Over the last few months, Liz had adapted to the general feeling of unease that accompanied having one's life turned upside down. If there was a silver lining now, it was this: she didn't have to try to deal with it in that house. Trying to slip carefully into bed without disturbing Tom was hard enough without having to suppress tears… some nights, sobbing. Between her distrust of her husband, the deliberating over the baby and worrying about the various aspects of her job, she was tapped out when she came home every night. And she hadn't been able to truly trust Tom since she found the box, even though she'd tried to explain it away many times. Now that the words "This is broken" were out of her mouth she wouldn't have to feel like a fraud every time she looked at the crib or let Tom pour her coffee.
For the first time in months, she was able to drown it all out in a sea of comfortable noise. She loved the sound of crowded restaurants and right now it felt like home. Like Nebraska. Like Sam. When she was young, every Thursday he would pick her up from school and instead of taking her home like usual, he would take her to the diner down the street and let her order whatever she wanted. She would spread out her homework on the big table, working around glasses of milk, and later coffee, explaining to Sam what she'd learned in school that day.
"You're gonna end up smarter than your old man, Butterball," he'd say.
The sound of silverware clanging in metal sinks and gurgling coffee machines soothed her while she settled into her booth. She was situating her suitcase under her table when she saw her phone light up. A new email: hotel confirmation. She had a couple of hours before check in; just enough time to catch up on a couple chapters of her book and get a few cups of coffee.
"Are you gonna want anything to eat?" the waitress asked, pulling a pen from behind her ear.
She suddenly realized the last thing she'd eaten was a donut that morning. After leaving the house with her suitcase, she had plied Aram with a dozen of them so he would turn off the motion detectors to her office, allowing her to sleep for a few hours under her desk before anyone else arrived.
"Yeah, burger and fries. And um… pie. Any kind," she said.
Her phone lit up again – this time a call. Nick's Pizza. Even through an exasperated sigh, she nervously fumbled with her phone to swipe "answer".
"What can I do for you?" she said.
"That's interesting, I could ask you the same thing," a low voice rasped from the other end.
"I wonder what made you think that I wouldn't see you walk up to the door of my building twenty minutes ago and then walk away. Let's hope your undercover skills are better when the stakes are higher."
Goddamn it. Street facing window – how did I forget that? Liz thought, squeezing her eyes shut in embarrassment.
"I um… I'm sorry, I just decided not to trouble you."
"Speaking of not troubling me, the next time you are in search of a rolling briefcase how about you call me. I have a friend in-…"
"It's not a briefcase," she said, interrupting him. There was a brief moment of hesitation on the other line. He'd figured out it was a suitcase.
"Where are you?" he asked.
"I'm at The Bulletin."
She took several deep breaths. She'd planned on telling him but she should have known that he wouldn't allow her to do it on her terms. He'd come steamrolling through her life like he always did. She tried her best to relax, letting her shoulders droop and her neck crack. Think happy thoughts, Liz. Disneyland at Christmastime. Sunday cartoons and cereal. Wine on the terrace.
She snapped out of it at the sound of a porcelain plate scraping along the table in front of her.
"Anything else I can get you?" the waitress asked. "More coffee?" Liz nodded eagerly.
As she ate she realized she hadn't eaten anything but Chinese food in days. She had been bringing it home as a peace offering, half the time finding Tom asleep or most recently not even home. But it was preferable to eating a meal while deflecting questions about adoption, accusations about the dangers of her job, guilt about what Tom felt was his "safety". Between Tom's pressure at dinner and Ressler's complaining about Audrey during lunch, she hadn't had an enjoyable meal by herself in a while. And this one was about to be interrupted.
She heard the jingling of the bell attached to the door and she sensed Red's calm yet intense energy boring a hole into her immediately. She looked up from her plate just enough to see him slip into the booth across from her, shedding a jacket indiscriminately but treating his hat with much more care. Dembe walked past and sat at a nearby table.
"Dembe knows that he can eat with us, right?" Liz asked, avoiding Red's eyes and making brief and, as usual, uncomfortable eye contact with Dembe.
"Tell me what happened," Red asked, not demanding but searching.
"I'm starving, can your interrogation wait?"
"That explains your order. Good god, Lizzie, they have mulligatawny soup here, the best I've had in the states. Did you even look at the menu?"
She scowled at him and he flashed her a pinched, impatient smile. Mercifully the waitress came over to take his order.
"I'll have a cup of coffee," he said politely but dismissively.
"Oh really, Mr. Soup of the Day?" Liz sniped at him.
"I'll have a cup of mulligatawny," he said, finally looking at the waitress. She smiled back at him, taking Liz's freshly cleared plate.
"I am assuming from your luggage that you had an unpleasant discussion with Tom?" Liz expected to find the hint of a smug smile on his face but she didn't find one. His concern seemed genuine.
"I told Tom that I was not ready to adopt a child with him and that I think that our marriage is broken," she said trying to keep it as succinct as possible. If he wanted to know more he was going to have to work for it.
"I'm guessing he did not have the same opinion on the situation?"
"He did not," Liz said. "He was… crushed. He really wanted to be a father."
"Lizzie, a man who cannot understand his wife is in no way prepared to understand a mother or a child," Red said speaking slowly and deliberately. She knew this, but it was the realization of how long she'd really known it that made her eyes start to sting with tears. She had been wholeheartedly ready to be a mother… and now that opportunity had slipped away from her. She had convinced herself that being a mother would win out over her hesitation about Tom's innocence; in hindsight she couldn't believe now selfish she'd been.
"I really thought it was going to work out. I had no reservations until recently, his demeanor just changed," she said, her voice cracking under the weight of her forming tears.
"Let me guess, the more you uncovered, the more he tried to isolate you? Maybe not sympathizing about your job anymore… convincing you to move away from friends and loved ones?"
She remembered how proud Tom had been on her first day on the job, how understanding he had been when she had to cancel their meeting. Even after he was attacked, he would always acknowledge that it had been the two of them going through it together. Increasingly he had become more moody when she would show up late from work. There was the talk of Nebraska. The judgment about the job she was so passionate about. The bad things that happen, they come from what you do, not from what I do!
Liz felt a tear slide down her cheek and she watched as Red's eyes followed its trail from her eye to the corner of her lip. She felt naked under his gaze, exposed in a way that made her feel like hiding. Forever. She didn't like how he seemed to know her.
"Lizzie, I hate to see you upset," he said, watching her compulsively rub her scar. He reached out and took her hand, but the visible clenching of his jaw gave away a momentary lack of confidence. The narrowing of his eyes let her know that he was expecting to be rebuffed and she didn't have the heart to do it. He ran his thumb over the hardened skin of her scar; she watched his eyes turn from distant to kind. It gave her a moment to notice just how drawn and weary he looked while he worked the muscles of her hand with his thumb, coaxing it flat.
"I would feel better if you stayed with me," Red said. She returned her hand to her side of the table.
"I'm sure that would look great to the surveillance team following me from the bureau."
"I have brought down entire governments, you don't think I can give a van full of government employees the slip? You don't think I did it on the way here?" he let out a shallow laugh. "Have you forgotten how it is we came to work together?"
"No, I have not but I am having trouble remembering why we are working together because you have not seen fit to tell me," she said through gritted teeth, setting about stroking her scar again.
"How about we go back to my place and I will tell you over a bottle of wine," he said, his voice oozing with charm.
"I'm not falling for that, Red. If you are so concerned, I will be staying at the Residence Inn. That's all you get," she said. She fished a twenty dollar bill out of her wallet and placed it on the table, reaching for her coat.
"You aren't concerned that Tom's connections will find you before I can?" he said.
"You aren't going to threaten me into staying with you," she said, staring him down. When he blinked under her glare, she gathered her things.
"I'd appreciate it if you trusted me this time, Lizzie," he said.
"It's not a smart idea, you know that. If I stay with you I won't have a job to go back to, I'm supposed to be turning you in. If you want to keep working together, I need to keep me job."
"You don't," he said.
"Funny that sounds familiar," she said with a bit more anger than she had intended. "Goodbye, Red,"