A thousand thanks to Andrea for editing this for me, and her support.
It began just before I fell asleep, jarring me from my serene state of near sleep. I had been enjoying this state a great deal after a long day spent chasing down a drunken skip. It was a steady scratching coming from the window. I figured it was just another person trying to break into my apartment, as usual. I grabbed my stun gun, since my .38 was still in the cookie jar in the kitchen. I was far too tired to contemplate just why it was that break-ins didn't bother me anymore. Since Ranger always came through the front door, and Morelli had a key, it was easy to rule them out.
What I wasn't expecting was the scratching to suddenly shoot up the wall to take up residence in my ceiling, directly above my head. I rolled out of bed with a groan when I hit the floor. I realized I needed to clean under my bed and get rid of the not so 'cute' dust bunny monsters living under it, but decided to save that for another day. At least the scratching wasn't above me anymore. Since I was already of bed, I figured I should grab some Ben & Jerry's to comfort me while I set up a mouse trap. Mice are scary things—scarier than most of my FTA's.
I padded into my kitchen bare-footed and pulled open the freezer to extract a half-full pint of B&J's Coconut Almond Fudge Chip. Perfect. I set it on the counter to soften a bit while scouring a drawer for a mousetrap. I know I had bought one at some point. After about a minute or so of desperate searching, I found it wrapped in some generic crinkly yellow plastic.
Mindful of my fingers and the snapping jaws of death on the mousetrap, I carefully read the instructions and put a tiny bit of peanut butter on the trigger for bait. Next, I put the contraption in the bottom of my mostly empty pantry. I figured the mouse would go there because that's where what little food I had was located.
Next, I curled up on my couch and started on the B&J, keeping my feet well off the ground since that's where mice tended to run across rooms.
Once the B&J was empty, I warily crept to bed, keeping an eye out for small, darting gray things. To say I didn't like mice was an understatement. Some people fear spiders or heights or dying. I prefer guys to kill spiders for me, but heights are a cinch, and I'm pretty luck concerning the whole death thing, but mice are horrible. As long as the mouse got caught and I didn't see it loose in my apartment, I'd be just fine, but if not… Happily, the B&J put a haze on my mind and I drifted off to sleep.
I made a beeline for my bathroom once I woke up. I hadn't realized I had gone to sleep with a thick swipe of fudge on my face from last night's ice cream fest. Now, the mess was sticky and had spread from my face to my sheets, arms, and chest. I probably looked scary. I checked the mirror. Yup, pretty hideous. I hopped in the shower in an attempt to fix the situation.
After my shower, I donned my favourite pair of jeans—they made my ass look skinny and today the top button closed! Underneath, I had slipped on a beloved blue VS bra and matching bikini briefs. Who knows, maybe Joe would miraculously come back from his undercover assignment and I'd get lucky. I threw on a clingy black knit tee next, followed by a flannel shirt, which I left open. I slid into my Docs, and walked out of my room.
Ranger was leaning against a counter, arms crossed. He looked me up and down. I could feel my nipples start to harden just from that gaze. He was always bad news. He was horrible news for me when Morelli was out of town. Especially since I was pretty sure Ranger went commando. "Babe."
"You could have at least made me some coffee," I complained.
Ranger stared. Figures.
"Right, right, you don't contaminate your body with things like coffee." I paused, hands on my hips. "Well, I do. Including pop-tarts for breakfast."
Ranger didn't bother with a retort, but I could feel his eyes burning into me as I began making coffee. This stare not only burned into me, but made me a little warm down there. Morelli had been gone a long time now, and it was all I could do not to give into my animalistic urge to pounce Ranger and pin him to the kitchen floor and rip his painted-on T-shirt and cargo pants off and ravish him on the floor. Men shouldn't have eyes like those, and they especially shouldn't use those eyes on me. I was trying to stay with Morelli. I hadn't even let Ranger kiss me once since Morelli left. Eyes like those on a man who looked like Ranger were ten times worse.
I glanced around my apartment for something to minimize the animalistic thing. My eyes fell on Ranger. Bad choice. I looked away. The stack of dishes and the clothes strewn around my bedroom did. A pair of Joe's boxers in a corner helped even more. I really needed to do laundry, and I missed Joe. Besides, I refused to ravish Ranger until I at least ate breakfast.
When I got out a blueberry pop-tart from the pantry, I noticed the empty, bait-free mousetrap. "It ate the bait!" I love stating the obvious.
"I have a-" The mouse ran out of the pantry; towards me. I screamed bloody murder and jumped onto the counter, next to Rex and his fish tank. I hoped he could guard me against the horrible mouse.
"You're scared of a mouse." Ranger stared.
"Get rid of it!" I shouted.
"You're going to a fundraiser with me next Friday." Ranger still hadn't moved.
"I'm not doing anything until that mouse is gone!" I was just fine with mice in cages, or even hidden away, but as soon as I saw one, it wasn't good.
Ranger flipped open the pantry and crouched down to examine the mousetrap. "You didn't set it right."
"Yes I did!"
"It didn't catch the mouse."
I shut up. I couldn't exactly argue that one. I hated it when he did that, which was pretty much any time I tried to argue with him. He really liked having the last word, mostly because he was usually right. I nibbled on my pop-tart after giving a corner to Rex. He scurried out of his soup can, shoved it into his cheeks, and returned to his soup can.
Ranger set the trap. "Now, about that fundraiser."
"The mouse!" I stared in petrified horror as the mouse scurried back into the pantry. We were both silent and unmoving, hoping the mouse would get soon be getting his cut of cheese from the big pantry up above.
Finally, Ranger opened the pantry. "Babe. You need a better mousetrap."
"I'm not moving!" I tucked my legs underneath me and stared longingly at the coffee pot. Even crawling across the counters I couldn't get to it.
"Babe." Ranger left, locking the door behind him. I still couldn't figure out how he got in.
I remained on top of the counter. After five minutes, I was feeling brave enough to attempt a quick flight to my room; however, the mouse ran out of the pantry. I screamed again and quickly pulled my leg up onto the counter again.
An hour later, my phone began to ring, but I refused to move from my counter to pick up the line; every few minutes the mouse would scurry across the floor—mostly when I began to feel the least bit brave.
I sighed and began listening to the messages the answering machine recorded as the calls came in. The first was from Connie, wondering if I'd be into the office today. Half a minute later, Lula called up. Practically shouting, she ordered me to, "Haul yo' skinny white ass down here! We got a pile of skips down here that you'll need my help with! And bring some donuts!" Of course, the next message was from my mother. Ugh. She told me I should come over for dinner more often because she never saw me anymore. She also wanted to know when Joe was coming back. I shook my head in disbelief; I had had dinner at my parents' house three days ago.
As for Morelli, I wasn't sure what to say. I wasn't even sure if he and I were even in an "on-stage". As usual, we had had a fight. The next day, Morelli had to go undercover; all I knew was that he'd be gone at least two months. Our fight had been a month and a half ago. I was starting to really miss him though. I even missed fighting with him.
I considered yelling for help, but I doubted the guy across the hall would even be able to hear me above the jeopardy reruns, and besides, Ranger had locked the door behind him. I knew he would come back, or at least send up someone to get rid of the mouse…eventually. Usually, Ranger was fast and prompt about everything, but apparently not today. I guess even Batman has his slow days.
Briefly, I wondered if the mouse was making a nest in either the pantry or under my sink. After shuddering at the thought, I dismissed it. I eyed the mouse critically. It was kind of cute for a fat, gray, bug-eyed creepy mouse.
After watching the mouse make twenty-three runs across the kitchen, I began counting the old stains on the floor. The number got too high, and I was too disgusted to go on counting. I needed a new floor, and I really wanted to know where the hell Ranger was; I had a crick in my neck and my ass was numb and I hadn't had my morning coffee, and it was noon. A very bad combination in my opinion.
Then, I heard the lock turning. Eagerly, I turned my full attention to the door, ready to yell at Ranger. An eyebrow quirked up over chocolate eyes at me. The pungent scent that can only be Pino's filled the air. "…Morelli?"
"I finished the case early," Morelli said, eyeing me. "Care to explain?"
"There's a mouse." I squeaked out and pointed at it as it ran back to the pantry.
"Christ. You're afraid of a mouse?" Morelli stared and shook his head in disbelief, "Yet you'll run after a 250 pound, 6'6" man who is drunk and pissed as hell at you?"
"Yes. And the mousetrap didn't work. And I haven't had any coffee. And my ass is numb." I began to tear up. Up until that point, Morelli had seemed quite intrigued by the comment about my ass. He probably thought it was sexy. Morelli thought everything was sexy.
At the sight of my tears, Morelli winced and set the pizza down and poured me a cup of coffee me for to keep me from crying. "It'll be okay, I promise."
I peered up at Morelli over the rim of the cup. "I am not moving until the mouse is gone."
"What do you want me to do about it?" He rolled his eyes.
"Give me a piece of pizza and catch the mouse." I said when I finished my coffee.
"And how do you suggest I do that?" Morelli quirked an eyebrow at me before getting plates and cups out of the cabinets. After tossing two slices on both plates, Morelli offered me a plate.
I snatched it up. "I don't know." I eyed the pizza. "Thanks."
Morelli stared at me for a long moment. I started feeling warm. I tried not to remember that Ranger had made me feel warm in the same place only hours before this. "Is… that my shirt?"
"I like it. It's sexy." Morelli grinned.
"You think everything is sexy." But I grinned too, eating my pizza.
Morelli hoisted himself up onto the counter to sit next to me, giving me a nice view of Trenton's finest ass. I had forgotten just what a nice one it was. I let myself stare until the viewing was over. I was a bit saddened by that.
"So, Cupcake, miss me?"
This was new. He'd never asked me this before. And he wasn't even coming on to me, and he hadn't even kissed me yet. I went for a witty, sexy remark. "Of course."
Morelli smiled for a moment, but then the smile fell. "We need to talk." Oh, those classic Morelli words… damn them.
"Yeah…" I chewed on a piece of pizza moodily. "We always need to talk."
"Probably because we never do." Morelli stared at his pizza. He hadn't eaten any of it yet.
"No thanks to you." Usually, when we tried to talk, we ended up having sex instead. Not that I minded doing that with Morelli. In fact, I looked forward to naked Morelli moments.
Morelli didn't answer. Instead, he started on his pizza. Apparently, we weren't talking until after we ate—a good indication that I wouldn't like what he had to say. It probably meant he'd either end up storming out at the end of the "talk" or I'd kick him out and take his key. This meant we had to talk about one of three things, or maybe all of them. My job, Ranger, or breaking up. I was pretty sure it wasn't the last one; at least I really hoped it wasn't.
Since it was lunch, Morelli had brought soda, as opposed to the usual beer. It was root-beer, the expensive kind in the old-fashioned bottles; any other time I would have been excited, but this time, I was too preoccupied with the mouse and trying to figure out what Morelli was going to say to enjoy the root beer.
Morelli slid off the counter to throw his root beer away and wash his plate. On his way, he tossed a piece of crust to Rex. Morelli glanced at the empty trash compactor. I had forgotten to put a new bag in it when I took the trash out last night. "Christ!"
"I'm sorry! I just forgot to put a new bag in yesterday!" I muttered, embarrassed and annoyed. It wasn't a big deal, so why was Morelli so upset?
"There's a mouse in there!" Morelli stared down into the contraption. "How the hell did it get in there?"
"Get it out!" I couldn't put a trash bag in the compactor with a mouse in there, much less put trash in it. I had a lot of trash. Where would I put it?
Morelli eyed the mouse. "We need a mousetrap… Or a cat…"
"I think the old lady that lives above me has some cats…" I told Morelli, clinging to the counter for dear life. I briefly wondered if Bob could have scared the mouse off, but he was at the vet's for a few days. I had to tell Morelli that later. Bob had eaten something that made him really sick, and the vet had confiscated him. I hoped that didn't mean I was a bad mother to poor Bob. If so, I didn't even want to begin to think about what a horrible mother I'd be to humans.
Morelli stared at me and sighed. "You owe me." That said, he stalked out of the room, returning minutes later with two cat carriers. I could see two small cats—one was a black and white and the other was a little fluffy orange thing—in one carrier. The other carrier contained an enormous cream coloured cat with fur sticking up everywhere that looked like it weighed more than the other two cats combined.
I stared and said, "Three cats?"
"She insisted," Morelli said and set the carriers down. He carefully extracted the fat cat and plopped him into the compactor. Immediately, he jumped out and made a beeline for his carrier. Morelli stared and muttered, "Coward."
"Catch it!" I screeched, staring unhappily at my trash compactor. It was expensive, but I had gotten it on sale. I crawled across the counters to see what happened. Resisting curiosity wasn't my strongest point.
"Shit, Stephanie, calm down. It's just a damned mouse." Morelli pried the second cat out of the carrier and dumped it unceremoniously into the trashcan. Morelli was starting to sound annoyed. That meant his patience was wearing thin.
We watched the cat watch the mouse. The orange fluffy cat only looked startled when the mouse curled up on its paw.
"I think it's making friends with the mouse," I said, staring in amazement.
"One of these cats is supposed to be a bona fide mouser." Morelli eyed the cats. "I'm hoping it's that skinny old bastard in the back of the carrier."
The mouse's newfound friend got annoyed and jumped out of the compactor to sprawl across the kitchen floor. Morelli took it in with his cop face and dropped the last cat in. A mad scurry erupted in the cramped quarters of the compactor. I could see the cat pouncing and the mouse jumping. Wait. Mouse jumping? I screamed. It was a jumping mouse for chrisake! But the mouser gave up on the mouse as well and stalked to Morelli, demanding to be picked up.
Morelli looked at the cat. "No."
The cat stared.
Morelli stared back. "No."
I blinked. Magically, the skinny cat appeared in Morelli's arms, and one of Morelli's fingers was stroking him under his chin. Even Morelli looked bewildered to see him there. Quickly, Morelli shoved him into the cat carrier, followed by the lazy bum on the floor. Maybe I'd have to get a worthless cat like that skinny one and give it to Morelli. It wasn't too often I got to see him look bewildered like that. It was adorable.
"I'm giving these back to your neighbor," Morelli said. I could feel myself go pale at the thought of being alone with a jumping mouse. Morelli paused, cat carriers in hand. "Are you all right?"
I eyed the mouse warily, bit my lip, and nodded.
Morelli paused a moment longer. "I'll hurry."
Less than two minutes later, Morelli was back and I was nearly in tears. "It tried to jump eleven times!"
Morelli pulled himself onto the counter, but even the sight of Trenton's finest ass didn't do much to calm me down. Suddenly, he pulled me onto his lap and kissed the top of my head, arms around my waist. Slowly, I felt myself start to melt against Morelli, forgetting about the mouse and all the fights with Morelli, and I forgot about Ranger, and my mother. I concentrated on the soothing feel of Morelli's arms.
Then the mouse jumped, and I jumped, hitting Morelli's chin, hard. He winced and set me down beside him again. "Guess I have to find a way to get rid of that mouse…"
I blushed. "Sorry."
"It'd be easier if you hadn't bought that damned trash compactor," Morelli said, eyeing the container, hands on his hips.
"Don't kill it!" I had decided the mouse, while a horrible, bug-eyed, terrifying, jumping beast, was oddly cute. I felt almost sorry for it. But it still had to go.
"Christ!" Morelli sounded very annoyed now, but he was looking at his feet, shaking his head. I thought he was trying to hide a smile.
"No I'm not." Morelli was grinning.
"It's not funny!" I glared.
"Yes, it is." Morelli picked up a plastic cup out of a cabinet and an oven mitt, still grinning. Then he leaned over the trash compactor and watched the mouse.
"Be careful. It jumps!"
"I know." Morelli reached in, and leapt away a second later. "Shit! It jumped at me!"
"Joe!" I drew his name out.
Morelli sighed and reached back into the compactor after a moment. "Got the little devil."
I didn't dare move. "Are you sure?"
Morelli lifted the cup, covered with the oven mitt. At one point, the angle was awkward; the mouse slipped through and jumped onto the edge of the compactor. "Shit!" I screamed again, very loudly, quickly backing away towards the farthest reaches of the counter. Meticulously, Morelli guided the mouse into he cup and firmly covered the top.
"Got him," He said. "Cupcake, can you get the door?"
On tiptoe, I ran to the door, opened it up, and bolted back to my counter. Morelli shook his head and headed out to the parking lot. A few minutes later, Morelli came back and washed his hands. As he dried them, he said, "You mouse is in someone else's yard."
I launched myself at Joe, wrapping my arms around his neck, muttering breathlessly, "Thank you."
Joe's arms snaked around me. "You're something else, Cupcake." He kissed the top of my head and began to pull away.
I tensed. Morelli was leaving? He didn't want sex after that? Then of course, there was that talk. It must have been option number three; he wanted to say good-bye for good. No! "Joe…?"
Joe locked my door and pulled the curtains closed. "You owe me."
So he wasn't breaking up with me after all. I could handle this then. I growled playfully. "Do I?"
Joe pulled me close, melding us together from the waist down. I could feel something hard poking my stomach. Joe leaned back a bit to look at me; his voice was soft and husky, eyes molten chocolate. "Oh yeah."
I shivered. I liked it when Joe's voice got like that. I also liked how Morelli's hands were slowly slipping down my back, and how one of those hands had slipped under my shirt. Morelli kissed me then, long and soft; until my toes curled. Oh yeah, I really liked this.
I tugged off Morelli's shirt, running my hands across his chest, not quite sure when my shirt had come off, but it was gone. Morelli eyed the VS critically. "Nice," he breathed out softly, just before picking me up and setting me on the counter. I stole a deep kiss, groaning softly. I felt the snap come undone on my bra just before Morelli removed it.
I wrapped my legs around Morelli.
Joe growled. He kissed me long and slow before unwrapping my legs and tugging at the waistband of my jeans. I eagerly complied with his silent demand. All thoughts were taken over by the feel of Morelli on my skin. Mary Lou had once told me Morelli was supposed to have a tongue like a lizard. I was a lucky woman.
Joe's jeans slid off and were tossed somewhere, along with his boxers. I really liked what came next.