TITLE: Lonely Words
AUTHOR: Susan / apckrfan
DISCLAIMER: I don't own any characters. They belong to Janet Evanovich as much as I would love a Ranger of my very own. No copyright infringement is intended and no profit is made. RATING: PG
SPOILERS: Through Ten Big Ones
SUMMARY: Steph contemplates her life as it stands with Joe
COUPLES: Stephanie & Joe
FEEDBACK: Please, I can't write better without it.
DATE STARTED: August 2004
STATUS: Complete
NOTES: rqfic Challenge #37 "Trust"
NOTES2: This is only my third attempt at first person narrative, but I'm enjoying playing with it.

I have my apartment back and I feel happier than I have in a while. Valerie and Albert have gotten their own place. I have no idea how they all managed to stay here, but I did not hear them complain once. Of course, why would they when they were getting an apartment for free. For a while there I thought I would never get the place back. True, most of my time the past few months I stayed at Joe's house but a girl has to have options.

Rex stands on his soup can with his whiskers twitching as he watches me get a beer to go with my Pino's pizza. Ranger is off doing secret Ranger stuff and Joe is respecting my wishes for once by giving me time. So it is just the two of us tonight and it suits me just fine.

Joe said recently that we need to grow up. He is probably right, but I am not so sure I want to. I certainly cannot say with certainty that I am ready to. I see the disappointment in my mother's eyes when I go to the house and there is still no wedding date set. I never know what to tell her. I do not know how to tell her that it scares me. What we are doing now, Joe and I, it is not permanent. We both seem to like it that way. We have played around with the commitment game, both unable to take it very seriously.

I plop a grape into Rex's cage and toss the beer bottle top into the garbage. He dashes from his soup can and places the grape in between his front feet. Rex is the closest I have to a child and the responsibility of having him is too much some days.

"I just can't help but think as soon as we get married he'd insist on me quitting my job and starting a family." Rex's whiskers twitch once more so I know he is listening intently as I speak. "And I would love to have a family. At least I think I would. But why is it okay for him to put his life on the line for his job but not for me? Why should I be the only one left at home wondering every time the phone rings if it's going to be someone telling me that my husband is dead?"

Rex's beady eyes are assessing me. I can tell he thinks I am onto something with this train of thought. Maybe I am. I carry the pizza box and my beer into the living room, placing both on the coffee table that has seen better days especially now that my nieces have gotten a hold of it. I reach for the remote and turn on the Rangers game. It is nights like this that I miss Joe. On more than one occasion he has come strutting through my front door with beer and pizza. We would sit and watch a Rangers or a Yankees game together. It is not as fun alone but I have never been afraid of being alone.

"I can't be sure he won't try to change me. I know he loves me, and I know I love him. But is that enough?" I ask the question I have asked myself many, many times over the years. "It all boils down to trust, Rex. And that's something I don't know that I can do with Joe. There are times I know he's not honest with me just as there are times I'm conveniently neglectful in telling him exactly what I'm doing."

I pop a piece of sausage with a glob of melt in your mouth cheese hanging off of it into my mouth and savor the taste that is exclusively Pino's. This thought process is getting me nowhere. I know one day I will have to make a decision, a real one that will result in my life being forever altered. I just do not know if Joe will be in my life or out of it. I find it hard to imagine life without him but I find it harder to imagine either of us changing enough or compromising enough to make a real go at it.

"Don't fall in love, Rex, sometimes you feel lonelier with it than without it. The words by themselves are empty, lonely, unless you're ready to back them up," I say as I take a pull off my beer and let out a muffled cheer as the Rangers score on a power play. I am determined to push thoughts of love and Joe and decision making out of my mind for the rest of the night.

The End

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