Author: Regann PM
Somewhere in Colorado, Pete Shanahan lives in a world without Sam, stargates and yellow kitchens. Pseudomissing scenecoda for The Fourth Horseman.Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Angst - S. Carter - Words: 1,813 - Reviews: 3 - Published: 12-18-05 - Status: Complete - id: 2708371
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
He sits in a sports bar-slash-restaurant, hunched over the table and idly snacking on pretzels as he works on his first beer and waits for his partner to show up. She's fifteen minutes late but Pete Shanahan is used to Marjorie Delaney's inability to be punctual even for casual lunch meetings. He expects that she'll be a few more minutes but he decides to go ahead and signal the waitress to bring around the fried cheese sticks he ordered, figuring they'll be hot and half-eaten by the time the other detective makes it to the table.
It's times like these that he misses Denver, the Denver police, his old partner, his old office and his favorite old lunch spot, a nice homey place ran by the gregarious matron of the Housiadas family. It's times like this that he hates Colorado Springs, hates his new job, his new partner and bars that play MSNBC on their TVs during the lunch hour.
Basically, it's moments like this that he hates his new life.
Maybe he'd hate it anyway, he reasons as he takes a gulp of his beer and burns his fingers on hot, gooey cheese. Maybe even if he was going home to the house he'd almost bought with the big dog in the backyard and the cheerful yellow kitchen, he'd still hate his chronically late partner and his new boss and the fact that this place's mozzarella sticks taste more like fried rubber than fried cheese. Pete pops a cheese stick in his mouth and figures that nothing else in his new life would be different if that one thing was different so he'd still be miserable about sixteen hours a day.
But he also figures that sixteen hours of misery is better than the 24/7 he has now and he washes the bitter taste of fried rubber and disappointment from his mouth with another swig of cold beer.
Pete tries not to dwell; he tries not to remember how close he'd come to happily ever after just a few months before, everything at his fingertips -- the house, the dog, the beautiful beautiful wife in the cheery yellow kitchen. It's still a fantasy he dreams of during the longest of the coldest nights in his generic little apartment, the imaginary picture of Sam in that kitchen, painted cheery yellow as the morning light gleams off her golden hair. And even though it's a dream, he keeps it real, right down to the tiny scar he knows she has just behind her ear as she glances over her shoulder and smiles at him, right down to the fact that Sam's in a kitchen but she's not cooking because she's not too hot at it but he loves her anyway.
It's all too real when he wakes up in the mornings with no easterly light in his north-facing apartment window and he wishes this new, dreary existence was the one that would fade away.
He can't help but think of her often; in times like this, at lunch when he waits for Delaney, and during the long stretches of nothing but TV on his nights off. Pete also thinks about her when he drinks coffee or watches action movies or hears a stray snippet of a swing tune.
And when he looks up at the sky at night, notices all the stars glowing there, Pete can't help of thinking about Sam, wondering for a moment if she's on one of those faraway, twinkling lights in the sky and maybe that's why he feels so cold, because there's thousands and maybe millions of light-years separating them and that it's that distance that explains the ache in his heart.
But then he remembers that he'd felt that same ache when they'd been sitting together on the bench in front of her dream house with the kitchen that he'd never paint a cheery yellow and it feels unreal again -- his transfer, his engagement, its ending. Sometimes he thinks maybe it was all a fantasy because beautiful, smart blondes who travel the stars and save the universe seem like a little too science fiction for a guy who lives his life on the earthly side of the Star Trek divide.
Pete is saved from more thoughts of Sam and forever and the state of his boring, bleary life by Delaney's arrival -- ha, ha, he thinks, as he notices she's 24 minutes late, only a minute earlier than he'd figured -- but he's alarmed when she only nods at him before shouting to one of the waiters to turn up the TV, her dark-ringed eyes focused on it. Pete frowns because rarely does Delaney look so haggard and serious, but she's both now, in spades, gaze hard on the flat screen as the waiter complies, either out of fear of her grim expression or the badge she oh-so-casually flashes from her hip.
The volumes booms harshly in everyone ears as it rises and Pete twists around to see the screen as Delaney comes to stand beside him, leaning against the table as they watch the news flash up on the screen.
Breaking news, the anchorwoman says on the television, shuffling her papers. Urgent, important news. A strange outbreak, she tells them, a new strain of influenza. One that started near there -- suspiciously near there, Pete can't help but think. One that might cause borders to close and the National Guard to be called in. One that is spreading like something they've never seen before.
Delaney is still looking serious and upset and the rest of the bar's occupants are starting to look around uneasily. One older man covers his mouth as is to ward off the invisible germs headed his way, the echo of "airborne" still ringing in the silence. The waiter looks like he wants to glare at Delaney for having him turn up the bulletin but he's too worried to do anything but gape helplessly at her.
Pete can't shake the feeling that there's something suspicious about a influenza that starts in Colorado, land-locked as it is, something strange and hinky and wrong about a pandemic that starts in the Springs. There's Something almost kinda science fiction, he thinks, and that makes him shudder as he looks around because no one he knows can listen to his foolish worries that this might be a bug that came from much farther away than Asia or Africa or an accident in a CDC lab.
He remembers those bright, beautiful stars and his bright, beautiful Sam and wonders what they have to do with Delaney's raccoon eyes and the growing unease around him.
"Smith's come down with it, we think," Delaney finally says, hand gripping his shoulder as he looks up at her. "He stopped at a gas station down the road yesterday and he said the attendant looked a little peaked. He tried calling the place but he got some recorded message. Place has been shut down." She shakes her head, tightens her grip on his shoulder. "Calgero took him to the hospital but it's already overflowing with sick people..."
Pete pats her hand, not sure what else to do, what else to say. He's got his own worries buzzing around his head, the least of which are about Smith and Calgero. He thinks about that alien with the laser ring and wonders if a world-wide plague is outside of their realm of ability.
What's a little space virus, at this point? he think to himself as Delaney all but collapses in a chair across from him.
He recalls meeting his almost-father-in-law with the snake in his head and remembers that almost anything is possible in a world where aliens exist and cute USAF physicists visit other planets as easily as they drive across town.
Delaney flags the waitress and orders her own beer, something she rarely does, and orders him another just as he finishes the first. She steals a cheese stick as they sit in awkward silence, a little too disturbed to talk about the robbery they're working on. The air in the restaurant seems heavy and stale, tastes like acrid smoke even though no one in the joint is smoking a cigarette.
Pete fingers the cell phone in his pocket and thinks about the number he still has on speed dial and wonders if he should call. He's worried -- about Smith, about Calgero, and Delaney, about himself and the world at large. But he's more worried about his almost-dream and her big blue eyes and her very dangerous job and mysterious viruses that start in Colorado of all places. He can't help but wonder if she's safe from it, protected against it or if she's already got it or even knows about it.
He thinks she does. It sounds like science fiction come to life and he doubts that the state could be harboring more than one big sci-fi secret at the same time.
Pete's torn between his fear and his hope for what he may learn if he presses the button and there's that that little voice of doubt -- maybe he's only imagining the connection, using anything for a reason to reach out to her again. He thinks that maybe he's a coward on both accounts but he can't quite make himself punch the buttons on his phone.
"You alright?" he asks Delaney instead, looking at how tired she is. He knows that she and Smith were close -- exactly how close was something nobody knew down at the precinct -- and realizes that it has to be hard on her.
Delaney nods but says nothing as she sips her beer. He notices the flush on her pale face, the sweat gathering at her brow and wonders if maybe she and Smith had been very close the night before, close enough to swap mysterious alien germs.
He thinks again about Sam and his dream of the bright yellow kitchen and something cold clutches in his chest, makes it hard to breathe.
Pete Shanahan's hand shakes a little as he raises his bottle of beer to his lips but the swallow he takes from it doesn't wash away the taste of fear -- like ashes -- that lingers in his mouth.
He thinks about the stars and -- for once -- hopes that Sam is far, far away on one of those twinkling lights.