Gail kicked hard at the heavy boot that she had just placed in the bottom of her locker. The rubber made a nice little thud when it met the metal and she kicked at the other one just to hear it again.
It had been that kind of day. A kicking your boots kind of day. So, she reveled in that and kicked them again.
"That bad?" Traci asked as she passed by.
"Worse," Gail retorted. She then reconsidered, "Nah, not really. Just…people are really stupid. I'm over all the stupidity."
Traci opened her own locker and agreed. "Believe me, I've noticed all the stupidity. I'm very familiar with all the stupidity."
"Yeah." It was mumbled as Gail pulled a comfy sweater over her shoulders. She took a second to breathe in the scent of it before continuing the task of preparing to leave for the night.
"So..." Traci glanced over at Gail while rearranging some stuff on her top shelf. "How was the Peck Family Dinner last night?"
Traci stared for a few seconds, expecting an answer. When she didn't get one, she went back to rearranging. "Oh-kay."
"If you wanted to know," Gail said," you should have gone."
"Blah, blah, whatever," Gail cut her off as she grabbed her bag. "It was a bucket of laughs. My dad said all of ten words, Steve moped about you, and my mother interrogated me about my brand new sexuality. Another fun-filled night at Casa de Peck. We're the entire Passive Aggressive Olympics 2014 team. The Pecks. Go Canada."
"Yikes," Traci said, closing her locker. "Was that the first time you'd talked about it? The gay thing?"
"Besides me telling her about the existence of Holly," Gail said. "Yes."
"Nah," Gail shook her head. "The funny thing is, I wouldn't have told her. Before, I mean. I wouldn't have said anything. I would have let her find out on her own and let it all blow up and be messy. Then I would have complained that she didn't get me or understand or whatever."
"Yeah?" Traci interjected, trying to follow along.
"But with Holly, you know," Gail twisted her lips in thought for a moment. "I thought it would last, I guess. Thought it would be better to be honest up front so they didn't start out hating each other. I didn't want that."
"That's very adult of you," Traci said with a small smile.
"Weird, huh?" Gail smiled back. The smile slowly faded. "I told her the whole story. She asked me if I liked her so much, why did I fuck it up so badly? She may not have used those exact words, but…close enough."
Traci swallowed hard. "That's...well..."
"My mother," Gail finished the sentence. "She's like blunt force trauma." She sighed while she deposited her on a nearby bench, "That's a Holly joke. She said that one night and then she laughed at herself for forty minutes."
"You should call her."
Gail laughed loudly, sarcastically, then quickly said, "No," as straight faced as possible.
"Yes, you can."
"Okay," Gail nodded, playing along. "How 'bout 'won't.'"
"She's seeing someone, Trace," Gail said. "She's moved on."
"I seriously doubt that."
"She told me," Gail said. "She's with someone else. It's over. It's done. It's the end of the ride. Train's pulling into the station. Get off board. Exit. Grab your luggage and get the fuck out."
"Fine!" Chloe said as she walked in on that unfortunate note. She quickly turned on her heel and marched right back out. "You're such a bitch, Peck!"
"I didn't even do that on purpose," Gail said, hooking her thumb toward the spot where Chloe disappeared to. "I'm amazing at pissing people off. Yay me."
"Nah, I think something's up with her," Traci said in reference to Chloe.
"Her sparkle has definitely dulled," Gail remarked. "She's less annoying."
Traci let that pass, but stopped in front of Gail. "You should call Holly," she told her with sincerity.
Gail looked up at her, not quite meeting her eyes. "I really can't."
"Gail, you're obviously still in l-"
"Don't!" Gail warned. "It dare not speak its name."
"Fine," Traci said with a hint of annoyance. "You're just making yourself more miserable."
"You act like that's new territory."
"You don't have to be, though."
"I'm thinking I need something...," Gail wondered aloud. "A program or something. Something to get over it…her."
"Ice cream and tequila," Traci suggested. "Works for me."
"No, no," Gail shot it down. "That's my normal. I need something else. A step-by-step process, maybe."
"Twelve steps?" Traci asked, laughing.
Gail pointed at her, "Yes. Yes, that's what I need."
The laughing abruptly stopped. "Gail."
"That's it!" Gail nodded. "Like Holly Stewart rehab."
Traci narrowed her eyes, "Gail, c'mon."
"You can't go around saying you're in Holly Stewart rehab while Chris is in actual rehab."
"Is that insensitive?"
Gail thought it over. She really did. She thought it over for a good thirty seconds, "I can live with that."
"I'm not getting involved in whatever you're doing," Traci informed her while heading toward the exit.
"Call Steve!" Gail shouted at her. "Or get into Peck rehab," she mumbled when she got no response.
Step 1: Admitting I have a problem.
So far, Gail's 12 Step Program for Getting Over Holly Stewart was pretty much easy as pie. She had planned it all last night over a bottle of Cuervo and it was downright flawless. Twelve steps in twelve days. Boom. Boom. Boom. Easy enough, so far. Today, she just had to admit that she a problem. Yeah, a big honking problem. A Holly Stewart shaped problem. Easy. Done. Check.
That was until Swarek tapped her on the shoulder, "Peck!"
"Yeah?" She jumped up at the thunderous voice. "What?"
"I need you to go down the lab."
Her blood ran cold.
"Yeah," Swarek said. "The lab. Go."
"Price will fill you in," he said as Chloe appeared in front of her.
Gail held up her hand before Chloe could even get a word out. "Tell me in five words or less."
Chloe's eyebrows scrunched. "Homicide?"
"Are you asking?" Gail said as she tugged her coat over her uniform and started walking.
Chloe shook her head. "Homicide," she said with more confidence.
"That's one," Gail held up her finger, indicating what number Chloe was on.
Chloe trailed behind, no doubt sorting out how she could do this with the words allotted. "Stabbed."
"Good, good," Gail said about as condescendingly as possible. She held up three fingers, "Three more."
"Blood on the…" Chloe's eyes grew wide. "I need five more."
"You just used up four of them."
"Don't be such an a-hole, Peck."
"Fine," Gail motioned for her to continue. "Five words granted."
"…body looks to be the suspect's."
"That was six," Gail reported as she slipped in the car. She pulled a disc out of her pocket and loaded in the player. "Packing my own tunes."
"Whatever," Chloe grunted.
"You're being less…happy or something lately," Gail said to her as they traveled downtown Toronto. "I would normally celebrate the change, but I get to feeling it's not a conscious move to make me like you more."
"Don't really want to discuss it."
"Whoa," Gail remarked. "You don't wanna talk it over? That's an interesting new development."
Gail did as she was told. Her plan to distract herself from her own impending crapfest with Chloe's crapfest was a total failure. So she thought about how to sidestep the disaster that was about to go down.
Just as they were about to arrive, she looked over at Chloe, "Hey."
"I'll give you a hundred dollars to go in by yourself."
Chloe looked her over, "Why?"
"It's Dr. Stewart," Chloe answered her own question.
"Yeah, so…whatever," Gail groaned at the fact that everyone knew her business. "Will you do it?"
"A hundred dollars, huh?" Chloe asked.
"Money up front."
"What?" Gail scoffed. "No."
"Because you don't have it, Peck," Chloe said. "I watched you eat a half-eaten snack cake off the street yesterday because you were too broke for lunch."
"Double pack. One cake was eaten, the other one was completely fine," Gail said. "Don't make it sound dirty, Price."
"You're coming with me. Swarek sent both of us," Chloe said, leaving no room for negotiation. "It'll be good for you. Face your fears."
"Face this!" Gail flipped her off.
Gail needed mental preparation for seeing her. She tried to get it by dragging her feet as much as possible. She parked slowly. She triple checked the the squad car's doors were locked. All of them. One by one. She even tugged on the trunk on the way.
Chloe just stood there watching with her arms crossed. "You done?"
"Better safe than sorry," Gail said as she walked by slowly.
"Delaying the inevitable," Chloe said a whole ten minutes later as she held the elevator doors open. "Just c'mon."
"I am!" Gail said. "That guy looked suspicious."
"He was carrying a brief case and eating a bagel," Chloe reminded her. "You look more suspicious."
When the elevator dinged on the floor of the lab, Gail took her time getting off. She took her time meandering down the hallway. She practically crawled to the doorway and when she could finally see through the glass, she felt oddly disappointed.
Rodney stood there, file in hand. "Officers," he greeted them.
"Hey," Chloe said back and took the offered folder.
"Dr. Stewart got done a little early and stepped out for lunch," he told them. "Said everything you'd need is here."
"Thanks," Chloe said and immediately turned to leave.
"Rodney," Gail took a step closer to him.
"I have a question."
"Of course," Rodney said. "What can I do for you?"
"Have you…" Gail lowered her voice "…seen the new girlfriend?"
"Peck!" Chloe yelled at her.
"I'm coming!" She yelled back, but focused back on Rodney. "Hm?"
"No," he said simply, staring into her eyes. "I haven't."
"Interesting," Gail noted. "Thanks Rodney."
"Thank you, Officer."
When Gail stepped into the hallway, Chloe raised her arms in question. "What the hell, Gail? You can't just ask her assistant if he's met her girlfriend."
"Well, you can't."
"I've already admitted I have a problem," Gail told her. "Get off my back already."
Step Two: Deleting her Contact Info.
Step Two was shaping up to be considerably harder than Step One. Step One was simple. Step Two had taken all day. In fact, it was still in progress.
Darkness had already fallen as she rested on her bed and stared at the number. She had long since memorized it, so it wasn't like she would forget it or anything. It was burned into her brain, but she could really do without seeing it every time she looked at her phone.
It was simple. There was no cute nicknames or stupid little emoticons than accompanied it. That wasn't really Gail's style. She wondered briefly if the person Holly was seeing would put little hearts next to her name in their phone.
There was also no Doctor that preceded it. No Stewart to qualify which Holly. She was the only Holly anyway. The only Holly that mattered.
The picture that in the upper right hand corner of the screen made Gail smile. It was Holly's profile. She had been driving at the time and didn't even know that Gail was taking it. She looked focused, serious. She looked like…well, Holly.
Damn, this sucked.
"Probably should have answered one of the thirty-seven times you called, huh?" Gail said to the picture.
She quickly scrolled down and pressed 'Delete Contact' with her finger and threw her phone to the side.
It was just a phone number. Holly was just a woman. Just another failed relationship that she'd learn from, fix herself because of, and continue in spite of. It was routine at this point.
"Don't lie," she whispered to herself.
It wasn't just any number. Holly wasn't just any woman. This was a spectacular failure. Nothing about Holly or the aftermath was routine.
She felt a tear slip down her face as she watched the toes on her foot flex. She looked at her phone out of the corner of her eye. Gail still knew the number. She could take Traci's advice and just call her. Holly would take the call. Gail knew she would. Holly would answer and Gail would say stupid, stupid things. Holly would remind her that she's with someone else and Gail would remind herself that she was a huge idiot.
Gail watched her fingers slide across the blanket that covered her bed. She watched her hand grip the phone and pull it closer.
She lifted it up, typed in the passcode, and was surprised when Holly's info was staring back at her.
"Motherfucker!" she said, annoyed that it wasn't over yet.
Delete Contact or Cancel?
She tapped her choice quickly, hugged her phone to her chest, and let the tears flow.
Step Three: Don't drink yourself into oblivion!
"Hey, Penny tonight," McNally told Gail as they pulled in after their last call of the day. "I need a few drinks after today and Sam's working late."
"Yeah," Gail nodded as she ejected her disc from the player in the car, then remembered that she was in Holly Stewart Recovery. "Oh, yeah…no, I mean. I can't."
"Hot date?" McNally asked as she opened the door.
"No," Gail answered quickly, exiting the other side. "The opposite, actually."
"Exactly," Gail said. "I'm going out with ugly people, so I can't drink."
Andy studied her over the cruiser, "Seriously?"
Andy watched as Gail collected her bag and took off without giving any more information. She quickly gathered her own stuff and jogged to catch up. "Okay, what's going on with you?"
"You're not drinking," Andy presented Exhibit A. "That's different."
"There's a good reason."
"None of your business, McNally," Gail tossed back. She stopped abruptly, realizing that maybe Andy actually cared. "I'm not drinking for another…ten days or so…I'm trying it out."
"Because of Chris?" Andy asked.
"No," Gail said, looking completely mortified by the thought of amending her routine for Chris. "Because of me…and Holly…kind of."
"I thought that ended a while ago," McNally said as they reached the locker room.
Traci was already in there, gathering her own belongings. "What ended?"
"Holly. Me. Yes, we broke up," Gail explained. "Cue the Celine Dion songs."
"Soooo…" Andy was confused. "If you broke up, why aren't you drinking?"
"I'm in...," Gail pursed her lips deciding how far to go, then figured what the hell, "I'm in Holly Stewart Rehab."
"Gail," Traci started. "I thought I told you to just call her."
"And I told you that I couldn't," Gail said. "I tried. Last night. I tried. And I can't."
"Sounds like all the more reason to come get drunk with me," Andy smiled.
"I don't want to just drink myself through it," Gail shrugged. "That's cheating. I promised myself I would take this seriously."
Andy and Traci just stared, completely unaccustomed to Gail revealing anything.
"I think that's great," Traci finally commented. "Good for you, Gail."
"Yeah, great," Gail said, then shrugged. "Except I'm not sure what to do with myself."
"Uh…" Traci said nervously. "I don't know if you'd be into it, but Leo's got a hockey game. You can go with me."
"Yeah?" Gail smiled.
"We can have hot chocolates and laugh at the irate parents."
"Sounds awesome!" Gail said genuinely excited to have plans for the evening that didn't include getting shitfaced and stumbling home.
"You guys mind if I tag along, too?" Andy asked, not wanting to be left out.
"Sure," Traci said. "Leo's gonna love it."
"Me, too," Gail admitted. "Sounds great."
Step Four: Watch Jeopardy without sobbing.
"This is actually one of your steps?" Steve asked again as they shared the couch at his apartment.
"Yes," Gail said for the third time. "This is actually one of my steps."
American Presidents for 100. The answer is 'Civil War hero buried in Grant's Tomb.'
"Who is Hugh Grant?" Gail answered and turned back to Steve. "Alex Trebek is Holly's cousin."
"What?" he perked up. "Really?"
"Yeah," Gail nodded. "Can't you tell? They're both nerdy and know all the answers."
"He's like 70, though."
"Third cousins," Gail informed him. "Her mother's side."
Books of Color for 300: '1982 novel by Alice Walker.'
"What is Blue Valentine?" Gail pumped her fist in the air, totally disregarding the answer.
Steve looked at her closely while she chugged another pouch of some kid-marketed drink.
"So this is the kind of activity you and Holly enjoyed together?"
"Why the fuck else would it be on my list, Steve?" Gail asked him, pointing her now empty pouch in his direction.
"Yes," Gail said. "She watched Jeopardy and I made fun of her. It was awesome. I miss the simpler times."
Greek Mythology for 500: She was a mythological virgin that refused to marry.
"Who is Atlanta, Georgia?" Gail yelled at the television. "Fuck you, Trebek!"
"I don't think you've answered any of those right," Steve clued her in a moment later.
"Then fuck you, too, Steve."
"Alright," Steve grabbed the pouch out of her hand. "I think you've had enough of these. You're all hopped up on sugar."
"It's fruit juice!"
"Artificial fruit juice."
"Whatever," Gail pouted and stared at the t.v. "It's better than downing four bottles of gin."
"True," Steve said. He let a while pass before he looked at her intently. "Hey Gail."
"Hey Loser," Gail responded, completely immersed in Double Jeopardy.
"I'm sorry about Holly."
Gail's eyes slowly trekked over to her brother. "Okay."
"I know I said that before, kinda, but I really mean it, you know," Steve said as he ran his hand through his hair. "I mean it. I'm sorry."
"Thanks," she said before pressing her lips tightly together. "My own fault, but thanks."
"Well yeah. It was, but still."
"Don't kick me while I'm down or anything," Gail complained.
"Remember that time I caught you shoplifting?" Steve said out of the blue.
"No, Steven, I don't."
Steve threw the empty drink pouch at her. "I can't believe all these years later, you still won't admit it."
"There's nothing to admit."
"You're so damn stubborn."
"What's your point?" Gail asked, completely irritated by this line of questioning.
"I caught you red-handed and you still denied it," Steve said. "Even when I told you if you just admitted it, I wouldn't tell Mom and Dad. But, no. You just kept being stubborn. Even when you had an easy way out. I don't understand that."
"Well, as much as I'm enjoying this trip down memory lane-"
"You still do it," Steve continued. "And at 16, it was kinda funny. It was Gail being Gail. Good for a laugh. But now, you're almost 30."
"I'm not 30!"
"You're almost 30!"
Gail just pouted.
"Hey, listen," Steve poked her. "I'm your brother. I'm on your side. Always, okay."
"Doesn't feel much like it right now."
"I also want you to be happy," he said. "You were happy with her. Happier than I think I've ever seen you with anybody. But you can't keep doing that stuff. Especially not with someone like her."
"And what am I supposed to do about it now?"
"Nothing," Steve said sadly. "I'm not sure there's much you can do. You said she's with somebody else, right?"
"Then do what you're doing," he shrugged. "Move on. And for God's sake, Gail, grow up."
Gail glared at him.
"I'm your brother, I can say it," he told her before flicking her ear.
"Fuck you," she said with a punch to his arm.
Final Jeopardy. Answer: 'This domesticated animal is the most popular pet in the world.'
"Ah, fuck you, too, Trebek!"
Step Five: Stop listening to the Holly Stewart Mixtape.
When Gail settled into the police car, she was surprised by Nick's extended hand.
"What?" she asked, already irritated with him. "Put that back on your side. I bite and you know it."
"Where is it?"
"Where is what?"
"The cd, Gail?"
"Oh," Gail shook her head. "Retired."
"What?" Nick seemed disappointed. "I was finally starting to like some of the songs."
"Yeah, well," Gail shrugged her shoulders. "Sorry 'bout your luck."
Nick started the car and pulled out on to the street before asking, "So…did you realize it wasn't 1999 and you didn't need to carry mixed cds around?"
"You're hilarious," Gail said quietly.
"Every day," he gloated. When he didn't get the desired reaction, he frowned. "Not feeling the love today, Peck," he said. "What's up?"
"Long night," she answered quickly. "Tired."
"No," she nearly laughed. "By myself…well…with Steve for some of it. Then, by myself."
"Sibling slap fight?"
"No, nothing like that," Gail said. "Just chatting about relationships and stuff."
Gail's head snapped toward him, "And what? I'm not talking about it with you."
"Why not?" Nick asked again as they travelled. "You still depressed about you and Holly?"
"Yeah," she said, shifting uncomfortably. "I guess."
"What step are you on?"
Gail sighed, "Who told you?"
"Andy told Chloe. Chloe mentioned it to me."
"It's cool," Nick said. "I think it's a pretty good idea, honestly. Why not try?"
"Step five: Nix the mix tape."
"Ahhh," he said, putting together the lack of Gail tunes with the next step. "Sorry."
Gail rode for the next few blocks without saying anything. She looked over at him once, twice, then the third time, he looked back.
"I have a question that I'm not sure I want to know the answer to," she said finally.
"Ask," Nick said. "If you've gone this far, you do want the answer."
She nodded, knowing it was true. "Do you think I'm a terrible girlfriend?"
"No," Nick answered quickly. "Not at all."
"You're not easy to be with sometimes," he said.
"So, I am terrible."
"No, no," he denied it. He glanced over and noticed the pout on her lips. "Gail, you're not terrible. You're fun and crazy and beautiful and unpredictable."
A ghost of a smile appeared on her lips, "Yeah?"
"Yeah," he nodded. "You're also feisty and tend to overreact-"
"I do not!" she nearly screamed.
"Thanks for making my point," he said laughing. "You overreact, Gail Peck. You do."
"If you're going to try to say that my cheating was overreacting, I'm going to punch you in the head."
"I didn't say that," he responded quickly. "And I was just as responsible for our second chance imploding as you were. I cheated first. Maybe not in the same way…"
"Thank you," Gail said to that. "Yes. You did. Thanks for saying it finally."
He looked over at her, "Something I should have said before."
"You have now."
"Yeah," Nick cleared his throat. "Anyway, I don't know the whole story…you and Holly…but I know enough to know that you probably felt threatened for whatever reason and went for the kill."
Gail rolled her eyes, "You think you know me so well."
"Not as well as I thought I did, obviously," Nick smirked. "We are talking about you and a woman. A seriously hot one, by the way."
"She's totally hot," Gail agreed.
"Yeah," Nick held up his hand for a high five.
She paused momentarily, but slapped it anyway.
"This is weird."
"The fact that I just congratulated you on how hot your ex-girlfriend is?" Nick smiled widely. "Definitely weird."
Step Six: Take up a Hobby.
"Dov, do you know anything about carpentry?" Gail asked her roomie as she dumped several pieces of wood on the floor of their apartment. "I've recently taken up birdhouse building and these don't seem to fit together."
"Uh," Dov eyed her carefully. "What's going on, Gail?"
"I'm branching out," she said, kicking at one of the pieces of wood on the floor. "Can you help me or not?"
"Just a sec," he said, leaving the room. He came back a few minutes later with a bottle of Elmer's Wood Glue. "This might help."
"Glue?" Gail frowned. "What the hell, Dov? It's a birdhouse, not arts and crafts."
"I know that, Gail."
She cocked her head, "Okay…"
"I can only assume this is one of your steps," Dov said as he set the wood glue on the counter and leaned down to pick up the pieces.
Gail watched him and took up residence in a nearest chair, "Six. Take up a hobby."
"And you chose birdhouses?"
"I wanted to build a tree house, but the hardware guy said maybe I should start small," Gail told him. "So I bought some wood and nails and some sort of wrench thing because it looked kinda cool." She pointed to the plastic bag she had deposited near the door.
"Well…I don't think we'll need the nails quite yet," Dov said. He was already placing the different pieces together. "I did one of these in the scouts once."
"I bet you did," Gail chuckled.
Three hours later, Dov had glued all the pieces together and then nailed them. He had also told her several long-winded stories about his time with Scouts Canada and was regaling her with a particularly harrowing tale of an extreme kayaking adventure when he was around fifteen that went terribly awry.
"…and that's why those high-powered public toilets make me nervous," he blabbered on. "It's not about the public aspect. I'm fine with doing my business in a public restroom. It's the memory of the sound, you know. That water whooshing sound. It's horrifying."
Gail watched as he finished hammering the last nail. "Probably not any more horrifying than this."
"Huh?" he asked when the noise had covered her comment.
"Nothing," she smiled sweetly.
He grinned back and looked over his creation when a thought hit him. "Oh no."
"What?" Gail asked, hoping that the question wouldn't start another round of Getting to Know Teenage Dov.
"Gail, there's no hole."
"How are the birds suppose to get into the house?"
"A key? How the fuck should I know?"
"Gail, do you even know how a birdhouse works?"
"Dov, do I look like a zoologist?"
"Next question," Dov angled his head, "do you know what a zoologist is?"
"Yes," Gail screeched. "It's a person who works at the zoo. Like a lion tamer…who the hell cares?" She sauntered over to him. "It's cool like it is. You built an empty box with no access. I love it."
"You love it?" Dov narrowed his eyes as she knocked on the wood.
"Sure, why not?" Gail raised her shoulder and let it drop. She set the birdhouse on the table. "I was just trying to distract myself for the afternoon from thinking about…her. So…it works. Thanks."
Dov pursed his lips and nervously moved the empty box a few inches on the table. "Gail, you remember all those things I said to you when I was high?"
Gail nervously scratched at her neck, not quite knowing where this conversation was headed. "Uh, sure."
"I meant it."
Gail's eyes snapped to meet his. Panic evident on her face.
"At the time!" he said quickly. "Not now. Then. I meant it, then."
She nodded, "Okay."
"I'm over it," he stated. "I don't mean that in a bad way, I just am. I think you'd probably prefer it that way."
She shyly smiled and agreed with another head bob.
"But because I know what it's like to feel that way…about you," Dov gestured toward her. "I know that…well, you're pretty amazing when you want to be. You're fun…you're…unlike anybody else. Sometimes that's good, sometimes it's not so good."
"Yeah, okay," she said, getting a bit embarrassed by the whole conversation.
"What I'm trying to say is," Dov picked up the box he had assembled. "You're like this birdhouse. Perfectly awesome and amazingly well-built-"
"Of course," she smirked.
"Bu-ut," he extended it toward her and thumped the side. "Impossible to penetrate-"
"In a non-sexual way!" he blushed. "Damn. I was going to say, 'without the proper tool.'" He waited a beat before adding, "Still sounds bad."
"Yeah," Gail said thoughtfully. "I understand, though."
"I just…hmm...I get that about you. And, I think Holly got that about you, too. I wasn't around you two a whole lot, but I noticed how at ease you were with her. I noticed how she seemed to anticipate your moves. I thought she was good for you, Gail. And I should have said that in the car that day instead of all that other stuff."
"Yeah, fucker," Gail sighed. "I wish you would have."
They stood there awkwardly for a few minutes before Gail took the birdhouse out his hands. "I'm going to paint this purple in hopes of attracting a gay bird."
Step Seven: Shoot shit.
Gail fired off another few rounds into the target at the end of the line. "Don't fucking mess with me, Paper Criminal," she said as it zipped up for her to check for accuracy.
She looked it over, looking at the holes all bunched together and overlapping. When satisfied, she reloaded and sent the target back and pumped another few rounds of lead in.
"Whatcha gonna do when I come for you?" she hummed to herself. A distinct clapping caused her to break out of her musing and look over her shoulder. "Oh, hey."
"While I applaud your enthusiasm," Oliver said loudly. "I don't want to have to send you for a psych eval, so let's stop threatening the paper target, eh?"
"Not a chance," Gail yelled before shot off one more round.
"Way to go," Oliver said studying her target. He shot her with his finger guns, "You shoot like a professional."
Gail smiled, appreciating the praise. "Thanks."
"Sure," Oliver said. He waited until Gail had let the magazine drop out of her Glock before pulling back one earmuff. "It's late, Peck. What are you still doing here?"
Gail let her own earmuffs rest around her neck and set her gun down, "Shooting off some steam. This is relaxing. Like golf or yoga or stakeouts with Quiet Chucky."
"Ah, Quiet Chucky," Oliver grinned. "I miss him."
"Yeah, he's great," Gail said. "Quiet."
"Exactly," Oliver said with a dreamy smile. "So, why aren't you out with the rest of the kids?"
"Laying off the alcohol for a bit," Gail answered. "Needed another way to zen out."
"Gotcha." He placed in hands in his pockets and sort of awkwardly stuck around.
"Something else?" she asked.
"I wanted to check on ya without actually checkin' on ya," he finally said. "I just negated the whole thing, didn't I?"
"I'm fine, Ollie," she assured him. "Promise."
"Yeah, I know you are."
"No drug problems, no career issues, no custody battles, and I'm not Epstein," Gail said. "I'm fine. Really. I'm learning to redirect my anger into more productive activities...like gunplay. I'm taking care of me, so save your worrying for the rest of them."
"I do," Oliver said seriously. "But you're my favorite."
"No shit," Gail laughed. "Everybody knows that."
Step Eight: See her.
Gail knew that Step Eight was likely going to be the toughest to date. She had tried her best to mentally prepare for her self-imposed challenge of the day. She'd gone shooting the day before to get rid if some if the jitters, knowing that it had the desired calming influence to blast a cap into a paper target's ass.
The real goal was seeing Holly without wanting to hide, cry, or die, but that was asking for miracles. So instead, she was just going to put herself in the best possible position for innocent forensic pathologist interaction. She had even discussed it with Traci and Steve. If they needed anything lab related, Gail would be their go-to girl.
Turns out that it was a pretty uneventful day in Toronto.
It was statically the most peaceful day in the city since 1953. The one day she needed a dead body to turn up and the citizens had collectively decided to sing Kumbaya or some shit.
Gail was bored. Painfully so. And to make it worse, she was paired up with Gerald while they manned a speed trap. Even traffic was slow.
"So," Officer Moore spoke as he thumped his personal phone against his thigh. "I heard you were a lesbian. How did that happen?"
"Men like you," Gail answered with lightning fast snark reflexes.
"No, seriously," he kept on. "Some buddies told me you dated Diaz and Collins, so what happened?"
She shot him her best 'are you fucking serious right now?' look, but he didn't seem to catch on.
"I also heard both of them dumped you, so…"
"Did you now?" she asked.
"Yeah, and then you started dating a woman," he continued. "So are you really a lesbian?"
"I'm enough of a lesbian to be able to identify a giant pussy," she glared at him. After a second, she winked, "Oh look, there's one right here."
After being partnered with Nice Girl Andy, he wasn't quite ready to take on Gail, so that pretty much shut him up. At least for a little while.
The next sound he made was a loud, piercing wolf whistle as he craned his neck to see a woman crossing the street. "That chick has one bangin' body."
"Don't objectify woman in my car, asshole."
"Just sayin'," he shrugged.
"So am I."
"Seriously, if you're a lesbian, you'll be able to appreciate this, too," he said. He tapped the front glass, "Look."
Gail couldn't help but glance up. When she did, her breath caught. The woman did have a bangin' body, or whatever the fuck Gerald had just said. She had an amazing body. Gail knew. She knew it pretty fucking intimately, actually.
"Stop looking!" she told him.
"Stop looking at her or I'll handcuff you to a boulder and smile while I watch you die a horrible, agonizing death as you sink helplessly into your own personal water tomb."
"Damn," he said in shock. "That's intense."
Gail really didn't care, she was already opening her door. This was her chance to check off Step Eight and she wasn't about to let the opportunity pass. "Stay!" she said to Moore. "Stay here. Don't get out. Don't leave. Don't move. Don't breathe if you can help it."
Gail cut off his response by shutting the car door and carefully weaved across the lanes of traffic and onto the opposite sidewalk.
"Hey," she shouted after Holly.
Holly, for her part, slowed and looked around cautiously like people do when they hear someone shout.
"Freeze!" Gail said as she gained some ground.
Holly halted. Gail could tell she recognized the voice by the way her body automatically tensed and took a more defensive stance. Holly slowly turned, face cycling through several different emotions before she settled on distant. "Officer Peck," she said blandly. "What can I do for you?"
"Officer?" Gail smiled with the question. "Okay, Doctor Stewart."
"Don't do that."
"You started with the formalities," Gail accused her.
Holly held up her hands in surrender. "Do you need something, Gail?"
"Yes," Gail said. "Were you aware that you just jaywalked across that intersection?"
"You just broke a very important street law," Gail informed her. "I watched you."
"Are you serious?"
"Hey, Hol," Gail tucked her thumbs into her utility belt. "If Mayor Ford can't get away with it, neither can you."
"You are serious."
"I'm seriously doing my job," Gail said, smile peeking on the corner of her lips. "Officer Peck," she pointed at her name badge. "Toronto's best."
It took everything Holly had not to roll her eyes. "Sure, okay, Officer. What are you going to do? Write me a ticket?"
"Yep," Gail said, taking out her pad. "Sure am."
When Holly saw Gail actually jotting something down, she got just a bit upset. "C'mon Gail."
The pen stilled, "What?"
"You're really writing me a ticket for jaywalking?"
Gail nodded her head yes, but said, "No."
Holly couldn't help smiling.
"You thought I was, though," Gail said.
"I did," Holly said as she looked down at the concrete. "After last time- yeah…I thought you were."
"I just saw you," Gail pointed to the car. Gerald was waving from the passenger seat. "We saw you. I thought I'd say 'hi.'"
Holly waved back to Officer Moore, "That's the new rookie?"
"Yeah and he's dumber than a barrel of painted toenail clippings."
"He's dumb," Gail reiterated. "Like really dumb."
"Well," Holly took a step backward. "Good luck with that."
"Uh huh," Gail said as she watched her walk away.
Step Nine: Make amends.
Gail knew a lot of things about Holly Stewart. She knew her favorite place to eat. She knew her favorite songs. She knew how she liked to be touched in bed. She knew a lot. She knew about a million different little things.
She also knew that Holly always parked her car on the third level of the parking garage, four places from the elevator bank in Section D.
So, that's where Gail Peck was. She was sitting on the hood of Holly's car, feet on her bumper, eating a bag of chips when Holly exited the elevator.
The hitch in Holly's usual swagger caused Gail just a bit of a thrill as she plastered a smile on her face and held out her snack. "Chip?"
Holly stopped just in front of her and adjusted the bag on her shoulder. "What are you doing here, Gail?"
"Chasing you down at the lab would be unprofessional and going to your house would be too personal," Gail said in a flat, informative tone. "Thought this was a good balance."
"For someone that doesn't believe in calling someone, sure."
Holly tilted her head, expecting an answer to the previous question.
Gail rested her arms on her knees. "I wanted to apologize."
"You already did."
"Nooo," Gail drew it out. "I expressed the desire to apologize and then asked you to have a drink with me, then later I admitted to having bratty, impetuous qualities. I never actually apologized…I don't think anyway."
"I think you did."
"I don't think so."
Holly mentally ran back over their last few meetings. "Okay, then…go for it."
"What? It's like that?"
Holly raised her free arm up, "Like what?"
"I don't know," Gail said, slipping off Holly's car. "You're just like, 'do it already.'"
"You showed up unannounced on my car in a parking lot, Gail," Holly whirled her finger at their surroundings. "It's not like we can sit down and talk it out."
"I just explained why I came here."
"I heard your explanation."
"So cut me some slack, here."
Holly walked by her, digging her keys out of her jacket pocket and hitting the unlock button causing it to beep.
"Hol," Gail followed worriedly. "Holly, don't leave."
"I'm not," Holly said, opening the back door of her car and tossing her bag on the seat. "I'm not leaving."
Holly shut the door and raised her eyebrows. "You obviously have something important to say."
"Yeah," Gail twisted her lips. "I'm sorry about, you know, everything."
Holly nodded once, not very impressed. She scratched just under eye, probably buying Gail some time. "That's it?"
"I didn't call you back."
"No, you didn't."
"And that was probably the stupidest thing in the long, long exhaustive list of really stupid things I've done," Gail rushed out. "But, I think I was right to be a little…er…upset at your friend."
"She's a bitch," Holly acknowledged. "I should have warned you."
"She is a bitch," Gail said. "A super king kong, mega mega bitch."
"Biggest bitch in the whole wide world," Holly said mindlessly.
"Uh huh," Gail smiled. She took a deep breath before saying, "But there's no excuse for me saying what I said that night."
"You may have overreacted."
"I should have let you handle it," Gail said. "Or…something…different."
"I wish you would have done something, anything, else."
"But," Gail shuffled her feet, "you would have forgiven me for that. You did forgive me for that. You said so…in three different voicemails. It was okay, it was the heat of the moment. It struck a nerve, you already knew it…and still…"
"You ignored me."
"I ignored you," Gail said quietly. "And for that, I'm so so sorry, Holly."
Holly let the apology hang in the air for quite a while. Gail had almost begin to wonder if the mere act of her saying 'sorry' had rendered Holly mute. Eventually, though, Holly shifted and faced Gail. "Thanks. I accept."
Holly had looked away and drew a shaky breath before regarding Gail again. Her bottom lip worried between her teeth as she seemed to try to find the next words to say. "I'm sorry that it happened," she burst out. "I'm sorry that she said that. I'm sorry that I let you walk away. I shouldn't have let you walk away."
"You couldn't have stopped me."
"Maybe," Holly said sadly. "If I had told you how I felt…maybe."
"Maybe," Gail whispered. She kicked at some invisible object on the ground and found her voice. "You should get back to whatever it is you're doing this evening, Doctor Stewart."
"I told you not to call me that."
"Hmm," Gail turned around, heading toward the elevators. "You did, didn't you?"
She got all the way there and had hit the button before Holly called to her.
Gail turned toward the voice.
"Would you have stayed if I had told you?"
Gail didn't have to think about it. She knew the answer. Of course, she would have. It would have resolved the problem immediately. She knew the answer and she even knew what Holly asking must have meant. She knew, but she just shrugged her shoulders in answer and boarded the elevator.
Didn't really matter what she knew anymore, anyway.
Step Ten: Be friends…without any sort of benefits.
Showing up at lunch time at the lab was always hit or miss when Gail and Holly were actually dating. Sometimes, Holly would be free and it would lead to quiet little make out sessions in her office with the door locked. Sometimes it was a "hey" and Holly was back to work. She felt a little silly taking the chance now that they weren't together. Hell, they were barely speaking.
Then, there's the fact that Gail drove so damn far out of the way. And she brought Holly's favorite sandwich from her favorite sandwich shop. Yeah, it was all a little strange.
As soon as Holly saw her, something surprising happened, though. Holly smiled. It was genuine, too. Gail hadn't seen a genuine Holly Stewart smile in weeks and her whole body warmed at the sight.
"Hi there," Gail greeted her.
"Hi, Officer Peck," Holly said formally, probably a jab back at Gail for the night before. "What brings you by today?"
"I brought you lunch."
Holly was obviously completely unprepared for that. "What?"
"Lunch," Gail said. "Between breakfast and dinner. It's a midday meal."
"I know what lunch is," Holly said needlessly. "I didn't know you got a new job in delivery."
"And they still let me wear my old uniform," Gail said, pointing to her crisp blue shirt. "The lights and sirens on the car help, too. Thirty minutes or less, bitches!"
Holly took the bag she was being offered and looked in it quickly, "You didn't!"
"You're the best."
"So I've been told," Gail smirked. "By you if I do remember correctly."
Holly rolled her eyes, "Okay, Gail."
"Some nights more than once."
"Not that I don't appreciate it," Holly said, trying to ignore the innuendo, "but does this come with some ulterior motive? Is there a case that needs to be moved to the top of the pile or something?"
"This isn't work related," Gail said quickly, almost offended. "This is a peace offering. An olive branch from me to you. A dove. A white flag, if you will."
"We weren't at war."
"No," Gail said. "But, I want us to be friends."
"We are," Holly said as she munched on her sandwich.
"Are we?" Gail asked suspiciously.
"We will be," Holly said. "Eventually. If you keep bringing me these."
"It's important to me, Hol," Gail admitted. "I need us to be friends, because you're…you. You might have been the closest friend I've ever had and I know we can't go right back to how we were right now, but I need the option…someday."
"Of course," Holly told her. "I want that, too."
"Good, we can be friendly exes," Gail shot her a grin. "I've got to get back to work."
"Already?" Holly glanced at the clock. "You spent all your lunch break driving up here?"
"I did," Gail said. "It was the friendly thing to do."
"I'll return the favor soon," Holly promised.
"Yeah." Gail looked her over for a moment. There were so many things she wanted to say, but she couldn't. It wasn't the time or place. "Yeah."
Step Eleven: Return all her nerdy shit.
"Hey," Gail said with a smile when Holly answered her door.
"Hi," Holly leaned against the frame. "Whatcha got there?"
Gail gestured toward the large cardboard box tucked under her arm. "Some stuff that belongs to you. I thought I'd be a cool ex-girlfriend and return it."
"You're already my coolest ex-girlfriend," Holly said as her posture straightened. "Come on in, Gail."
"K," Gail crossed the threshold and quickly took stock of Holly's home, trying to gauge any differences. When she was satisfied there were no subtle changes, she placed the box on the kitchen island. "How's it going?"
"Okay." Holly followed her in and leaned with her back against the island. She watched Gail look around. "Working a lot, but you know that."
"Yeah," Gail nodded. "Me, too."
Holly caught herself staring and purposely diverted her eyes into the box. "So, my stuff, huh?" She reached in and pulled out her sweater. "I wondered where this had gotten to."
"You left it at my place that night that we got drunk on dollar longnecks and you wrote that letter to the Prime Minister of France seeking asylum for the lab rat you rescued in undergrad and named Alex Fleming." Holly opened her mouth to argue when Gail reached into the box and pulled out the letter. "The spelling is atrocious in this, Doctor."
"I was drunk," Holly argued accepting the letter. She laughed at the address. "Prime Minister. 1 France Street. France, France's Postal Code. France. I was really drunk."
"So was I," Gail said. "But my letter to Alanis Morrissette was much more articulate."
"Yeah, yeah," Holly grinned as she reached into the box and pulled out a purple birdhouse. "Okay, I don't think this is mine."
"I just made it," Gail said. "Well, Dov made it. I helped…kinda. I helped by getting him a bottle of water while he was building it. I suffered greatly, though, so I feel like I should take some credit."
Holly turned the object around in her hands several times before asking, "What is it?"
"Don't birdhouses usually have a small hole for the bird to, uh, enter?"
"This is a Gail Peck exclusive," Gail said. "No holes."
"An empty box?" Holly's mouth quirked up on one side. "How very weird of you."
"Ha," Gail said, recognizing the quip. "You should have it."
"K," Holly didn't ask any questions, she just accepted it. She placed the birdhouse on the counter and rooted through various items. "Gail, half this stuff is yours."
"I know," Gail nodded. "I'm decluttering. Figured I'd give you the first shot at my stuff."
"A calculator?" Holly raised the object in the air.
"Oh…well…it was nerdy, and I didn't recognize it, so..."
Holly flipped it over and read the words that were obviously typed on a label maker. "Property of Dov Epstein."
"That explains it," Gail said.
Holly tossed the calculator back in the box and pushed it away. She went back to leaning on the counter. "How are you?" she asked after a minute or so.
"I'm doing okay," Gail answered, mimicking Holly's stance across the kitchen. "I…" Gail's eyes flicked away for a second as she gathered the courage to continue. She swallowed and then looked Holly in the eye, "I miss you…and sometimes that's hard."
Holly nodded, "That's hard for me, too."
"Of course, Gail," Holly said. "I…you…we…" Holly stopped and simply stated, "Yes."
"Well," Gail pushed off her perch against Holly's countertop. "I hate to return your shit and run, but I'm sure you've got plans."
"Nope," Holly said.
"Not seeing someone tonight?"
Holly chuckled, "Not seeing someone at all."
Gail's stomach dropped at the news. "Didn't work out?" she choked out.
"Rebound," Holly said as if it would explain everything.
"Oh," Gail said. All of a sudden, her mind was going a million miles an hour about what it could mean that Holly wasn't seeing anybody. She did manage to offer a very insincere, "Sorry to hear that."
It must have been as flimsy as she thought because Holly groaned. "Sure you are, Gail."
"Yeah," Gail said. "I value your happiness."
Holly stopped laughing and was suddenly very serious. "You do?"
"Of course," Gail responded. She looked at Holly, "We're friends."
"Friends," Holly repeated. "We're friends."
"I'm glad," Gail took a few steps toward the door. "It's good that we could salvage our friendship."
"That's important," Holly said.
Gail gave her a little wave before leaving. "Super fucking important," she complained as she pounded down the steps from Holly's front door.
Step Twelve: Go on a date.
She wasn't Holly Stewart, that was for damn sure.
Gail was almost annoyed at how unlike Holly Stewart she was. She didn't squeeze medical jargon into her vernacular. She wasn't as quick or witty. She didn't have flowing hair and a trademark grin.
It was all so irritating.
Gail didn't know where Chloe had dug up this "super awesome, best lesbian friend" but Gail could smell her own desperation and it stunk.
She was actually thrilled when the date met its end and she was able to send her away. Hopefully never to be seen or heard from again.
"Eh," she mused as she looked over her list for getting over Holly. It hadn't worked at all.
Fucking 12 steps.
Good luck, Chris, she thought.
She was perched on a barstool at the Penny, eating a peanut and nursing an ice water when a flash of brunette hair and plaid caught Gail's eye. She nearly broke her neck to see if it was who she thought it was. It was. And she was headed for her. Quickly. Holly was there and talking and making big gestures with her hands before Gail could jump out of her seat.
"I don't want to be your friend!" Holly said in lieu of any greeting.
Gail's eyes widened at the sudden outburst. Especially considering this was, in fact, the first Holly outburst she'd ever witnessed. "You don't?"
"No!" Holly practically screamed, hands waving. "That's stupid. And Gail, I hate to tell you this, but I'm not sure we were ever really friends anyway."
"No!" Holly said, with a slight screech. "I mean, we were. We could have been. But, I…I wanted to jump you in the woods, so I wasn't feeling strictly friendly about you, Gail. But, no. Then, we were hanging out. And we were together all the time. We were dating with no sex. You know that, right? That's what was happening before. It was like those uber-consersative kids that 'court' or whatever the fuck they call it. That's what we were doing…until we were doing…"
"Each other?" Gail supplied.
"Yes!" Holly shouted. "And then it was…"
"Exactly!" Holly agreed. "We were awesome!"
"We were," Gail nodded.
"I want it back," Holly said. "I want us back. I want you back. I was scared before, okay? I was terrified because I love you and you're such a doofus sometimes, but now I just want it back."
"This is a change of pace," Gail said casually.
"I'm surprised I held out this long," Holly admitted, she had settled considerably. "But I overheard Chloe tell Nick she was setting up you up with some chick and I-"
"Got overwhelmingly jealous?"
"Felt a sudden indescribable burst of affection for me?"
"Well, Hol," Gail licked her lips. "As you obviously heard, I'm seeing someone."
"One date, Gail."
"And how many did you go on?"
Holly gave Gail her patented head tilt and asked, "Are you going to continue to be an ass or are you going to get over here and kiss me already?"
She did kiss her. Gail kissed Holly like it was the first time she'd ever kissed her. She kissed her like it was the last time their lips may ever touch. She kissed the hell out of her and she kept kissing her until Andy McNally's slow clap became a loud, raucous cheering event by the whole bar.
Holly pulled back, face flushed. "Let's get out of here."
Holly joined their hands and pulled Gail along.
"Wait!" Gail halted their progress and jogged back to the bar. She grabbed the sheet of paper off and tucked it into her pocket.
"What's that?" Holly asked curiously.
"Twelve Steps for Getting Holly Stewart back," Gail said with a smug grin. "And it worked perfectly."