A/N: This is based on a phrase I saw on Pinterest, "Somebody asked me if I knew you. A million memories flashed through my mind but I just smiled and said I used to…" When I wrote this, it wasn't actually in the Closer Universe but, I wanted to get some feedback so I tweaked it a bit and fit it here… Please let me know what you think!
"Do you know her?" she asked, tilting her head and furrowing her well-shaped brow.
Know her? I thought to myself. Do I know her? My mind flashed quickly back to the first time I had met you some ten years previous. We bumped carelessly into one another peering through the classroom window. You checking on your nervous niece - her first day in a new school, living with her aunt all the way across the country from where she used to be. Me, making certain my outgoing daughter introduced herself properly to the new student about whom we knew so little.
"Who?" I replied, as though I didn't recognize the name that had so frequently fallen from my lips...in fits of laughter, in hushed tones of conspiracy, in a thousand different ways.
She said your name again to me, checking now for a reaction. Apparently, this was to be a test.
"Hmm...it's quite a common name. I'm sure I know many women with it," I smiled - an attempt to deflect.
I knew though. I knew I had failed. The Conversation of You was going to happen. Likely I flinched at the first utterance of it...Brenda. No one has asked after you in so long I've grown complacent. My usual shields having been relaxed.
"Brenda Johnson? I'm sure you know her."
I laughed lightly, still trying to manipulate her into letting go of the thread. If she pulled it too sharply, my whole life would unravel.
"If you're so certain I know this Brenda of yours, why ask?"
"She's not my Brenda, Sharon. She was yours."
I felt my expression shift then. I had never been very good at hiding my emotions about you.
"She was my friend, Andrea, nothing more."
And it hurt to tell it.
Even seven years later, it hurt to lie about you.
Brenda Leigh, how could you still be hurting me when I hadn't even laid eyes on you in seven years?
"I just wondered if you remembered her is all."
If I remembered her? As if I could ever forget her!
Again my mind flew back years in a moment and I could still recall the precise smell of the coffee shop we went to that day…
"I should be home unpacking," you were trying valiantly to hide your tears.
"Maybe," I teased, "but isn't meeting people from your daughter's school important, too?"
Grinning a little, you nodded, "She's not actually my daughter, though. She's my niece."
"What's her name?"
The way you said your niece's name...like a prayer...froze me that day. You loved her as
completely as if she were your own.
"Yours?" You asked.
"And do you always stalk her kindergarten window or was today just special?" smirking,
you lifted your latte to hide your grin.
"Actually, I was checking to make sure my Lizzy introduced herself to your Charlie!"
And we laughed.
"Yes. I remember Brenda Johnson."
"That's good," Andrea said calmly, "since she's standing behind you."
A sucker punch...the air whooshed out of me and I wanted to deny her once again but I could feel you there. I could feel your gaze on the back of me. I could feel, too, the tears fill my eyes as Andrea followed your steps through the bar to our table. Unable to speak, I kept my focus on Andrea, forcing those tears away through sheer power of will.
I was, I must admit, simultaneously confused and impressed by Andrea's angelic expression of acceptance. She smiled gently at you, nodding once.
It had been planned, then, between you. I had though Andrea and I were headed in another direction entirely but clearly, she cared about me differently than I realized.
"I'm heading home," Andrea softly squeezed my forearm, "don't be mad at me, friend. We'll talk tomorrow." She kissed my cheek and left.
You didn't sit right away which made me nervous. I was terrified, actually, of both the thought that you might leave and the thought that you might stay. I briefly wondered how long I should wait you out but, as though we didn't have those seven years gaping between us, we spoke the same words at the same time once again.
"I can't believe you're here."
I answered first, "I never left."
Then you, "I told you I'd be back."
I wanted to yell at you that it had been seven years.
I wanted to beg you to see Charlie.
I wanted to ask how the hell you knew to talk to Andrea.
Instead, I just looked at you...alive...and in front of me and I remembered the last time we saw each other…
"How many times are you going to let him do this to you, Bren?"
My heart hurt for you, with your black eye and bruised ribs.
"I can't just leave him and move Charlie and myself into your condo with Elizabeth,
Sharon. He'll kill us both!"
"So, what are we going to do? What's the brilliant plan? Because I can't just keep
bandaging you up and pretending you're clumsy. And what happens when he goes after
Charlie? What happens when she talks back and you're not there to step in front of her?"
"Just trust me. I have a plan. I'll never let him hurt my baby or you."
My hands were shaking. I knew I wouldn't like your plan. You wouldn't even look at me.
"It's almost time to get the girls. Want me to get Lizzie and drop her at Girl Scouts?" You
moved toward the door.
Something heavy was going on inside you I could feel it. I stepped over to you, looking in
your eyes before you could put the barrier of your sunglasses between us.
"That'd be good, Bren, thanks."
I tucked your wild, blonde curls behind your ears and held your face in my palms. "I'm
here, Brenda Leigh, and, for the record, I do trust you."
You hugged me..with all your strength. You wrapped your arms around my waist and I
could feel you breathe me in.
Cupping the back of your head, I leaned down and whispered to you, "I love you."
"I love you, Sharon Raydor. I'll be back."
And you left...my condo, the city, your husband, your house...me...
"Seven years," I couldn't stop the tears any more.
"Six years, ten months, four moves, two lawyers, and a divorce," you couldn't stop the tears, either.
"Did he ever find you?"
"Four times. Did he ever hurt you again?"
"Not physically. I pressed charges. He went to jail. He tried to harass me after he got out but I filed for a restraining order. He got scared and moved away five years ago. Did he ever hurt you again?"
"Not physically. As part of the divorce settlement and because he did hurt Charlie, I was able to get a restraining order, too. I don't know why he's so afraid of that piece of paper but it works."
You're still standing next to me at the table and I'm not sure what to do.
"And Charlie?" I asked.
You flashed a relieved little smile, "she's wonderful. He hit her once and she fell and broke her arm but she's fine now. She's, um, she's actually with Elizabeth right now." You're blushing.
"So that's how you did this?"
Biting your cheek, you nod.
"And what's your plan now?" I asked.
"Well, you know the bakery on Sixth?"
I nodded; I couldn't trust my voice to speak just yet.
"I've been hired as the new cake decorator and Charlie and I are renting the upstairs apartment while we look for a house."
"So, you're back for good?" I whispered around the lump in my throat.
"We're back for good."
It felt like it took me another seven years to muster up the courage to ask you, "and where does that leave us?"
You laced your fingers through mine and tugged me off my bar stool.
"I never stopped loving you, Sharon, and I'm here to sweep you off your feet. Will you give me a second chance?"
I think I smiled at you. I'm actually a little mystified...blown away that for seven years your plan was to protect your niece, save yourselves, and come back to me. A second chance? How could I ever say no to that...to you...to our very own happy ending?
"Brenda Leigh," I breathed out against your lips as we leaned into one another. Standing in the middle of an upscale Martini bar, we kissed once again. It was a homecoming...everything I had been waiting for for six years and ten months. I had somehow made it through the terrible first year where all I did was check for reports of police finding your body somewhere. The second year, when you sent us each a birthday card with no name inside and no return address but still we knew they were from you because they were followed by that terrible visit from Agent Johnson, your angry, abandoned husband who gave me a black eye and bruised ribs but never found Lizzie hiding in the closet. The third and fourth years with no contact at all. The fifth year when I finally started dating and struggled through painful revelations and awkward kisses before always being told I was still hung up on somebody else. And finally, this last year, when Andrea and I had settled into a good friendship that was maybe turning into something more. I made it through all this time without you and now, with you in front of me once again, I have no idea how I managed it. Second chance? It's the only option for us, my love.
"Don't ever do that again."
"I'm here, Sharon. I'm staying for good. I promise."
My tears must have been soaking right through your shirt onto your shoulder but you just held me tighter. When I could breathe again, I pulled back from you and held your face like I'd been longing to for so long.
"I love you."
"And I love you."
We kissed again and people around us applauded...and I wasn't even embarrassed at the attention. I was too busy being happy to have you back.
"Can we leave?" I asked, surprising you.
"Where do you want to go?" you answered, already holding my hand and leading me toward the door.
"Charlie," I whispered. You cried, too, then. You must have forgotten how much I love that little rascal.
The four of us spent the whole night talking, not falling asleep until the early morning hours, draped across all the furniture in my living room. We woke together and slipped into an easy routine that has become the norm around here. Coffee, breakfast, holding hands over the newspaper, cuddling in front of the weather channel, an occasional walk along the nearby beach...heaven.
You're laying next to me now as I write this, sleeping deeply, Charlie and Lizzie in the next room. I want you to know how I remember our reunion. In the morning, we'll tell the girls we found a house we think they'll love and we want them to see it before we make an offer. While we're there, after they tell us they love it - let's face it, we know they will - I'm going to ask you to marry me. I'll ask Charlie for her approval, too. I know Lizzie approves...she helped me find the ring.
I hope you'll say yes…