him. I was scared shitless, but he was pretty cooperative right off the bat. He took the throw phone in no problem, I established immediate contact with him and he began just unloading his entire life story. After awhile I just thought, ‘Man, I’m pretty good at this negotiating thing. I must really have what it takes!’” Jill chuckled at the memory.
“Anyway, he began making some pretty innocuous demands: pizza, change of clothes, silly stuff. I figured he was just a lonely, poor soul who needed some attention. So I started the textbook talk that would lead him to give himself up. I barely started my spiel when he just said he was coming out. Seconds later, he appears at the door hands raised with this weird smirk on his face.” Jill paused to see if Lan was following. She was, with a curiously amused expression on her face.
“Well?” Lan said.
“Turns out he was a screenwriter. He was having trouble writing a hostage scene and wanted to see what it was like to barricade himself.” Jill finished, immediately looking over to Lan for her expression, which was expectedly disbelieving.
“You’re kidding.” She gasped incredulously.
“Wish I was. I did get a bit of satisfaction out of letting him know he’d be facing real criminal charges, though. Like for filing a false police report, obstructing justice…”
“How pissed were you!” Lan spouted rhetorically.
“I know. Took me awhile to really take on another negotiation confidently. Well, to be the lead anyway. Here I thought I was hot shit and I’d been played.”
“But you are aren’t you?” Lan asked, a hint of pride in her voice.
“What, hot shit?” Jill asked around an amused chuckle. Lan smiled and recalled the time Pete came to Tina’s for a barbeque and was singing his friend and co-worker’s praises.
“Well, Pete seems to think you’re one of the best.” Lan said, almost challenging Jill to denounce her well-earned reputation. In response Jill just shrugged.
“I do what I need to do to get the job done. Make sure it all ends well.” She said quietly.
Sensing that Jill wanted to move on to another topic, Lan had started discussing her latest photography class, which to Lan’s pleasure, interested Jill very much.
“Why don’t you head up to the door, I’ve got to make a quick phone call and I’ll be right there.” Said Jill as she put the car in park in front of Tina’s house. Lan looked at her quizzically but nodded, saying she’d see her in a minute.
About half a minute later, Jill heard the excited shouts as she made her way up the sidewalk with a card and gift she’d grabbed quickly from the back of her car. She looked up to see Lan looking back at her from the wide-open door, mouthing “you little shit” and then gracing her with a giant grin. Jill just chuckled and followed her friend into the house and into the happy chaos that was a true surprise birthday party.
John and Katy wasted no time in regaling everyone with the story of planning the surprise party. It was truly heartwarming to see Lan react to such an act of care and consideration on her part. Along with herself, Tina and the kids, Pete was there, the two bar owners Chris and Bart were there and also Joyce, the seasoned waitress that Lan always talked so fondly of.
After greetings and reintroductions were made for Jill’s benefit, they all made their way outside and chatted while Pete manned the barbeque. It wasn’t long before Lan and Jill were talked into multiple games of cutthroat croquet while everyone else looked on, laughing at the two women as much as the two kids in their attempt to knock each other out of the game.
“Oh, please… don’t wack my ball again. You sent it into the flowerbed last game,” whined Lan as she saw Jill lining up her mallet. Jill appeared to ignore her pleas as she squinted, cocked back and… “It is my birthday.” Lan tried again, this time with a full-on pout and stomp for good measure.
Jill froze mid-swing at that. She couldn’t help but look up at her friend, completely enchanted by this playful side of Lan. She stepped back from her ball and leaned on her mallet, appearing to ponder Lan’s plea in all seriousness. “Hmmm. It is. I can’t let you get off scot-free though.” She said at last, looking over to the peanut gallery that was Katy and John. They were nodding vigorously. Birthday or not, Lan was in the lead, and that didn’t sit well with the two little uber-competitors.
Lan stood there, disbelief on her face. She wasn’t going to let on how much she was enjoying the game and the banter between them. “Okay, what do I have to do to have you not knock my ball into the next yard?” Lan asked, arms crossed now, mallet propped up against her thigh.
Just as Jill was about to reply, she felt her phone vibrate. “Hold that thought,” she said as she held up a finger and flipped open her phone. She groaned and looked toward the barbeque to see that Pete had opened his phone too and was looking at it with a bit of disappointment. They looked at each other then, confirming that they were both being called in. Gone instantly were the looks of disappointment and in their places, grim set features.
“What is it?” Lan asked, going over to her friend.
“Crisis team is mobilizing.” She said matter-of-factly. “Pete and I have to go.” She said with a trace of regret as she looked into Lan’s eyes. Seeing the concern there, she tried to lighten the mood, “I guess you’ll have to wait for your present ‘cuz I want to be there when you open it.”
It caught Lan off-guard and made her smile. “Alright, fine. Just don’t make me wait too long.” She tried for indignant, but it was softened by the awareness of the gravity of the situation her friend would be in soon.
“Wouldn’t dream of it.” Jill said earnestly, a ghost of a smile gracing her lips. Their eyes locked fleetingly and something in Lan tightened. “I gotta go now.” Jill said quietly as she looked toward Pete who was pulling off his apron and talking to Tina at the same time. She impulsively tugged Lan into a tight hug and whispered, “Happy birthday.” The hug was returned immediately and into Jill’s ear came, “be careful.” They pulled apart and Jill gave her a small smile, nodded and headed towards the back door. Pete was asking which one should call in as they went through the house, Jill mindful to grab her present and card, guaranteeing another excuse to see her friend again in the near future.
Without much conversation, they decided they’d ride together and they both jumped into Pete’s truck after Jill grabbed her gear from her car. She briefly worried about how Lan would get home, but quickly remembered there were a number of people more than happy to drive her home when the party was over. Then she remembered her hide-a-key and an idea formed in her mind. Perhaps she could have Lan drive her car home and she could be dropped off by Pete when this was all done. It would be nice since both Pete and I live a lot closer to Lan than Tina, she thought while waiting for dispatch to pick up. After she listened to the details of the call, she recounted the call details to Pete as they sped towards their destination.
Lan was awakened by the phone at 2:13 a.m. and was instantly panicked. It had taken her a long time to drift off to sleep after coming home from the party in Jill’s car.
Lan hadn’t really thought about the dangers of Jill’s job, but now that she had really gotten to know her and care for her, the phone ringing sent instant fear into her heart. Get a grip, Lan, she’s probably just calling to say she’s coming over.
Lan had received a call from Jill a few minutes after she’d left the party offering her her car so she could drive it home after the party. Jill had let her know too that she didn’t even need to bother Lan when she was dropped off at her house because she had her car keys with her. Lan had been keen on the idea from the start, but only because she’d be seeing her friend again that night. The realization of how much that meant to her kind of took her by surprise. “I’d rather have you wake me so that I know it was you taking your car, not some thief,” joked Lan. “Besides, if you are dead on your feet, I’d rather you crash at my place than try to drive home.” Lan added without forethought but knowing she meant it.
After another minute of discussion Jill finally relented. She didn’t want to disturb her friend, but she really didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to see the bar manager even sooner than she’d hoped. And the fact that Lan wanted to make sure she was safe warmed her heart more than she could say.
“Hey Jill.” Lan said into the phone, her voice rough with sleep.
“I’m sorry to wake you. I just wanted you to know I’m on my way back and I’ll be picking up my car in a second.”
“Oh. Okay.” Lan responded, a little disappointed Jill wasn’t going to come in. She didn’t want to sever the connection yet so she asked how the call went. She heard a long pause and a rustling sound followed by muffled voices. Then she heard a car door slam, in stereo. She slid out of bed and peeked out of her bedroom blinds and saw Pete’s truck.
“Sorry about that, just saying goodnight to Pete.” She heard Jill say through the phone. She watched as Pete drove away leaving a slump-shouldered sergeant on her sidewalk.
“We lost the suspect.” Jill said quietly.
Not knowing if that meant he was on the loose or he died, Lan wasn’t sure how to respond. She didn’t want to sound ignorant, so she settled for a concerned, “Oh.”
“Yeah, we managed to get him to release his two sons and their mother, before…. before he…” Jill trailed off. Lan watched the woman from her window, duffle bag hanging from her left hand, her phone pressed up to her ear with her right. She looked utterly lost. It didn’t take a genius now to realize what had happened.
“Jill, why don’t you come inside. You look really tired.” Lan said softly. Jill looked up abruptly to Lan’s bedroom window and just stood there. “I’ll meet you at the front door,” was all Lan said as she clicked off the phone, grabbed her robe and went to unlock the door. Jill was only halfway to the door when Lan opened it. She came out to meet the woman, getting a close look at the officer’s face. It nearly broke her heart.
“I’m sorry I woke you.” Jill said again quietly as she looked up into Lan’s face. Lan saw the pain and exhaustion etched clearly on the usual mirth-filled face and just wanted to take it away.
“It’s okay, Jill, I wanted you to,” she said sincerely as she took her duffle bag from her and led her into the house and into her spare bedroom. The dogs, sensing the mood of the women, kept their greetings to a minimum and obediently went back to Lan’s room when she told them to.
“Can I get you anything? Something to sleep in or… ?” Lan didn’t know what else to say to the despondent sergeant. She didn’t know if she should press her about what happened or offer her a hug… Never seeing her friend like this, she was unsure of what to do to help her. She only knew that she desperately wanted to.
“No, I’m fine. I’ll just sleep in my t-shirt I have in my bag.” Jill’s eyes seem to lose a bit of their daze and she looked up at Lan from where she’d plopped down on the bed. “I have to finish my report first thing in the morning. You sure it’s okay that I crash here for a little while before I have to go back to the station?”
Unable to help herself, Lan sat down beside her friend and put her arm around her. “Of course. What time should I wake you?”
“Oh, I’ll set my watch alarm.” Jill said, beginning to set it as she finished speaking. Knowing her friend needed all the sleep she could get; Lan patted her friend on the back and got up from the bed.
“Let me know if you need anything. Kitchen is pretty stocked, so help yourself to anything. You know where the bathroom is, right?” Jill nodded. “Okay, well, goodnight.” Lan said as she turned towards the door. She really didn’t want to leave Jill, but knew she needed sleep above all else. A quiet voice stopped her.
“Lan, thanks for letting me stay here tonight. You’re a great friend.”
“Anytime, Jill.” She said around a warm smile. “And you are too.” That got a slightly confused look from Jill. “You are.” Lan said with more conviction and Jill took it for the truth that Lan saw.
“Thank you.” Jill half-whispered watching the woman close the door before she curled up and tried to sleep.
Lan didn’t know what time Jill left, but she knew she was gone when she woke up around 7a.m. She looked out and felt a lump in her throat when she saw her car gone. She made a mental note to call her friend later and make sure she was okay.
She made her way downstairs to the kitchen, her faithful pups following on her heels. They broke from behind her and ran to the guest bedroom, looking for their late night visitor. “She’s gone, guys,” she said, feeling every bit as disappointed as her dogs. She followed them into the bedroom and a little scrap of paper caught her eye.
Thanks again for letting me crash at your place. I set your coffee maker up, but I didn’t know when you’d wake up, so all you have to do is turn it on. I still have your present, give me a call.
“I finished the report, Lieutenant.” Jill said as she stepped into her boss’ office. She felt a little better after some sleep, but she couldn’t curb the replay of the scene after she had the suspect, Paul Tinsdale, release his young sons and their mother.
After they had been taken safely into police custody, he had opened the front window, shouted to his family, and put the .38 caliber gun to his head. She couldn’t get the screams from the boys out of her head.
“Hey, let this one go, Cooper.” Lieutenant Vick said, knowing exactly what the young negotiator was thinking about. He’d lost a few barricade suspects in his career and he knew just what she was going through. But, to continue this job, and continue it well, you had to put those instances in a place in your mind and not visit them again. The quicker you did that, the better. He knew it had just happened, but he needed to make sure Jill got on with dealing with this but not as something that was not her fault.
“Some people are beyond reaching, Jill. He obviously had this in his mind long before we ever showed up.” He watched her nod, but she refused to meet his eyes. “You got him to release his family. They have their lives thanks to you.” He reminded her gently.
“Only to watch him end his.” She stated tonelessly. Her head was still at the scene and it was written all over her face, in her body language.
The lieutenant made it a rule never to get too personal or fatherly with his officers, but he could tell when some advice was warranted.
“Jill, I’m giving you today off. Spend it with someone or do something that will take your mind away from work. There is more to life than agonizing over things for which you have no control over. You did everything you could, you did everything right. Those boys and their mother are alive because of you. The suspect, that was simply out of your hands. No one could have changed that. Believe it and move on. If you need to talk to the shrink, I’ll set it up.” He added with a little more emotion than he intended.
Finally, Jill looked up and looked her boss in the eye. “I guess you know what you’re talking about.” She said with a half-smile. “I’ll go home, work this out, work on putting it behind me. You can count on me.” She added, knowing he was concerned for her not only as an officer, but as a person. She turned to leave and as she reached the door, she thanked him for the ‘fatherly advice.’ He grinned and shook his head, shushing her out the door with a wave of his hand.
Jill had decided on a run after coming home and getting a little sleep. She’d only gotten a couple of hours at Lan’s after she’d been able to settle her mind down and truth be told, she was just physically drained, not to mention emotionally.
As the sound of her running shoes pounding the packed earth faded into the background, she allowed herself some time to go over the call, anything she could have done differently, comments or verbal cues she missed. She came up empty. The exchange had by-and-large been textbook. The suspect was reluctant to talk at all at first, only shouting epithets about his girlfriend and her fidelity, which led to questioning the paternity of his sons.
It took Jill a good twenty minutes to get him calmed down enough to talk to her. He finally began to open up as she asked probing questions, empathized with him and his lost faith in his girlfriend. She listened actively, explained his options clearly. She only asked for the release of the hostages once there was an indication of trust.
She saw now in retrospect that perhaps it had been too easy. The data sheet didn’t show any past history of suicide attempts or… Jill shook her head, almost violently. I cannot beat myself up over this. Lieutenant Vick was right- it was out of my hands.
She increased her speed and continued running until she could no longer think of anything except the pain and fatigue in her body.
When Jill finally returned home, she noticed she had a message on her answering machine. The voice on it, though sounding very concerned, caused her to smile for the first time in 24 hours.
Lan hated to go into work without hearing from Jill. She’d left her cell phone number (even though she knew she already had it) and instructions to call her as soon as she could.
As Lan waited for Jill’s call before going to work, she began to contemplate the unexpected amount of concern for her friend.
Surely Pete’s job as one of the SWAT members was more dangerous than that of a negotiator? When she realized just how bad things went at the call, she didn’t even think of Pete, and she’d even dated him! Of course she would have been mortified had something happened to him, but the thought of Jill in the situation she was in last night… it made her heart hurt. Maybe because she was the one talking with the suspect, trying to get him to surrender, Lan mused.
Either way, here she was at work, trying to rescue a Glenlivet on the rocks that was ordered without the rocks. I know I’m not performing brain surgery, but I gotta focus here, she thought to herself as she put the Glenlivet, neat, on Joyce’s tray.
“You in there?” Joyce wails, tapping Lan’s forehead before she can straighten up from putting the drink down.
“What do you mean?” Lan asked, pretending she doesn’t have a clue as to what the waitress is talking about. Joyce just rolls her eyes in only the way she can and mouths, ‘later’.
Chuckling, Lan takes the reprieve for now and seeing that the patron surge had dwindled along with tonight’s band’s last set, she made her way back to the office to finish the schedule for the next two weeks. At least I’m not doing the books tonight…
She also made a mental note to let Bart and Chris know she was going to be hiring another bartender. The bar was doing well and was continuing to gain a reputation as a great venue to see local bands. That also meant an increase in business, and that was always good news to owners and managers alike. She also knew that she wanted to start taking some time off to travel. She’d breach that subject with Bart and Chris later, however.
About an hour later, she was interrupted by Marty, the barback. “Some woman is out here to see you.”
“Kay.” She said as she followed him out to the bar. She knew it would be either Jill or Tina and she’d be glad to see either one, but… The thought stopped midway through and her face lit up. She saw the redhead before Jill saw her and it gave her a moment to temper her downright euphoric expression slightly.
She reached her friend and put her hand on her shoulder to draw her attention. “Hey, how are you?” She asked earnestly.
“A hell of a lot better than the last time you saw me.” Jill said in her usual pithy way. She swiveled on her stool to fully face her friend and gave her a small smile. This is exactly what I needed, thought Jill. Her heart instinctually picked up a bit just at the sight of Lan.
“Would you like anything to drink?” Lan asked.
“Nah, but thank you.” Jill replied, not being able to take her eyes off of her friend. Lan too looked at her friend closely, the worry in her expression not hard for Jill to read.
“I’m fine, really Lan, I am. It’s part of the job.” She looked down at the bar and then back up at Lan hoping she could change the subject for now. “I got your message. Thanks. I hope you don’t mind that I stopped by instead of calling.” Unable to acknowledge it at the time, Lan’s concern for her had been a balm to Jill’s soul that night, resulting in Jill’s affection for the woman growing even stronger.
She was just about to ask her if she was due a break soon when Lan said, “You wanna come back to my office? I’m just working on some paperwork.”
Jill slipped off the stool. “You sure?”
“Yep. Come on.” She said as she grabbed Jill’s sleeve and gave it a little tug before she let go and made a path back to her office, Jill right on her heels with the small gift hidden behind her back.
“Well, here it is. My office under the stairs…” Lan gestured to her tight, low-ceilinged office. Jill took a look around, which took all of thirty seconds. It was just how Jill would have pictured it: tidy with photos of her dogs and Tina, Katy and John, the bar staff, all stuck up haphazardly along the wall that was not occupied by shelving and a filing cabinet.
What did catch her eye were a series of black and white candid photographs of some of the regular bar patrons, hanging out at the bar, chatting with Ross the bartender or talking with one another. She stepped in closer to look at one in particular. It was of an older man wearing a rumpled but clean looking suit. Lan had captured him through the mirror behind the bar, so you could not only see the back of him, you could see his face. His hair, what was left of it, was neatly combed and he sat on the stool hunched forward with one hand around his martini glass the other propped up on the bar, cupping his chin. His face had a leathery look to it that coupled with his expression, made him appear a lot older than he probably was. She imagined him to be a world-weary traveling salesman who had had the door shut on him one too many times. The shot made Jill feel profoundly sorry for the man.
“That man comes in at least three times a week, orders one martini, drinks it slow, puts down a big tip and leaves.” Lan supplied as she watched Jill looking at the photo.
“He looks so sad.” Jill replied, unable to take her eyes away from the photo.
“I know. No one knows his story though. Not much of a talker, I guess. But, seeing that expression, I’m sure it ain’t a good one, you know?” Lan said around a rueful chuckle. “When I’m feeling crappy, I look at that picture and think, at least I’m not that guy.”
“Indeed. Well, even if it does make me want to cry, it’s an amazing photograph. All of these are.” Jill said as she gestured towards the others. “You are really talented.”
“Um, thank you.” Lan muttered sheepishly, feeling exorbitantly pleased at the compliment.
Jill smiled widely at the bar manager. “Oh, I have your present!” she announced, almost forgetting.
“Oh, you brought it! You didn’t have to, you know…” Lan said as she picked up the card and ripped the envelope open. It made Jill chuckle. She silently read the card, laughing loudly at the picture and caption of the card. She swatted Jill on the forearm. “You’re naughty!” She said still laughing. She picked up the present. “I can open it now, right?” she asked with child-like glee.
“Of course.” Jill said, thoroughly enjoying watching her. Unlike the card, she took her time sliding her finger under the tape, opening it with deliberate slowness. Jill watched her reaction to make sure she did well in her choice.
“Oh, awesome!” Lan said and inspected the photo of her, Jill and Sarah in Yosemite. It was a great picture and really captured the carefree, fun atmosphere of that day.
At Lan’s confused look, Jill took the framed photo and turned it over. Lan took the small business card-sized paper and read it aloud: “Good for a day trip to Yosemite with police escort.”
“Cute.” Lan said around a wry grin. She flipped it around and around, lips pursed. “You mean it?” She asked shyly.
“Of course. Wouldn’t have written it otherwise.” A thought dawned on her. “Unless you’d rather not go with me, you know, you’d rather go with…”
Lan smiled, putting a hand on Jill’s forearm. “I can’t think of anyone else I’d like to escort me on a visit to Yosemite.” She said seriously, her timid smile returning only when Jill’s did.
Return to the Academy