Fritz hadn't mentioned the survey again but Brenda saw that he had googled the research group and had looked up the cruise offerings. As she traced his internet searches she realized once more how important this was to him. So that night while they were doing dishes she asked him what cruises he'd like to take.
"Well, I've never been to Hawaii but you have. So I thought it would be fun to go someplace neither one of us has been."
"Have you ever been to Alaska?"
"No. But Daddy said that Alaska in the summertime is gorgeous."
"Don Banyon and his wife went on an Alaskan cruise and he said it was great."
"What other choices would we have?"
Fritz's voice became animated. "I looked them up online. There's Central America and the Panama Canal, the Scandinavian countries, the Mediterranean..."
"Where in the Mediterranean?"
"There are different ones. Southern France and Spain is one choice, the Greek Islands is another. Cyprus and Turkey. Oh, and Italy."
"But I thought we agreed to go back to Italy for our tenth weddin' anniversary," Brenda reminded him.
"Ok. So we save Italy for our tenth," he agreed. "We could see France and Spain. I've heard they're beautiful."
"Well, I'd like to go to Paris and that's inland so it's not gonna be a port of call."
"But we'd see the French Riviera and Monaco."
"Hmmm. That does sound wonderful. That's one to consider. What about Greece? Aren't the Greek Islands supposed to be gorgeous? And all that Greek history and mythology? You know how much you loved hearin' about all the Roman gods and that history."
"Yeah, that's true," Fritz admitted. "We've got some good choices but I think we'd need to do more research."
"Annette said their cruise lasted ten days. I think we could see a lot in that time, no matter which one we picked."
"Jerry said they had to deal with blackout dates," he remembered. "I can ask him how long they had to figure all of this out."
Brenda saw his enthusiasm building and this increased her ambivalence. Her aversion to talking about intimate things was colliding with her knowledge that he'd had precious few of the finer things in his life. This was a huge opportunity for him. How could she let him down? She knew that if she tried and failed that he would be incredibly disappointed. But he'll be even more disappointed if I don't even try.
The next evening the research group called. Fritz answered the phone and wrote down their serial number. The caller explained that the number would be the same for both of them and that there would be an F suffix for his wife and an M suffix for him. She stressed that they would have to bring that number to their interview and that there would be no additional identifying information required. Both interviews would be held simultaneously in different rooms. Just as Annette and Jerry had explained, Brenda would be interviewed by a woman and he would be interviewed by a man. Fritz checked both of their calendars and made their appointment.
He asked how the cruise would be arranged and was told that once the survey was completed they would be given a voucher with the name and number of the travel agency responsible for booking their cruise. It would be up to them to call and make their own arrangements. Since the voucher would be from the travel industry, the agency would not know anything about the survey. He thanked the woman and ended the call.
"Well," Brenda said, "I guess we're approachin' the moment of truth."
When they had settled into bed for the night Fritz raised himself up on one elbow and said, "Honey, I don't get it. You're a wonderful lover. You're responsive and spontaneous. And you certainly are creative. Why are you so unnerved by this survey?"
"I just don't like discussin' the intimate parts of our relationship. It's so special. Sometimes I feel like it's the only good thang I have in my life. And if I discuss it, it won't just be ours. It'll be a clinical part of someone's doctoral dissertation or somethin' like that. And I hate that."
"I guess I don't think of it like that. I'm not worried that what we have will be changed in any way. But maybe this survey will help other couples improve their marriages."
"I don't know. I don't think I'd be as bothered talkin' about past relationships, though."
"That's interesting," he commented. "It's exactly the opposite for me." When he saw her surprise he explained, "I think it's because I don't even want to think about past relationships."
"I wonder if that's common among couples takin' the survey. I wish we could ask some questions," she mused.
"Maybe the results will be posted online and we can read them."
"That would be interestin'," she agreed. "But even if we can't, we can at least compare notes later. I'd be interested in knowin' if our questions are the same."
"Does that mean you've decided to do it?" Fritz looked hopeful.
"I'm thinkin' about it."
He didn't reply. He just took her hand and kissed it and then turned out the lights. But she had seen love and hope in his eyes. And the memory of that moment stayed with her throughout the following day.
Brenda's phone rang and Linda told her that Sgt. Gabriel was on the line so she picked up. "Good mornin', Sergeant."
"Good morning, Chief. I was just over at Major Crimes and there is news on the Audrey Solis case. Lieutenant Tao examined Emily's bloody clothes and said that the blood on her clothing is not what he would expect to see if Emily had stabbed her mother. All the blood is smeared blood, no blood spatter. According to Tao, the blood is consistent with Emily either holding her mother or trying to render some kind of aid."
"What about the toe print?"
"Well, there's no more news there yet. But Detectives Sykes and Sanchez re-interviewed the neighbors. One of the neighbors had left right after the murder to catch a plane in order to go visit a new grandchild and was not part of the initial interviews. At any rate, she reported hearing screams and seeing a car backing out of the driveway. She got a partial plate number but never called in the complaint. They ran the number and are tracking down the plates which match."
"Maybe that'll bring somethin'."
"And there's more. Both the psychiatrist and the psychologist have interviewed Emily again and the psychiatrist has observed her speaking in the third person. He agrees with the psychologist that Emily is apparently describing seeing the crime scene. They now have a diagnosis. Emily is a schizophrenic, but not a paranoid schizophrenic. And they say that being held at Juvie is causing her to decompensate. They both urge that she be moved to a mental health facility with pediatric services."
"Thank you, David. I'm gonna call DA Corning to update him."
Brenda hurried to open the back door and grab the ringing phone. "Hello."
"Hi, Brenda, it's Rusty."
"Oh hi, Rusty. What's up?"
"I've got a mess here and I need some advice."
When she heard that she set her purse down and picked up a bottle of wine and a glass. As she poured the wine she replied, "Ok. What's goin' on?"
"DCFS found a man they say is my biological father and he wants to meet me."
"And you don't want to?"
"No. Here's the thing. I didn't even know he existed until day before yesterday. And now he wants to play 'Daddy'? Brenda, it's insane."
"I guess it would feel that way. But tell me, did he know about you?" she asked and took a sip of her wine.
"I don't know. He says he didn't, but I don't care. I don't want to meet him."
"Rusty, you've got to stop and think this through before you make that decision."
"What's to think about? He didn't care to find out about me for sixteen years. Why should I care to find out about him?"
"How could he have known about you? You said you and your mom moved around a lot. Was he supposed to think 'Oh, I dated this girl seventeen years ago so I guess I should find her to see if I have a child?''"
"Is anyone tellin' you that you've got to meet him? Has anyone suggested that you go to live with him?"
"Well, no. Not yet."
"In that case I think you should take your time and learn all you can about him first. I think you should consider all your options before makin' such a big decision. You know, lots of thangs that are unpleasant at the time actually turn out to be good in the end."
"That's kinda what Sharon said."
"You don't have to decide anythin' right now. Take all the time you need to think it through. And remember, just because you meet him doesn't mean you have to go to live with him."
"Ok. Thanks, Brenda. I guess I just needed to hear that from someone else."
"Anytime, Rusty. And if you need to talk about it with someone beside Sharon, call me, ok?"
"Ok, I will. Thanks."
Lots of thangs that are unpleasant at the time turn out to be good in the end ricocheted through her mind all evening. Finally she turned to Fritz and said, "I know this cruise means a lot to you so I'm willin' to try. I don't like it, but I promise I'll do my best."
He wrapped his arms around her and replied, "Thank you, honey. I know how hard this is for you. And it means a lot that you're willing to try."
Brenda couldn't miss the emotion in his voice and the look on his face. "I want to do this for you because I love you. But it's really hard for me. I just hope I don't let you down."
"You can do it. You're made of strong stuff," he said as he kissed her. She had her doubts about that but was relieved that she'd finally made her decision so she just put her head on his chest and listened to the rhythm of his heart.
The alarm buzzed and Brenda quickly punched the snooze button. But she didn't sink back into her normal ten minute reprieve. Something was niggling at the back of her brain. She heard the water running in the shower and felt Fritz's side of the bed. It was empty. Not unusual. But there was something unusual about this morning. Then it hit her. It was Survey Day. She pulled the covers up over her head in futile denial.
The water shut off and soon Fritz emerged with a towel around his waist and pulled the covers down from her face. She looked at him smiling down at her and closed her eyes. When he moved to kiss her good morning she opened one eye and said, "Go away," and pulled the covers back up over her head.
"You know we have a 9:30 appointment," he said as he pulled the covers back down.
"I can't do it, Fritzi. I'm sorry."
"Would you like a quick refresher course?" he winked at her.
"God, no." She looked at him grinning down at her, sighed and got out of bed and headed toward the bathroom muttering, "I must really love you if I'm actually gonna do this."
"I know you do," he replied as he watched her disappear into the bathroom and then continued getting ready.
Their car's GPS system took them right to the front door of one of several cloned office buildings. No one looking at the building or its signage would guess that so much intimacy was dissected within.
"Ready?" Fritz asked.
"As ready as I'll ever be. I grabbed the Tums and I think I'm gonna need them," she replied.
He squeezed her hand to reassure her. "You'll do just fine."
They entered the building, found the correct office number on the wall directory and walked down the hall, Brenda lagging behind Fritz. He turned back to her and said, "This isn't the Bataan Death March."
"I'm just gonna duck into the Ladies Room for a second." After a stress-induced pee she washed her hands and checked her hair and makeup. "I don't know why I'm fussin' if no one is gonna see me," she muttered as she put the lipstick cap back on and dropped it into her purse.
Fritz was waiting for her in the hall. "Are you all right?" he asked.
"Yes, of course. Let's go," she replied and they entered the office. As the telephone caller had indicated there was no one in the lobby. Up against a wall beside what appeared to be a mail slot was a computer terminal and Fritz read a small sign which prompted him to enter their serial number.
"Why can't we do the whole thang on the computer?" Brenda asked.
"I don't know. Maybe they figure that we would have to clarify some answers," he suggested as he took his seat.
"That's what I'm afraid of," she muttered as she sat down beside him.
At the far end of the lobby they saw two doors, each with an overhead computer light board. Soon they saw their serial number posted over each door, one with the F suffix and one with the M.
"This is it," Fritz said as he stood up.
"Why am I reminded of 'The Lady or the Tiger'?" she asked.
He grinned at her. "Just tell them what you do to me and they'll know who the tiger is."
She just rolled her eyes and they both entered their respective interview rooms.
Brenda's room was small and sparse. On the small desk there was a set of earphones with an attached microphone. Next to the desk was a hot and cold water dispenser, cups, and herbal tea bags. She reached over and poured herself a cup of cold water before chewing on a Tums and putting on the headphones. She heard some homogenized background music and soon a woman's voice asked for her serial number. Once that was given the woman told her that she could help herself to water or tea at any time, that the survey would take approximately one hour, and that if at any time Brenda needed a break that she could ask for one.
Brenda swallowed her Tums, inhaled deeply, and replied, "Thank you. I'm ready."
The interviewer began by reviewing the demographic information Fritz had provided to make sure everything was accurate and Brenda confirmed that it was. The interviewer then obtained a personal and family history from her: What region of the country she was raised, family composition, educational background, career, interests and hobbies.
Brenda had no difficulty with any of these questions and was beginning to relax when the interviewer said she was going to ask about her sexual history. She grabbed another Tums and thought I wish this bottle was full.
As she answered each detailed question with as short an answer as she could provide, a picture of her life took shape. Her parents taught all their children their own conservative, religious values and taught them that they should wait until marriage for sex. But while she did not completely abandon those values, she had not adhered to her parents' religious beliefs and had not followed her parents' sexual instructions, either. She dated in high school and, although she knew that several other girls in her class were sexually active, she was not. She occasionally felt pressured by boys but did not like any of them enough to give in.
She willingly lost her virginity at age 18 when she was a freshman in college. When asked about other relationships she said that she had had other boyfriends but always put her career goals first, and even though she had slept with them, she had refused to be pressured into anything resembling a commitment. She had never felt guilt or remorse about any of those relationships.
Fritz moved through the questions about his childhood and family influences easily. He first made love at age 17 to his Senior Prom date but his sexual activity was limited until college. Since each sexual experience had been within a relationship, he had never considered himself to be promiscuous. He told the interviewer that his first marriage was a "sexual roller coaster" but the interviewer said he did not need any details about that relationship since it ended before he was 40.
Fritz recounted several relatively short relationships after his divorce but denied that any of them were one night stands. He described a satisfying sexual relationship with Brenda which began about four years before they married and said that he had never been unfaithful to her, although he admitted to occasional sexual fantasies involving other women. And when the interviewer asked about using sexual aids he answered, "I don't know if a car counts as a sexual aid, but I like having sex in cars." He had no difficulty answering the questions and he wondered how Brenda was holding up.
She was speaking of her affair with Will Pope and found it more difficult. She found herself starting to refer to him by his first name. The interviewer had to remind her to refrain from giving any identifying information and she found this both stressful and reassuring.
As the interview proceeded, Brenda became more sure of herself and relaxed. Her first marriage had occurred on the rebound from this disastrous affair and had ended because of her husband's attempts to control every aspect of her life as well as his unwarranted jealousy.
She was surprised that, to this point, the interviewer had not asked for the embarrassing, intimate details she had been dreading and expressed this surprise to the interviewer. "We are not interested in obtaining detailed information about any relationships terminating before age 40," the interviewer explained.
The stress came roaring back because this meant that all the details were going to be limited to hers and Fritz's sex life. So she replied, "That would only be Fr... my husband's and my relationship."
"All right," the interviewer replied, "We'll move on to your current marriage history." Brenda was then asked about how they met, how long they had been sexual partners, whether they had a traditional or open relationship, and whether other issues in their marriage affected their sexual relationship. Although she had no problem with these questions, she felt her anxiety level rising so she grabbed another Tums.
The questions then became very intrusive. She was asked to state whether or not she enjoyed an entire checklist of sexual activities along with how frequently she participated in them. And, although she was able to keep her answers very short, she became increasingly uncomfortable. And when the interviewer asked about the specifics of their oral and anal sex practices she had to fight her impulse to run out of the room. The woman heard the stress in Brenda's voice and her clipped answers and asked her if she'd like to take a break.
"How much longer will this interview last?" she asked, sure that it had been going on for at least a month already.
"We've completed ninety percent of the questions. So we're almost finished."
"Then let's keep goin'," she replied, gripping the arms of the chair.
The interviewer then asked about STDs, the use of sexual aids, pornography, impotence, and sexual surrogates. She had no difficulty answering those questions because they had never been issues in their relationship. And she stated that she disliked pornography so it had played no part in their sex life.
Being asked about whether or not they had ever engaged in sexual activity in a public place brought back memories. Brenda couldn't suppress a giggle as she remembered a time when they were picnicking in what they had thought to be a secluded spot. Just after they had shed their clothing a family had burst onto the scene. They grabbed their clothes and ran back to their car leaving their picnic behind. She had been able to dress in the car before they reached the main highway, but Fritz had to wait until they reached a red light before he could pull on his shirt. They laughed all the way home while they hoped that no one realized he was driving with his pants draped over his lap.
Finally the interview was over and Brenda practically sprinted back into the lobby where Fritz was waiting for her.
"Well, I see you survived." He was smiling at her.
"Just barely. Believe me, it was touch and go for a while. You owe me a big box of candy every day until we go on that cruise. Can we please go home now?"
He chuckled and reminded her, "We have to wait for our voucher."
Soon they heard an envelope containing their cruise voucher drop into a tray next to the computer terminal. Fritz put it in his pocket and they walked back to their car hand in hand.
Driving home, he turned to her and asked, "Well, did the survey inspire you to try anything new? In the interest of research, of course."
Brenda saw the mischievous twinkle in his eye and replied in kind. "Oh, I don't know. She asked me about playin' the dominatrix role so I may want to hone my skills in that area. In the interest of research, of course."
At the end of the following day Brenda's phone rang and Linda advised her that Captain Raydor was on the line. "Hello, Sharon. What can I do for you?"
"Good afternoon, Chief Johnson. I just wanted to update you on our afternoon activities. We've arrested the killer of Audrey Solis."
"We got a partial license plate and one of the cars which had those first few numbers just happened to belong to Andrew Kalter, a deacon in Rev. Solis' church. So we obtained a warrant and we found a pair of shoes with some blood in the seam at the toe. The blood type matches the victim's and we should get a DNA match tomorrow. Apparently Mr. Kalter took offense when Audrey terminated their affair."
"That's a relief. Have you advised Mr. Stroud? I understand that he's very anxious to get Emily out of Juvie and into a mental hospital."
"I believe that DDA Grainger called him. And I spoke to Rev. Solis. He's going to listen to the doctors and have Emily transferred to a pediatric facility until she can be stabilized. Oh, one last thing. Chief Taylor is asking that a plea deal be negotiated with Mr. Kalter so we'll be working on that as soon as the DNA match is in."
"Taylor and his Let's Make A Deal," Brenda sneered.
"I know you don't like it. But he'll be in prison for the rest of his life so it's not a bad thing."
"Thank you, Sharon, for lettin' me know. I'm gonna call DA Corning right now."
After listening to Brenda, Steve sighed, "That's a huge relief. Now maybe I can look at my own daughter without thinking about Emily."
She hung up the phone realizing that this time, at least, the LAPD and the DA's office had worked together to find justice for both the murder victim and the falsely accused, and there was a great deal of satisfaction in that.
Brenda was sitting on the couch folding laundry when Fritz came through the door with something behind his back.
"What do you have there?" she asked.
Without saying anything, Fritz placed a box of her favorite See's chocolates and a large envelope in her hands.
"The information packet about the cruise?"
Fritz nodded and sat beside her. She set the laundry basket aside, popped a piece of chocolate into her mouth and offered one to Fritz. Then she pulled the folder and brochures from the envelope.
After a day of exploring the mysteries and beauty of Mykonos they lounged on their private balcony on board the cruise ship, watching the puffy white clouds scudding over the beautiful blue Aegean Sea and the Greek islands. Finally Fritz turned to Brenda and asked, "Well, was the survey worth it?"
Seeing the happiness on his face, she smiled and caressed his cheek. "Yes, I have to admit that it was."
A/N: It takes several days, sometimes weeks, to write a story. All we writers ask is that you take a minute or two to leave your review. Thank you for understanding how important this is to us.