Summary: When Joan makes Adam take her to a trendy restaurant across town for their first official date, the journey home takes them to a dark and dangerous place. This is based on a true story I saw on 60 Minutes when I was kid, which must have really shaken me because I never forgot it.
Disclaimer: These characters are the exclusive property of Barbara Hall, CBS, and Sony Television. The following story is for entertainment purposes only, and I do not stand to profit financially from it in any way whatsoever, as my parents point out every week when they call.
Spoilers: Set after episode 22 "The Gift." This is sort of an alternate season finale, since I hate season finales because they end with cliffhangers that leave the universe in a state of uncertainty and make it very difficult to write fic.
Rated: PG-13 for violence, drug references, adult situations, and mild language.
Why is June 21st considered the first day of summer when the two things that really determine summerness are school getting out and, more importantly, the first day it's hot enough to lay out in the back yard? Technicalities aside, she had her lemonade; she had her headphones; the sun was shining; and the weather report said the temperature would hit 80 by noon.
It was summer, and Joan Girardi was sunbathing.
Stretched out on her lawn chair, she grabbed the bottle of tanning lotion and rubbed its creamy coolness over her soon-to-not-be-creamy skin. The smell of cocoa butter that wafted over her brought with it happy memories of carefree days, and every cell in her body seemed to relax. The bikini didn't quite fit as well as she'd hoped, but here in the privacy of her own back yard, it didn't matter. The more tan skin, the better. In fact… why have tan lines on your shoulders? She slid the bikini straps off, down over her arms, and tucked them into the sides of her top.
"Joan," a male voice called.
Joan yelped as she bolted upright and looked at who was walking toward her across the lawn.
It was a guy. It was that guy. The cute one, the one who reminded her of a cross between Christian Slater and that guy who died on the sidewalk outside that club owned by Johnny Depp. It took her a moment to recognize him, because he was wearing Ray-Bans and had swapped the corduroy jacket for a Cuban shirt that looked like something Frank Sinatra had worn in a movie her father liked. Yep, it was that guy. Except, of course, that it wasn't a guy at all.
It was God.
He walked up to her, a small book in his right hand.
"What are you doing here?" Joan hissed, trying to keep her voice low. It was only then that she realized that her top was falling off. Woops. Losing the straps, not a good idea. She snatched her towel and held it to her chest.
God shrugged. "There's really no reason to cover yourself when I walk up. I can see you all the time."
"Yeah, but my mom doesn't know that, and she could look out the window any moment. Plus, ew! And why are you in my yard?"
"You didn't put on the sunscreen that you promised your mother you would."
"Shugh, it's like SPF 80. I might as well tan in the basement. And if you came here just to tell me to wear sunscreen, maybe you should invent a sun that doesn't poison us with UV rays."
"You know, no life on earth could survive without the sun, yet you people find something to complain about."
"Whatever. I almost didn't recognize you. You look different."
"I always look different. That's the idea."
"No, but I mean, this time you're the same but different. Same body, different outfit."
"What's in an outfit? Appearances are deceptive, Joan. I've taught you to look beyond them. How you see me has nothing to do with what I am. And yet you insist on noticing how I look."
"Great, it's lecture time. Noticing appearances is, like, human nature."
"The lesser side of human nature, yes, when it's not just noticing appearances but evaluating them and forming judgments. It's often just laziness. Your father would call it 'profiling.'"
"What does my father have to do with this?"
"He's been fighting it in the police department for years. Racial profiling is its most insidious form. An officer sees a young African-American man in a brand new BMW, and he assumes it must be stolen."
"So you want me to help stop racial profiling? I just wanted one day to relax and lie in the sun!"
"I'd love it if you helped stop racial profiling, but that's not why I'm here. I just want you to look at this." God handed her the book he was holding.
She glanced at the cover: Fine Dining – Arcadia. "What's this for?"
"It'll help you pick a romantic spot for dinner."
"Are you asking me out? Because, I know I said I thought you were hot, but I'm with Adam now." She gave him a smirk.
"Very good, Joan. That sardonic wit of yours is developing nicely. And I do want you to go on a date. With Adam."
Joan opened the book and skimmed a page. "I don't think Adam can afford fine dining."
"Who says Adam has to pay? If you ask him out, you should pay."
"Wow. God is a feminist. In all the bad ways."
God stood up and smiled down at Joan. "Pay, don't pay. But you've been thinking that it's time you and Adam went on a real date."
"Unchallenged. But what's the catch?"
God just smiled. Of course he wasn't going to tell her.
Joan looked up at the sky, which was darkening in the north. "Hey, it'd be great if I had a nice little tan when Adam and I hit the town. Think you can make those clouds disappear?"
"You know I won't do that."
"Why not? You can't tell me clouds have free will."
"I'm not going to alter the meteorological course of the planet, Joan. The last time I did that… Well, let's just say, I've seen your boat-building skills."
Still in her bikini, Joan tossed the phone back and forth as she paced across the living room. Finally, she sorted the words out in her head and dialed Adam's number.
"Hello?" his soft voice answered.
"Hey, Adam, it's me."
"Jane… Hi." An energy lifted his tone, and it made Joan smile that he sounded so happy to hear her voice. "What's up?"
"I was just thinking…"
"No, Adam, there's more."
"I know. I just thought that was cool, that you were just thinking, and it made you want to call me."
"That's so sweet. And speaking of sweet, have you ever had Bananas Foster?"
"Um… I don't think so."
Joan opened the restaurant guide to a dog-eared page. "Well, the Bananas Foster gets five stars at Cedar Bistro. Apparently, it's like the best dessert in Arcadia."
Silence. And then, "OK."
Joan recognized that as his 'You're losing me' voice, so she cut to the point. "I want to go on a date, Adam. A real date. Like dinner and a movie date."
"Chah, Jane. If it's you and me, it's a real date. Why does food have to get involved?"
"I want to go out. Someplace nice."
"We could go to the art museum. The museum is nice."
"Any place that's a destination for a field trip is by definition not a hot spot."
"I don't know, Jane. I want to take you out, but fancy restaurants aren't really my scene. Getting all dressed up…"
"It won't be dressy. I'll take 'jacket required' off the list. I'll find something quiet and romantic and we can go to a movie afterwards. We can even go see one of those lame art films you like. It'll be like a trade-off, see? Couples compromise."
After another long pause, Adam replied, "If it's important to you, I'm in. And we don't have to see any art movies, which really aren't lame, by the way."
"Sorry about the 'lame.' So, Saturday?"
"It's a date, yo."
So that left three days to find a first serious date outfit. That should have been enough, right? But Saturday rolled around so quickly, it found Joan's bed buried under a pile of clothes that just weren't quite right.
As she stood before her bedroom mirror, Joan held up the red skirt and pulled it against her hips. It looked like it still fit. But maybe that was too dressy, she thought. It might be better to wear a nice pair of jeans, maybe the AG's she'd scored at the second-hand store. Jeans would send a message to Adam that this wasn't going to be fancy, and maybe that would take some of the pressure off, whereas the tight red skirt would send a different message...
"That your girlfriend's a ho," Joan said aloud. Hmm…. maybe… "No!" Jeans it is.
With the last of the important decisions behind her, Joan tossed the skirt in the discard pile on the bed and tromped back to the closet one last time. Shoes. The shoes she wanted to wear wouldn't work with jeans. She picked up the jeweled sandals and wondered if Kate Bosworth went through this when she was getting ready for a date with Orlando Bloom. Orlando Bloom, she decided, was probably easier to dress for than Adam Rove. Because when you're dressing up for the Vanity Fair party, you don't have to worry if your outfit is too dressy for your boyfriend's hoodie.
That had been the subject of their last conversation that morning, when Joan had assured Adam that the restaurant was hoodie-friendly. She did not want to pull an Iris and start dictating his fashion choices. Joan wrinkled her nose as she thought of those hideous vintage shirts. Poor Iris; those shirts were her Achilles' heel, the thing that made Adam realize he was with the wrong girl. With that in mind, Joan decided she would remember the shirts fondly from there on out.
She stepped over to the mirror again and went in for her close-up. Not too much make-up, skin a little dewy but not shiny. Very J-Lo. Lips should be shiny, though, so she put on a little more gloss. "No, wait--" She'd probably want to kiss Adam as soon as he arrived, and the gloss was sticky, and then he'd be glossy, and then her parents would come out to say hello and she and Adam would both be glossy, and how would that look?
She was trying to wipe off some of the gloss when she heard the knock at the front door.
"I'll get it!!!" she screamed, but her legs could not carry her down the stairs fast enough to beat her father to the door.
"Adam," Will announced as he opened the door, as if he didn't already know who it would be. As if he hadn't been waiting on the couch for this very moment.
Adam smiled. "Chief Girardi."
Joan stopped on the stairs and cringed.
Will nodded slowly, sadly. "I'm not actually the Chief anymore, Adam."
"Oh, right. Sorry."
"You can call me Detective Girardi, or just Mr. Girardi."
Adam continued to stand awkwardly in the doorway. "Sure, um, which one do you prefer?"
Joan was about to move in to help him when her mother approached the doorway with a big smile. "Good evening, Adam!"
"Hi, Mrs. Girardi," Adam replied.
Not one to leave a question hanging, Will concluded, "Why don't we make it simple and go with 'Mr. Girardi.' It goes well with 'Mrs. Girardi.'"
Adam nodded. "Symmetry, yo. I like."
Helen shook her head at her husband and beckoned Adam inside. "Come on in. I don't know where Joan is."
"She's right behind you." Adam pointed in her direction.
Her parents turned around. "And there she is," said Helen.
When her parents finally moved out of the way, Joan could see that Adam was indeed looking like himself, right down to the knit cap on his head. Her eyes met his, and they shared a smile. She noticed that he was holding something, a box, and he stepped up to her and handed it to her.
"For you," he said. "For our first official date."
It hadn't occurred to her that he would bring her flowers. She didn't know why; Adam was always giving her things, things he'd found, things he'd made. And so it shouldn't have surprised her that he brought her something that was a combination of all these things.
It was a shallow wooden box, about a foot wide and divided into compartments, like something Joan had seen at a Japanese restaurant. Each compartment contained something different: one was full of tiny white flowers, another was feathers, one contained rocks, another had more flowers, a deep purple this time, another compartment held glass beads, and the last was full of tiny paper tubes, and in each tube a blade of grass. Each compartment was a different size and shape, but the color of the contents fit together to form almost a mosaic. It was so amazing, Joan couldn't even find the words to express what she was feeling. But her mother could.
"Oh, Adam, how beautiful!" Helen cried, coming over to admire it. "Will, look at this."
"Nice," Will commented, unmoved. He continued to eye Adam carefully in the manner of a father who also happens to be a cop and who also knows that this young man has feelings of a romantic, i.e. sexual, nature toward his beloved sixteen-year-old daughter.
Joan looked up from the beautiful arrangement to see Adam's warm brown eyes smiling at her. Words still failed her, and so she leaned across the box and did what she never imagined in a million years she would do in front of her parents; she kissed him full on the mouth. Adam was clearly taken by surprise, but he kissed her back with open lips that tasted faintly of toothpaste.
"Ahem," Will coughed.
Joan turned and glared at her father. "We're out of here," she announced. She set the mixed media arrangement on a side table and took Adam's hand.
"Wait, you're leaving?" Will stammered.
"We're not eloping, Dad. We're just going out to dinner."
"What restaurant are you going to?"
"We're going out, and you're not giving anyone the third degree. You know Adam and you know me and everything's fine and I'll be home by eleven."
"Ten," her father countered.
Helen interceded. "Eleven, Will. Ten is for school nights."
"I'll take good care of her, Detective Mr. Girardi," Adam called as Joan practically yanked him out the door and pulled it closed behind them.
Safely out on the porch, Joan moaned, "They're so beyond."
"I love your parents."
"Love them later. Let's go."
She walked down the steps, wanting to be alone with Adam and away from her parents' prying eyes as quickly as possible. It was early evening and still bright as day, and the air was warm and sweet, fragrant like summer. So far, the date was off to a great start, having escaped The Inquisition unscathed.
Joan looked at Adam and noticed that his normally pale skin was flushed. Had it been like that before, and she just hadn't noticed until they got out into the sunlight? Had her father's questions, or her impromptu kiss, embarrassed him to the point that he would blush? Had he been out in the sun all day? As she scrutinized him, Adam lifted a hand to wipe away a few beads of sweat that had gathered on his brow.
"Adam, are you OK?"
"Chah, I'm fine. It's just… warm."
He gave her a quick kiss and said, "Let's go." As they headed over to his father's car, such a rarity that he was able to borrow it, he licked his lips and added, "I like that lip gloss. It tastes like bananas."
Joan beamed. Things couldn't get any better. She was on a real date with the boy she loved, and she didn't even have to drive.
The quiet and romantic part of the equation didn't quite pan out as Joan had hoped. The restaurant was crowded and loud, which, she realized, is what happens to restaurants that get really good reviews.
"Stupid restaurant guide," she muttered as they waited for their table.
Adam's attention was absorbed by the murals on the walls, rich-hued scenes of dancing couples in strange perspective that looked like they were falling out of the walls. Joan didn't mind that he was so quiet; she'd grown comfortable enough with him that she didn't have to fill every moment with chatter. They stood silently, holding hands. She leaned her head against his shoulder, and he lay his head against hers. His hat was off now, stuffed in the pocket of his hoodie, and Joan could feel the heat of his cheek even through her hair. It made her look up to scrutinize his face again.
"Adam, you're hot," she said.
"It's bakin' in here, yo. They need to crank the AC." He unwove his fingers from hers and wiped his sweating palm on his jeans. "Maybe we should wait outside."
She nodded, but the hostess was already approaching to tell them their table was ready.
Joan watched Adam carefully all through dinner, but if he wasn't feeling well, he put on a good show. There were moments when Joan glanced up from her penne pasta and thought he looked pained, but as soon as she caught his eye, he smiled and laughed or took her hand in his. Once he got up to use the restroom, and Joan thought he took an unusually long time for a guy, since they normally seem to get in and out of the bathroom pretty quickly. But when he came back he looked better, and Joan convinced herself that if he were sick, he would tell her. She wanted this date to be perfect, and she knew that Adam wanted that, too, and in the end she thought he might just be really nervous, and that could be the cause of it all.
The waitress cleared away the dishes and laid a dessert menu before them. Joan picked it up and scanned it.
"Yum... yum... and ohmigod, I have to try that." She looked up at Adam. "Too many choices! You want to split a flourless chocolate-hazelnut torte with me?"
"I'm pretty stuffed, Jane."
"Always save room for dessert. It's like a rule with me."
"I thought you wanted Bananas Foster."
"That was a different restaurant, sweetie."
Adam smiled a big smile and looked at her intently. "Are you having a good time?"
Joan made a mental note to call him 'sweetie' more often, since that really seemed to perk him up. "I'm having a fantastic time. What about you?"
"Yeah. This place rocks."
"Good." She stood up. "Order me the torte and a cappuccino. I'll be right back."
Adam nodded, and Joan headed off to the restroom. She wove around tables toward the back of the restaurant until she found a door featuring a picture of a woman stomping grapes. Pushing the door open, Joan found herself in one of the nicest bathrooms she had ever been in, with a pink marble counter and two stalls with dark wood doors. One stall was occupied, so she entered the other. She was just unzipping her jeans when she heard a woman's voice.
"How's the date going, Joan?"
It was coming from the stall next to her, or so she thought. Joan bent down to get a glimpse of God's feet, just to be sure it wasn't some disembodied voice. She saw a pair of black high-heeled boots.
Joan shook her head. "OK, this is weird, even for you."
"Do I look different?"
"I don't know. I can't see through walls like some deities I know."
"You can see me without looking at me. The part of me that you see with your eyes is the part that isn't real."
"OK, very deep, but can we get to the point so that I can pee? I'm having privacy issues here."
"You see Adam better than anyone, when you're willing to look."
"Is this about how appearances don't matter?"
"I never said that appearances don't matter. I said that appearances can be deceiving. It's in the level of the deceit that appearance becomes very important."
"Is Adam sick?"
"What do you think?"
"Fine. He's sick. So we'll skip the movie."
"Do you know where you are?"
"I'm in a bathroom… Why?"
"Do you know how to get home from here, Joan?"
"Not really. Adam drove. I've never even been to this neighborhood before. Wait, can Adam not drive home?"
"You have a lot of options, Joan. Figure out what you're going to do."
Joan heard a toilet flush, followed by the sound of God exiting the stall.
"Wait, God flushes? What exactly does God have to flush?"
"You've got to keep up appearances, Joan."