The day had come. Lan thought she would be prepared, as she knew it was coming for a couple of months. But seeing John and Katy happily labeling their bedroom boxes made her heart clinch. She cleared her throat, more to have something to do than out of necessity. She didn’t want to get emotional on such a special, happy day for these kids.
“Hey, Lan, you want this?” Tina called from in the living room. Lan made her way and saw the object Tina was holding up.
“Sure.” She said, taking the floor lamp. She wondered if Tina remembered Lan commenting on it before, saying how she wished she could find one like it. “Thanks!” She beamed, placing it on the porch, away from the boxes ready to go into the truck.
“Lan thank you so much for helping out. And bringing friends.” Tina proclaimed as Lan came back into the house.
Lan just smiled. “Of course. We’re glad to do it.” She said as she looked into a box, taping and labeling it ‘kitchen’.
“We don’t have a lot of stuff, you know. I just couldn’t justify hiring a moving company.” Tina reasoned as she stood with her hands on her hips, seeing what she needed to do next.
“Yeah, I know what you mean.” Lan grunted as she lifted the ‘kitchen’ box and placed it on the porch. “One more marked ‘kitchen’!” Lan shouted to Ross and Bart who were helping to move the family as well.
“What else is left?” Lan asked as she too surveyed the boxes with hands on hips.
“I guess to just break down the beds and move the rest of the bedroom furniture.” Tina reasoned.
“I’ll come help.” Lan said, stepping over the packing bubbles. “We’ll make the guys do the real heavy stuff.” Lan grinned as they headed down the hall.
As they got busy taking apart Tina’s bed, Lan figured this was her chance to ask for a little advice. As she searched for some kind of opening to bring up the subject of Pete, Tina asked casually, “So, who was the guy from the other night?”
“Huh, how did you know?” Lan stumbled. Tina gave her a ‘duh’ look and Lan slapped her forehead comically. “Oh, right, I forgot, nosey neighbor…” Lan pronounced with a smirk.
“I met him at the bar.” Lan started. “And before you roll your eyes or groan, he’s a police officer.”
“Oh.” Tina said, impressed. “Is it serious?” She asked as she motioned for the screwdriver that Lan had in her hand.
“Oh, no. We’ve only just had one date. I do bowl in his bowling league though.” Lan added shyly, handing over the tool.
“Really? Sounds serious to me.” Tina teased. She noted Lan’s absent chuckle and sat back on her haunches, studying Lan for a moment. “What’s up?” She asked, knowing Lan enough to see she had something on her mind.
“I need some advice, about Pete.” She cautioned. Tina barked out a laugh.
“You are asking me for advice on men? Oh, Lan, perhaps you should ask someone else. My recent track record sucks.” She said as she went back to work on the bed frame.
“Well, how about a sounding board then?” Lan asked hopefully.
“That I can do.” Beamed Tina. “What’s on your mind?”
“As you know, I haven’t had many dates…”
“Try any…” Tina murmured under her breath. She and Lan had talked about this topic only a few times, but it had always stuck in Tina’s mind as unusual that this kind, lovely woman had not found someone to share her life with, much less date.
“Any, then, smart ass.” Lan rejoined.
There was a long pause as Tina looked at her expectantly. She’d had a thousand thoughts and questions, but now that she had brought the subject up, she couldn’t think of a single one that wouldn’t make her sound like a complete idiot. She sighed.
Sensing Lan’s apprehension, Tina simply asked, “Why don’t you tell me about him?”
Finding something to do with her hands, Lan described him as she began taking the pieces of the bed and leaning them against the bedroom wall.
“Well, he’s funny. He’s cute. He’s a good listener. He’s a gentleman.” Lan smiled at the memory of Pete trying to beat her to doors to open them for her.
“Do you like him?” Tina probed, stopping what she was doing to give her full attention to Lan.
Lan paused, thinking about the question. “Sure, what’s not to like?” She said. “He’s a great guy.” She paused for a moment, trying to find the right words to her question that wouldn’t make her sound like a kid.
“How do you know when you really like someone?” Lan asked. Her hopeful eyes almost made Tina chuckle, but she saw that Lan was asking the question seriously.
“You mean like attracted to?” Tina asked, wanting clarification.
“Yeah. I guess that is what I mean.” Lan said, self-consciously. She was starting to feel a little uncomfortable, but she really wanted an answer. She was in such foreign territory here.
In a subdued voice, Tina began. “When I met the kids’ father, my first husband James, I knew instantly. I always wanted to be around him. I couldn’t wait to be alone with him. I was so young, but I knew how I felt about him. He felt the same way too. The connection we had was… amazing.” Tina looked at Lan, who seemed to be taking what she said in.
“I know I’ve made some bad decisions, but with James, well, outside of having our kids, being with him was the best decision I ever made.” She paused, thinking about what she wanted to say. “That chemistry, connection or attraction or whatever you want to call it, is one of the most important things in a relationship, as far as I’m concerned. If it is mutual, tested and found to be true, you have a good start on what it takes to build something special.” Tina said quietly.
She looked wistful and sad and Lan immediately felt guilty for bringing up what had to be painful memories of her first husband’s death and what could have been if things had worked out differently.
“That being said, everyone is different. They put different values on the whole connection thing.” Tina said, with a rueful smile. “But, physical attraction is pretty absolute. At least for me it was. I didn’t always make the right decisions when I felt it, but I know what I like.” Tina said, with a half-smile.
Lan pondered that for a moment. “So, I guess if I was attracted to him physically, I’d know that.” She said almost more to herself than to Tina.
“Well, yeah.” Tina looked at her, curious. “You don’t know if you are attracted to him?”
“That’s why I asked.” Lan said, hoping her exasperating tone covered her embarrassment.
“Oh, Lan. You are adorable.” Tina chuckled, putting her hand warmly to her neighbor’s cheek. She looked at her solemnly. “When you feel it, you’ll know. It could be with Pete, it might be someone else. Just keep at it, Lan. You are too good of a person to go through this world alone.”
Overcome by the simple yet powerful statement, Lan simply dropped her head in a half-nod. Tina wouldn’t let her retreat though. She tipped Lan’s chin up so they were looking into each other’s eyes. “I mean it, Lan.”
“Okay.” Came the small voice.
A crash, followed by a loud, shrill curse exploded the stillness of the moment as both women went wide-eyed in alarm and then raced out the door to find out what had happened.
They stopped abruptly as they saw the kids, Ross and Bart quickly trying to clean up what used to be a set of coffee mugs.
“Is everyone okay?” Tina asked the foursome. They all responded affirmatively, with weak smiles of apology. “Good. Now, John, care to explain where you learned that word?”
After John had reluctantly admitted that he had indeed heard the word from his mother, everyone wisely got down to the business of finishing packing and moving the Sheldon Family. Ross and Bart even made a trip to the new house to unload the furniture. The rest of the day passed quickly and by the time the sky began to evolve into hues of dusk, the duplex was empty.
Tina looked back at it, burying the memory of bad times only deep enough to not erase the lessons she’d learned from them. There were plenty of good memories too, especially in the last few months. She’d call on those when things got rough again, which inevitably they will because that was how life was.
“Well, I guess this is it. You sure you don’t want me to follow you and help unload?” Lan asked, trying to hide her hope. Tina just smiled graciously. She couldn’t ask this woman for any more help than she’d already given. She felt she would never be able to repay her for her kindness as it was.
“All we have left are loads of boxes since the guys unloaded the furniture. We’ll be fine.” Tina said. She stepped into Lan’s space and surprised herself as much as Lan by wrapping her up in a huge hug. “I don’t know what I would have done without you, Lan. Thank you for everything.” She whispered into the bar manager’s ear. Slipping out of the embrace, she beamed at Lan, her eyes awash in unshed tears.
Beyond an equally quiet “You’re welcome,” Lan didn’t know what else to say. She was caught so off-guard by such an unadulterated display of emotion.
Suddenly, the kids came banging out of Lan’s front door, their goodbyes to the dogs finished. They stopped, sensing something was going on between Lan and their mom. They waited a few feet away before Tina ushered them closer. “Come on guys. It’s getting late. Let’s let Lan get ready for work.”
The kids took turns squeezing the life out of Lan, mumbling reminders that Lan had promised to come visit. Lan returned the favor by making the kids promise to take care of their mom. And just like that, they were off, heading to their new home and new life.
As Lan watched the van disappear around the corner, the words that Lan should have said to Tina surfaced. She wanted to tell Tina that knowing her and her children kept her own loneliness at bay. And that just witnessing the joy and happiness as they planned for their future urged her to have hope in her future.
Jill eyed her opponent warily. Each was covered in sweat liberally and the shadow of fatigue was beginning to creep over both of them. But she knew she wouldn’t relent until he did. The driving force that kept her doing what she did wouldn’t allow her to. Besides, she had a bit of frustration to work off.
So, once again, they circled each other, watching and waiting patiently for an opening. Pete found his first as Jill stepped back on her left heel. She anticipated his move and lowered her center of gravity, but not quickly enough as he rushed at her upper thighs, using his considerable weight advantage to force her to the mat.
An arrogant chuckle escaped from between heavy breaths as he grabbed behind her right knee and held it firmly to his side. With his right arm, he performed a textbook lock around the back of her neck. He knew her strength was in her legs and figured he’d avoid the effective wrap around she had executed on him twice already.
Thinking them at a stalemate, Pete leaned his chin heavy on her sternum and pressing up against her chin, took a moment to collect himself before finishing her off. “Had enough?” He taunted with a rough rasp, breathing as heavily, if not more, than her.
She just grunted, chest heaving as she waited for him to make his mistake. He did, removing his left arm from her knee to initiate a front cross chokehold. As soon as she felt his weight shift slightly, she simultaneously hooked her left foot behind his right ankle and brought her right knee in and up to his chest.
As soon as he opened up, she slid to her side, moving fluidly to a cross mount position, pinning his neck down with her shoulder, and then finishing with a sloppy yet effective triangle chokehold.
She barely heard his tap on the mat, signaling his defeat. Finally she released her hold on him and he slid out quickly. “Geez, Jill, you’re bad for my ego!” He wheezed, grabbing his neck.
“Perhaps you should take me on more often. You could learn a thing or two about patience.” She retorted, throwing him a towel that was on the bench next to his stuff. She chuckled at him as he bypassed the towel and went straight for the cold water bottle, which he put to his reddening neck.
“If you would have held me there just a few seconds longer, I don’t think I would have had the strength to get my knee under you.” She said matter-of-factly, wiping her face off before opening her own bottle of water and downing half of it in one breathless gulp.
“Yeah. As usual, I figured might was right. And as usual, you show me that it isn’t always the case.” He responded with a respectable amount of humility.
“Damn right.” She stated emphatically. She began stuffing her gear into her gym bag, pausing when she felt Pete looking at her. “Yeah?” She asked, irritation coloring her voice.
“Nothing. You doing okay?” He asked, concerned for his friend. He knew she was working what amounted to double shifts. Her pride and work ethic wouldn’t let something like budget cuts hurt the department’s CRT and he figured she was still keeping up with the training and making sure equipment that was ordered was still coming in, all the while performing her duty as a sergeant in the Patrol Unit.
“I’m fine. Tired, but fine.” And she was really. After the first week of her new schedule, she’d hammered out a routine that, while taxing, at least allowed her a bit of downtime. These workouts on her off days were part of her routine now that she’d be spending more time in patrol. As she’d come to discover after a few days too, it was something she had been missing. They allowed her to sleep soundly at night too, even if it were for only a few hours.
To keep up her duties on the Crisis Response Team that were not being done, she would come in a few hours on her off days and then she would meet Pete for sparring or just working out.
Ironically, she was seeing more of Pete now than she had when they worked on CRT together. It was a real exercise in self-control to not ask about Lan when they were working out, yet when Pete offered up information, she acknowledged it, but rarely asked for elaboration or showed interest. If Pete noticed it, he didn’t say.
“Good.” He said, barely sounding convinced. “Lan said the bar is ready for you guys tomorrow night. She has the corner booth reserved and will stay open as long as you ladies want.” He said with a wink and a silly grin.
“Great.” She said with all the enthusiasm she could muster. She’d initially fought against the idea of having the bachelorette party at Lan’s bar, but Lan had offered a while ago while the group was bowling and Rachel loved the idea.
For some reason, her being seen by Lan with her friends, hanging out, being silly, drinking, made her uncomfortable. Perhaps it was because Lan didn’t drink and would be most likely serving them that night. But that’s what she does for a living. Her mind argued. Face it, Cooper, you care what she thinks of you.
“Listen, I got some paperwork to finish up so I can get out of here tomorrow at a decent time. Tell Lan that if she has any questions, she can call me… or Rachel.” Jill said, all business now as she collected her bag to leave.
“Oh, okay.” As she turned, she heard him call to her. “By the way, thanks for the ass-whooping.” He said with teasing sarcasm.
“Anytime, SWAT boy.” She replied with a casual salute.
“Would you tell Bridezilla to get her ass out here? I’m getting’ old!” Jill bellowed towards the house, stopping Rachel’s sister Liz dead in her tracks as she was making her third trip to the house to check on Rachel.
Jill slumped back into the deep leather bench seat, sticking her tongue out at a chuckling Sarah, who was one of Rachel’s co-workers and closest friends. They had been sitting in the limo the better part of fifteen minutes, waiting for the sisters.
“I don’t understand what is taking her so long. It’s not like she has to dress to impress.” Jill harrumphed as she twisted open another ginger ale.
Sarah spotted the two coming out of the house and just shook her head slowly from side to side. “I don’t think dressing to impress is the issue. Perhaps just getting dressed was.” She commented evenly as she pointed to the tipsy-looking bride-to-be.
“Oh Christ.” Jill mumbled as she watched the two sisters giggling and swaying, their heads together in some sort of drunken conspiracy. As they approached the limo, Liz nearly went down, slipping on the wet grass.
“I can’t believe you two. You’ve already started, haven’t you?” Jill accused. She knew she would be the one to end up babysitting. She just didn’t think it would be so soon.
“Oh, be quiet Mom!” Rachel belted out as she carefully negotiated herself and her tight skirt into the low limo seat.
The bar was crowded, as was expected for a Friday night. Jill entered after the entourage, hanging back and observing her friends as they became more animated and loud as they made their way to the back corner table that Lan had reserved for them.
Sure enough, to the right of the hallway that led to the phones and restrooms was a booth with the word reserved written in neat capitals. Jill wondered if it was Lan’s writing. She envisioned Lan having that kind of writing, no extra flourish, just straight and to the point.
The object of her musing began making her way through the assorted bodies on the small dance floor Jill unconsciously sat up and touched her hair, making sure it was still in place. She rarely wore it down and suddenly became self-conscious of it. She vaguely heard Rachel ask her a question as she tried to watch Lan cross the crowded dance floor without looking like she was watching her.
“Huh?” Jill asked finally as Lan stopped at one of the high tables near them to take an order.
“What the hell are you looking at?” Rachel asked loudly over the pulsing bass of the current dance song. Jill knitted her brows in confusion to buy time. Guess I was not as stealth as I thought.
“Oh, I thought I recognized someone.” Jill answered lamely. She sure wished she had a beer to distract her right about now. Luckily, the answer seemed to satisfy the bride-to-be.
“Hey, Lan!” Rachel bellowed as she waved to the bar manager. Lan’s face transformed into a brilliant smile as she made her way to the booth and Jill couldn’t help but echo the expression.
As Rachel introduced Sarah and Liz with amiable drunk person loudness, Lan’s eyes traveled to Jill for an instant, then went back and lingered on her for a moment. Jill’s casual smile couldn’t hide the passive aloofness her body language displayed. Her right arm was casually draped over the back of the booth and she picked at the edge of a cardboard drink coaster as she smiled at something Rachel had just said.
She seemed to be there enjoying the moment and somewhere else at the same time. Suddenly, Lan wanted very much to know what was going on in the auburn haired woman’s mind.
“What can I get you ladies?” Lan asked importantly as she took out her pad and pen.
“Well, we’ll start off with a pitcher of margaritas.” Liz stated’ nodding to the others to confirm. They all nodded back with large glassy-eyed smiles.
“I’ll actually start off with a beer, light, whatever is on tap.” Jill chimed in. Lan nodded without looking up as she wrote down the orders.
“Oh, right, Jill doesn’t drink tequila. How could I forget!” Liz blurted loudly.
“Yeah, me and tequila don’t do well together.” Jill explained, glancing up at a rapt and amused Lan. She smiled painfully, knowing what was coming next.
“Oh, Lan, you would appreciate this story! Gosh, it was about, what three years ago? Anyway…” Rachel began, gleefully ready to replay a night Jill would rather forget.
“Anyway, Lan’s working and I’m sure she’s not interested in a story about drunken stupidity.” Jill interrupted before her friend could get any further.
Lan noted the complete discomfort Jill seemed to be in, but was dying to hear the story. Suddenly she remembered their first conversation. “Yeah, I better get back to work. But you aren’t getting out of it that easy, Jill. Remember we promised to swap stories.” She ventured, smiling cleverly.
“We promised to swap work stories.” Jill corrected with a matching smirk now. She watched Lan closely, seeing how hard she was going to push to hear what amounted to Jill’s most embarrassing night ever.
Lan pursed her lips and then said, “Tell you what, I have break in an hour. If you share your tequila story, I’ll tell you why I don’t drink at all. I have a feeling they are similar.”
Jill just looked at her with mild disbelief. “Quid pro quo, huh?” Jill retorted as she leaned back in her seat, cardboard drink coaster tapping rhythmically on the scarred, heavily lacquered table.
“That’s right.” Lan said succinctly, triumphantly.
“Alright.” Jill replied with a raised eyebrow. You’re getting in over your head with this girl and she doesn’t even have a clue. Jill thought to herself.
The three other women sat wordlessly watching the exchange like a lazy tennis match. After a beat of silence, Lan finally made her way back to the bar with a promise to bring their drinks right away.
The whole exchange left Jill’s head spinning but she’d be damned if she was going to show it. She ignored Rachel’s pointed look and announced to the group that she was going to make her way to the restroom.
Thankfully, no one followed her and she took the time to collect her thoughts, one of which was to brush off any notion that Lan Murphy, the pretty and straight bar manager was flirting with her.
Lan had kept an eye on the women early to make sure their pitchers and glasses were always filled. As she worked the bar, she found herself laughing out loud at their exaggerated moves and silly antics on the dance floor. She was tempted to join them when she saw Jill start a conga line during a popular disco song. Other bar patrons had caught their infectious celebratory spirit and soon the women had drinks lined up on the table as people began buying them for the bachlorette and her friends.
When it was time for her break, Lan had hesitated going over to the corner booth, for she didn’t want to impose, but then saw that Jill had slipped into the booth alone and decided join her.
“So, you go first.” Lan said as a greeting, leaning close into Jill so she could be heard. Jill took in their surroundings and realized they’d have to nearly yell to be heard.
She leaned in close to Lan’s ear, trying not to notice the sweet, clean smell of soap and light perspiration. It made her swallow hard. “Would you rather go outside for a bit? Get some air? That way we don’t have to shout.”
“Sure. Follow me out back. There’s a small table there.” Lan said and rose, waiting a few paces from the table for Jill to slide out and join her.
“When it gets too hot or crowded, I like to take my breaks out here.” Lan said as they sat down at the cracked plastic table that had seen better days. “You guys seem like you’re having a great time.” Lan continued as she brought her hands onto the table and out in front of her.
“Yeah. I’m so glad Rachel wanted something small and casual. I’m not sure I could have really planned a big, crazy party.” Jill replied.
“Yeah, I’d have no idea how to even go about that.” Lan said, mainly to have something to say. An awkward silence descended on the women until they both realized why they’d sought quiet in the first place.
“So, Miss Police Sergeant, tell me about your tequila story.” Lan said around a mischievous smile.
Jill had never had a problem coming out to people. She was someone who was very comfortable in her own skin. So if the subject came up in conversation, she’d mention it. It was an important part of her life for sure, but it wasn’t all she was.
But now, looking across the table at someone she barely knew but had some kind of connection with, she was hesitant. Come on, Cooper, she’s going to be told or figure it out anyway. Besides, you are dying to see how she reacts.
“Well, it was about two years ago, on my birthday. I was out with Pete, Rachel, Scott and a couple of other friends and we ended up at the airport bar.” Seeing Lan about to ask, she held up a hand. “I don’t know how or why.” Lan chuckled at that.
“Anyway, apparently one of us made arrangements for us to stay at the hotel nearby, walking distance. So, there we are at this bar filled with old men, phobic flyers and a for real cheesy piano bar.” Jill punctuated this by running her hands across the top of the table like a piano.
“Now, mind you, I’m having drinks bought for me everywhere we go. For whatever reason, I begin, yes begin, to order shots of tequila like its going out of style. Much of the rest of that night is completely lost to me, but I do remember taking over at the piano and belting out ‘Georgia on My Mind.”
Jill waited a sufficient amount of time to let Lan form a mental picture. When it seemed she did, Jill continued. “See, I had recently broken up with this girl, aptly named Georgia. I broke up with her because I thought she partied and drank too much.”
Again Jill paused, letting what she said sink in. She didn’t have to wait long for Lan leaned in and slapped the table; a huge delighted smile split her face.
“She walked into the bar didn’t she?” Lan said, pleased with her self.
“Yep. I vaguely remember stepping away from the piano bench mid-song and walking off the stage, thinking I’d tell her what a huge mistake I’d made...”
“And?” Lan prompted.
“This is so embarrassing.” Jill mumbled, looking off into the alley as she slid her hands down her jean-clad thighs repeatedly.
“Come on. I won’t hold it against you. I’ll bring it out from time to time to tease you, but I won’t judge you.” Lan said with mirth-filled eyes.
“You are really enjoying my discomfort, aren’t you?” Jill rejoined.
“Hey, it isn’t every day you get to hear one of our finest talk about pining away for an ex while completely smashed on tequila.” Lan responded reasonably.
“Hmph. Well, she was with someone else, a very large someone else. I mean she was huge and I’m not talking fat. The woman looked like an offensive lineman for the Chicago Bears.” Jill took a moment to run her hand reflexively over a small scar on her chin. “I started mouthing off, being a real ass and things got out of hand. It got physical and I ended up getting cracked in the jaw but good. I tell you, I was drunk to the point of black out, but I remember that impact. I guess I just fell like a rock, out cold and snoring like a baby.”
“Oh my God!” Lan exclaimed. “Did you press charges?” She asked, eyes wide.
“Oh no, if anything I should have been the one in trouble. I was lucky. They just figured getting my jaw dislocated was enough punishment. Let me tell you, puking my guts out for two days with a dislocated jaw is as close to hell as I ever want to be. So, now I stay away from the tequila.”
“Really.” Lan replied sarcastically, cracking an amused smile. After a small pause, she asked, “Did you ever square things away with Georgia and the other woman?”
“Kind of. After I could actually talk, I went to see Georgia. She accepted my apology readily. She even apologized for punching me, which I would’ve…”
“It was Georgia who punched you?” Lan interrupted.
“Oh, yeah. Apparently that enormous specimen was a Pacifist. She stopped seeing Georgia that night, saying she couldn’t deal with the violence.”
It started out as a half stifled chuckle and grew into an outright belly laugh. Jill just sat there and watched as Lan doubled up, trying to catch her breath.
“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to laugh at you. It’s just such a funny story.”
“Oh yeah. Real funny.” Jill deadpanned. She sat there and watched Lan try and compose herself. It wasn’t going well. Oh, hell, I guess it is pretty funny.
Jill’s self-depreciating chuckle joined Lan’s mirthful one until the sound of both women’s laughter filled the empty alleyway.
Finally recovering, Lan looked at her watch noting that her break had been over for 4 minutes. “Crap, I gotta get back in there.” She said as she began rising from her seat.
“Oh! That’s how it is!” Jill cried as she rose too. “I tell you my humiliating story and you say see ya?” She said with incredulity. She put her hands on her hips for effect.
“Don’t pout, Jill.” Lan smiled as she lightly poked her in the stomach. “You’ll get my story.” She began heading towards the door, leaving the redhead abstinent and irritated.
“Come on. I bet your friends miss you.” Lan said as she grabbed the sleeve of Jill’s light jacket.
“Will you tell me over coffee sometime this week?” Jill asked almost timidly. She bit her lip, hoping it didn’t come out as desperately as she’d meant it. Suddenly, her answer became the most important thing in Jill’s life. You are playing with fire here, Cooper. You know she has the potential to completely undo you. Don’t get yourself into a situation you can’t get of without hurting someone.
“Sure.” She barely heard Lan say through her musings.
Return to the Academy