Sorry for the double post. Accidentally deleted chapter 8 like a dummy.
The door swings shut.
A cold fist of regret hits him in the chest, knocking the wind right out of his lungs. His gut churns, acid backing up into his throat, engulfing the single syllable of her name as his adam's apple bobs. Rick rocks his weight back on his heels, shoulders slumping as he twists away.
The sound of scraping metal stops him mid-turn.
"Rick," Kate says, his name barely more than a rasp in her throat as she pulls the door wide. "What are you doing here?"
An oversized NYPD sweatshirt swallows her upper body, a stain that he thinks might be red sauce slashing across the D. The cuffs of her plaid pajama pants puddle around her feet, the tips of her big toes just visible. Her head tilts to one side, sends the messy knot of her bun tumbling.
"I brought soup," he repeats like an idiot, extending the bag again. "It's chicken noodle."
Kate's eyes flick from his to the bag and back again. He smiles at her, tries to mold his face into a look a bit more along the line of reassuring than worried. The door sways a little on its hinges as Kate's weight shifts, rocking forward and back on her heels, mouth twisted to the side. His shoulders drop along with hers when she finally steps to the side, one arm sweeping backward in invitation.
Rick practically jumps over the threshold. Kate sniffles as she shuts the door behind him and he turns back to her, bag of soup still held out.
"Here," he says. "It's not homemade but it should still do the trick."
"Thank you," Kate says, her red-rimmed eyes wet. "I'm not really hungry right now but I'll keep it for later."
The tips of her fingers brush along the backs of his as she takes the soup, cradles it against her chest with one hand, and Rick can't seem to stop himself from stepping toward her, inserting himself into her bubble of personal space. His hand reaches for hers, fingers curling around the side of her palm. Kate's body sways in his direction, one fat tear leaking from the corner of her eye.
Rick reaches up, catches the tear with the pad of his thumb, fingers stretched out to cradle the cool skin of her cheek. Her chest shudders, eyelids slipping shut.
A piercing screech from her kitchen makes them both jump. Rick's hands fall to his sides as Kate steps back, her pale skin suddenly flushing with blood. The kettle continues its screaming lament and Kate steps back again, each inch of distance making the ache in his chest worsen.
"I was making tea," she says, body angling toward the kitchen. "Do you -"
Rick nods, empty hands moving to his pockets. "Tea would be nice."
"Peppermint is perfect," he says, eyes drawn to the way her pants legs drag across the wooden floor as she pads into the kitchen.
Cabinet doors open and close and Rick lets his gaze wander. Her apartment doesn't look anything like what he thought it would, the interior far homier and more lived in than he ever imagined. From the thick blue rug to the oversized white couch with a fuzzy blanket draped across one end, everything about the place makes him feel warm. Welcomed, even.
He narrows in on the built-in and overflowing bookshelf on the opposite side of her living room, knick-knacks and framed pictures decorating the shelves. An old and worn looking leather chair sits tucked into the corner next to the unit, another blanket tossed over the arm, and he can so easily picture her there, legs curled under her body and a mug of tea steaming on the side table as she thumbs through one of the many hefty Russian volumes from her collection.
Curiosity getting the better of him, Rick makes his way over to the bookshelf, leaving his jacket draped across the arm of the couch. Scanning the titles, he picks up a dome shaped glass paperweight, passing the heft of it from palm to palm as he tries to work out the pattern behind her shelving system. The only conclusion he can reach, though, is that there doesn't seem to be one.
Fiction mixes in with what appears to be legal textbooks. Biographies overlap with her sizable Stephen King collection. A few popular Young Adult titles nestle in with a shelf of otherwise classic literature. The mysteries have their own section, three shelves on the side closest to the chair. Rick steps in for a closer look, the paperweight almost slipping from his suddenly loose grip.
Spines, each bearing his own name, fill up three quarters of one shelf. Every title he's ever written - from one off mysteries to the Derek Storm series - stand grouped together, the glossy hardback covers smudged with fingerprints and formerly stiff spines broken. Rick plucks one of the older books off the shelf, flips open the front cover.
From the library of Johanna Beckett
Porcelain clatters behind him and Rick jumps back, heart racing. He flips the book shut, stuffs it back into place. The paperweight clatters against the wooden shelf just as Kate shuffles out of the kitchen, a steaming mug held in each hand. She passes one to Rick, shrewd eyes flicking between his face and the bookshelf. Silently, she turns toward the couch, mug held carefully aloft as she curls herself into a corner, knees pulled up to her chest.
"Oh," Rick says, stuffing a hand into the pocket of his coat as he drops down onto the middle cushion of the couch. "Alexis sent these for you."
He hands her the back of slightly crushed gingerbread men, heart twisting at the site of her weak smile.
"She's so sweet," Kate says, fingering the plastic bag. "Tell her I said thank you?"
Silence falls between them, comfortable and easy. Rick watches her sip her tea, chest aching. A small pile of used tissues sits on the coffee table and he plucks up the box, holds it out to Kate as she sniffles again.
"Do you -" he starts, swallowing around the thickness in his throat. "Do you want to talk about it?"
Kate sighs, swipes at the dampness under her eyes with the fresh tissue. "I guess you're not going to buy that I'm sick?"
Rick shakes his head, sips from his mug. "The crying sort of gives it away."
Her watery laughs deepens the cracks in his heart.
"There you are with those keen powers of observation again."
He gives her a shrugging smile. "It is my superpower."
Her chuckle gets lost in a hiccoughing sniffle. Settling his mug firmly in one hand, Rick cups the other over the rounded knob of her knee. Kate's eyelids fall, her fingers clutching at the still steaming cup of tea. Silence falls over them and he breathes it in, waiting.
"You asked why I became a cop," Kate says eventually, her watery eyes opening to fix on him.
Rick nods. "I did."
Her chest stutters with the deep breath she pulls and Rick scoots a little closer, thigh brushing against the bare tips of her toes.
"Kate, you don't -"
"My mother was murdered." The words detonate like a bomb inside his chest, breaking his heart apart for her. "When I was nineteen. That's why I became a cop."
Rick sits in silence, thumb running back and forth across the side of her knee. The tail end of the tissue sticks out from between Kate's fingers, fluttering against her knuckles in the breeze of her exhale.
"We were supposed to meet for dinner. Her, my dad, me. One last family meal before I went back to school." Kate takes a sip of her tea, steadies herself. "We waited at the restaurant but she never showed. Neither of us worried, though, because it wasn't unlike her to get wrapped up in work and lose track of time. It wasn't until the cops - Detective Raglan - showed up here a few hours later that we knew anything was wrong. We just - We thought she was at work."
Questions flood his mind but Rick bites his tongue, forces himself to keep his mouth shut for once in his life. To let her tell her story in her own way.
"They found her in an alley. Stabbed." Her shoulders pull up, voice going hard. "Called it wayward gang violence. Just something that happens. A statistic. They closed her case without ever really trying to solve it, and that is when I decided to become a cop."
"To solve her case?" he asks, unable to stop himself.
Kate shakes her head. "To prevent another family from having to go through what we did."
Something twists low in his gut and his arms itch with the desire to reach for her, to pull her up against his chest and just - be.
"I looked at her case, of course," Kate says, the anger from moments before melting back into resigned sadness. "Became obsessed with it for awhile. I lost myself in it. It got to the point where my entire life revolved around it. It wasn't healthy."
"What made you stop?"
"Montgomery," Kate says, nose wrinkling as she takes a sip of her tea. She leans to the side, sets the cup on the coffee table, next to the bag of cookies. "He saw where I was heading, made me get help. He helped me realize that the best way to honor her was to actually live, not just wallow in my sadness."
She twists the tissue between her fingers, little bits of cotton sloughing like snow onto her thighs. Fresh tears well in her eyes and she lets them fall.
"My dad went the other way," she says, voice wavering. "He crawled into a bottle at her funeral and has never made it back out. That's why I had to cancel dinner."
Her chest heaves and she pulls her knees more tightly against her chest. Rick moves himself closer, carefully stretches an arm out. Kate leans forward, lets him wrap his arm around her hunched shoulders. One knee presses against his stomach and her head lands on his chest, wet cheek sticking to the front of his shirt. Rick lays his cheek against the top of her head, hand smoothing up and down her bicep.
"We haven't really done Christmas since she died, " Kate says, her voice small and quiet. "We tried the first year after but it was just too hard. So we stopped. But he called me last week, sober and in a good mood, and said he wanted to do something. Exchange gifts, have lunch."
She sniffs, the back of her hand bumping into his chest as she swipes at her nose.
"He sounded so much like his old self, Rick. I couldn't believe it." Her shuddering sigh makes his chest catch. "I shouldn't have."
"I found him on his kitchen floor. He was loaded and fell, bashed his head against the side of the counter. I called for an ambulance but he refused treatment. Said he would just put some bandaids on it."
"Wow," Rick says, at a loss for anything else.
Her hair rasps against his shirt as she nods. "Yeah. Then he started yelling at me, which is how these scenes usually go. And I was standing there, watching him bleed and yell and fight off the paramedics, and I just - I couldn't do it. I left. I just - I left. "
Her sobs break loose, chest heaving as she cries. Rick leans them both forward, sets his mug next to hers on the table. Settling back into the cushions, he wraps his other arm around her, holds her shaking body. His hand cradles the back of her neck, thumb rubbing a tiny circle against the base of her skull, as tears pool in his own eyes, the pieces of his heart aching for her. For what she's lost, what she's suffered.
Kate quiets after a few minutes, her trembling muscles going still in groups. Rick loosens his grip but she doesn't move, doesn't try to sit up or pull away. Her fingers curl into the front of his shirt, a loose hold that makes him want so very many things.
"I called my aunt," she says at last. "His sister. I told her what happened and asked her to go check on him."
"Is he okay?"
The shoulder pressed against his chest lifts. "Supposedly he agreed to get help. But -"
"You'll believe it when you see it?"
"Exactly," Kate says, bun wobbling as she nods. "I've heard it too many times before. He's my dad and -" she clears her throat as her voice catches - "I love him. But I don't trust him. I can't."
"I don't think anyone could fault you for that."
A soft silence envelops them, broken only by Kate's sniffling. She shifts against him and Rick steels himself for her withdrawal. Her head tilts back, eyes puffy and wet.
"Thank you," she rasps, the sincerity in her voice pulling up goosebumps along his arms.
"For not saying you're sorry," she says, hand splaying against his chest, thumb brushing back and forth across the cotton of his shirt. "For bringing me soup and cookies. For just - for being here."
There is no where else he would rather be.
"You don't need to thank me," Rick says, hand still holding her neck. His eyes flick to her lips, warmth spreading through his middle. "I just wish I could do something. Could help."
Her head dips again, forehead nestling into the spot where his neck and shoulder meet. Her fingers curl into his shirt again and she lets him have her weight, her body fully supported by his.
"This is enough," she tells him, her breath warm against the base of his throat. "This helps."
Rick closes his eyes and takes a deep breath, filling his lungs with the lingering scent of her lavender shampoo, content to spend the rest of the night on her couch.
Thank you for reading. Your thoughts and comments are always appreciated.