Summary: Adam and Grace in a shed. Post T&E. Yes, another one.
Spoilers: Trial & Error
Disclaimer: I own absolutely nothing. Except Grace's cell phone, physics tests, Bat Mitzvah announcements, No Proof: No Test pins, a jacket and t-shirt, and two of Luke's shirts from eBay.
A/N: VanillaBean finally betaed this. After I finally finished this. I started way back right after I watched T & E the first time it aired. I got 2 and a half pages in before an insanely large abundance of T & E fic emerged. Thus, I shelved it, indefinitely I thought. Guess not. And yes, I know I have another fic I'm supposed to be working on. And I am.
Cashing Checks for My Cheating Heart
The temperature had dropped about ten degrees over the course of the afternoon as Adam sat quietly in his shed. He'd been there since he left the mock trial. He knew he was supposed to go to work, but he couldn't bring himself to face, well, anyone. The shame and regret he'd been feeling over the last several days had finally filled up his entire being, and they now had a companion in the sheer sorrow he'd been overcome with that afternoon as Joan walked out on him. He'd have been lying if he told himself he didn't deserve it, that he hadn't done anything wrong. He knew what he'd done, and he knew it was the absolute stupidest thing he'd ever done in his life. But he knew there was no taking it back. No matter how much he might wish for a second chance, for some magical wind to sweep him back in time so he could go smack himself on the head and stop himself from making the biggest mistake of his life, he knew it would never come. There were no such things as second chances.
The cold, evening wind had grown so strong that Adam could hear it whistling through the cracks in the shed's walls. It's tune was somber; a haunting melody letting him know that even the Earth itself knew of his callous betrayal. It sang eerily in the calm of his surroundings, serving as the only sound that he had heard in hours apart from his own gentle sobs. His eyes burned with the sensation of a day full of tears. No matter how desperately he'd tried to stop them, everything around him served as a reminder of his transgression, and thus the tears continued to form.
He wasn't sure what time it was when a gentle tapping began to sound from the direction of the shed's door, nor did he have a clue what its source was. He only knew that whoever or whatever it was, he didn't want them there. The tapping continued, growing slightly louder the longer he ignored it. After a few seconds, the tapping ceased, and Adam figured whoever was the cause of this interlude had grown tired of waiting and left. But the tapping returned, this time forming a familiar pattern of several quick knocks with a varying amount of space between them. He immediately recognized the Morse Code and raised his head from where it had been laying across his folded arms. "Go away, Grace," his voice cracked, as he dismissed his friend, though he was fairly certain that term no longer applied.
The coded knocking continued for countless seconds after that, but finally ceased and gave way to another haunted silence. As Adam laid his head back across his arms, his ears perked at another sound coming from the locked door. This time, the sounds were louder than the knocking as a series of clings and clangs echoed throughout the shed. As he heard the opening latch, he raised his head once more and looked in the direction of the door as it cracked open, revealing the familiar figure of a friend he was pretty sure was lost.
"You know, Rove," she said, holding up a small lock pick she always carried with her, "you should have learned a long time ago you can't get rid of me that easily."
The two childhood companions looked at each other in silence for several minutes before Adam's cracking voice finally let him speak. "Grace…what are you doing here?"
Her only answer was a simple shrug as she took a few slow steps forward. When she reached the table where he was seated, she pulled over an extra stool and sat down. "I don't know," she finally answered, her own voice sounding almost as hurt as Joan's had that afternoon.
Adam refused to look her in the eye. He had spoken to her after he'd told her about what happened, but never alone, and not after what happened at the mock trial earlier that day. He could tell just by looking at her, just by the tone of her voice, that she felt just as betrayed by him as Joan had been. "So what…" he sniffed, "what, did Joan send you here to feed me my hoodie or something?"
"No," she let out a quiet, subdued laugh despite herself before returning to the serious demeanor she'd walked in with. "I haven't talked to Girardi since the trial."
Adam looked up from his focal point on the table in front of him, but still continued averting his gaze to avoid any direct eye contact. "Why?"
"Guilt." Grace began picking at a loose splinter on the table. "Plus she needs time. Her family's there; they're better suited for this gig than me."
"Oh…" Adam nodded, still trying to comprehend what could have possibly brought Grace to his shed that night. He didn't say anything else. As the silence dragged on, he'd thought about apologizing; she deserved that much. Throughout their entire lives, Grace had always been there for him. Even now, when he knew he didn't deserve her company, she sat there across from him offering that silent comfort the two of them had always been able to share. "Listen, Grace…" he began, before he was quickly interrupted as Grace began to speak.
"You know," she started, a subtle sense of betrayal still ringing through her tone, "I was reading the paper before I left, the docket reports. There was this guy who showed up at the magistrate to bail out this alleged rapist, and when the press asked him why he just put another violent criminal back on the streets, he said," she paused briefly as she looked directly at him, "Because he's my brother, and family's all you've got."
For the first time that evening, Adam met Grace's gaze, his gut wrenching with guilt. "But I'm not your brother, Grace. I'm not even family."
"No," she said as she looked back down to the small chunk of wood she'd been prying loose. "Not by blood."
"Wha…what do you mean?" he finally managed to stutter out.
"We grew up together, Rove. We share memories that no one else knows about." Grace looked up from the table once more. "I mean, unless you told Girardi about that thing with the tadpoles at Mercer Creek."
For the first time in days, Adam let himself smile just a little at the memory. "I couldn't have said anything if I wanted to. It was a pinky swear." He watched quietly as Grace went back to picking apart his workbench. She didn't deserve to be in the position he'd selfishly put her in. She'd been nothing but a good friend to him since the day they'd met, and all he had done was manage to back her into a corner, force her into the middle of a problem that wasn't even hers to deal with. And all because part of him was expecting her to yell at him, call him a scuzcrack, and run off and tell Joan so he wouldn't have to. He should have known better. If there was one quality to Grace's personality that her friends could always count on, it was an undying sense of loyalty, even if it tore apart at her own soul. Adam had seen how torn she was at the trial, the war she had been waging within herself between two loyalties. If the look on Joan's face hadn't been enough to completely break his heart, the look on his best friend's would have.
As the two of them sat in silence, Adam finally thought about how lucky he was to have the friend across the table in his life. He knew he would lose Joan, that alone nearly destroyed him. But for the first time, he thought about how close he'd probably come to losing Grace as well, and that nearly killed him. He knew she'd never been one to wear her emotions on her sleeve; she'd never even been one to admit she even had emotions. The sheer fact that she actually let him see how hurt she was spoke volumes more than he'd ever imagined possible without words. It was almost as though this girl across the table was a complete stranger. The Grace he knew would have started tearing him a new one the second she walked through the door. This Grace was just…sitting there, quiet and reserved in a way he hadn't seen in years.
As the quiet dragged on, he felt as though he couldn't tolerate it anymore. What was once a comfortable silence had grown more awkward the more he thought about the current situation. He needed something more. "Well?" his voice finally broke through the silence.
"Well, what?" Grace raised a questioning eyebrow.
"You don't have anything to say?"
"Well, what do you want me to say, Rove? You know what you did was stupid. You don't need me to chastise you for it. Everything you deserve, you've already been given…short of a kick in the head." She stopped picking at the table and looked up at him. "Just tell me why."
"What?" Adam asked, his confusion showing through his tone.
"Why?" Grace asked again. "When I, of all people, told you how decent of a guy you were, why did you have to prove me wrong? I mean, what good did you possibly hope to accomplish?"
Adam remained silent for a moment. The wind outside had finally died down, leaving the shed filled with an empty quiet. "I don't know." His voice was quiet, worn down by the combination of endless regret and a day full of lonely sobs.
"Yeah, you do," Grace replied without hesitation. "You know why you did it because I know why you did it." Adam raised an eyebrow. He didn't need to ask for an explanation as Grace continued. "We're not that different, you and me. We both…" she paused, searching for just the right phrase. It was the most sincere Adam could ever remember seeing her. "We push people away. They get too close, we get too freaked out, so we come up with a way to force them to abandon us before they discover that we're not worth it and they take off on their own. But the thing is," Grace continued, with Adam's full attention, "Girardi wouldn't have deserted you."
"How do you know?"
"Because the Girardis don't leave."
"So…you never tried to push Luke away?"
"Are you kidding?" Grace nearly laughed. "I did everything short of wearing armor plating to keep him out." She let out a soft sigh of not quite relief but not quite exasperation. "But it didn't work. He's more persistent than a cold sore."
Adam let a small smile meet his lips. "Yeah…he'd almost have to be." The uncomfortable silence that had made itself so present that evening then returned as the two youthful cohorts sat and looked at each other. Each one studied the other, reflecting, thinking about all the ways their worlds both changed that afternoon. The true depth of Adam's betrayal shown through Grace's eyes, and it made him want to rip his own heart out and feed it to a pack of ugly dogs. Just a few weeks before, she had told him what a great guy, what an admirable person he was. That Mrs. Girardi had absolutely no reason to worry about her daughter when she was in such good hands. It was one of the few times Grace put away her cloak of humor and was honest with him. Well, after she got her regular cracks about the male species' "second brain" out of her system. Adam realized how much he admired that. For all of Grace's wisecracks and all of the times she pretended not to care, when you really needed her, she was always there, no matter what it took. He knew he didn't deserve it. The only thing he deserved that night was to sit alone in the dark and cry to himself about how he'd managed to turn his entire life upside down in the course of one week. But he wasn't alone; Grace wouldn't let him be.
It didn't take long before Grace returned her attention to the splinter of wood she'd been picking at on the workbench. Adam knew why she could barely stand to look at him. It had nothing to do with his betrayal of her friend, and her. It had nothing to do with the fact that he was now down to the level of every other 17 year old boy on the planet. It was because she actually trusted him, and now when she looked at him, she only saw the possibilities of what could become of the only other guy she trusted. The past few months had been the happiest he ever remembered seeing his lifelong friend, and it all rested on the shoulders of one 16 year old boy. He'd seen her smile more than he ever had, and moreover, she didn't even try to hide it anymore. Just went with it. And it made him feel good, seeing her finally starting to put back the pieces of her own life in a way he only wished he could've done. She didn't deserve to lose that just because of something he did. She didn't deserve anything she was forced to go through in her life, except the happiness she'd finally started to find. That she deserved.
"He wouldn't do it, you know." Adam found himself speaking with no warning as Grace looked up from the table and met his gaze with an arched eyebrow. Adam hesitated briefly before he took a deep breath and went on. "Luke…he…he wouldn't…do that. To you. He's got no reason to."
"Yeah?" Grace narrowed her eyes. "That's what everyone thought about you."
Adam looked away, making no effort to hide his shame. When Grace was right, she was right. "I know," he whispered quietly. "But…he's crazy about you."
"I know," Adam said again, looking back up at Grace. "But I'm a screw up, this you know."
"Well, that much is obvious."
"Look," Adam rubbed his forehead as he tried to explain, "things with Joan were…complicated. There are things…things she refused to talk about. I thought…if we just took the next step, then maybe our connection could…"
"Could what?" Grace said fiercely, slamming her hand against the table as she spun around to face Adam directly. "What, you thought if you knocked up the physical intimacy, the emotional intimacy would follow? Because it doesn't work that way."
"Well, I know that now!" Adam's voice choked up again as he felt his eyes begin to burn as they refilled with tears. "I know, okay? I know." Grace looked on, slightly taken aback by Adam's outburst, but not so much that it seemed she wasn't expecting it. "I just…wanted to feel that connection again." Adam slowed his breathing to try to calm himself down, but it did little good as fresh tears began to flow down his cheeks. "And…all I did was break it," he sniffed heavily as Grace watched on. He met her gaze briefly, but forced himself to look away once more, allowing the same plaguing silence to grow and fill the shed.
"You're right," Grace finally said, in the most reserved tone Adam had ever heard from her. "He wouldn't do that. But he's not a good guy."
Adam opened his eyes and looked pointedly at his friend. "Grace…"
"He's a great guy," Grace went on as if Adam hadn't said a word. "A great guy who's more loyal than a…Saint Bernard or something, who, for some crazy, twisted reason…is with me." Grace looked away, not turning her attention to anything in particular, just not looking at Adam anymore.
Adam studied his friend, knowing how big of a deal it was for her to talk to him about this; how big of a deal it was for her to talk to anyone about this. It was a completely new experience for her, to care about someone else in such a way that she'd put all of her trust in this one guy, shared all of her secrets. That alone was more than Joan had done with him; that alone was enough to tell him the true depth of their connection. If Adam had ever been one to believe that there were two people on this planet meant for each other, and no one else, he'd know it would be them. Even if Grace herself would never admit something so schmaltzy, Adam could tell she felt the same way. The sheer fact that she no longer hid her smile told him that much. She was finally starting to live again, becoming that little kid he once knew, and it was all at risk because of his own selfishness. He knew he couldn't let anything happen to that. "Don't make a mistake, Grace," he finally said, his voice cold and horse from all of the day's sobs.
"What?" Grace met Adam's eyes with a questioning gaze.
"Don't stop trusting him just because I'm an idiot."
Grace looked down at the table and slowly folded her arms in front of her. "This is where you don't understand me as well as you think, Rove," she said after several seconds. "I didn't start trusting him because of you, I'm not gonna stop."
"But nothing," Grace protest. "You're not the model of every guy out there, you know. I mean, G-d, there's a recall waiting to happen.
Adam looked away at the emergence of Grace's age old diversionary tactic. "I know, I just…" He let out a quiet sigh. "Don't make the same mistake I did."
"What's that? Screw around on my Girardi?"
"Don't push him away." Adam's voice was as stern as he could ever remember it being, and he could tell Grace heard this too. Even though Adam tried as hard as he could to fight it, he felt his eyes once again fill with the salty substance he'd grown far too familiar with that day. He looked away from Grace's eyes and closed his own, hoping to hide the fresh tears, though he knew it would do no good. His breath grew heavy as the weight of the day settled in on him again, and any conversation had been halted and replaced by the soft whistling of the wind as it blew through the cracks in the shed. Its ghostly song was the only sound he heard, until the sound of a stool scraping against the cement floor echoed through the shed. Adam kept his eyes closed, hoping Grace would quietly make her exit and leave him alone in his self pity. Before he knew it he felt a light clasp of a hand on his shoulder. He slowly opened his eyes, knowing full well who the hand belonged to, but still wanting to investigate its owner. Grace stood before him, offering him a look of sympathy he hadn't seen from her in years. She didn't say anything, she didn't have to. Her simple gesture said far more than any words she would have been able to utter. It was a gesture of friendship, of intimacy, one that Adam knew probably took every fiber of her being to will herself to do.
Adam lost track of how long the two stayed there, exchanging no words, no looks, just their simple presence. It was far more than enough for him, because he knew it meant he wouldn't be alone. He knew it meant that despite everything that happened, even if he had managed to lose Joan forever, he knew he'd still have Grace. And as long as he had Grace, he knew somehow everything would work out.
Grace slowly opened her bedroom door as soon as she'd made it home that evening. The familiar smell of dust and notebook paper hit her as soon as she walked in. As she closed the door behind her and made her way over to her computer, she noticed a crumpled photograph laying on the floor. She leaned down and picked it up. It was a photo of her, Rove, and Girardi that Girardi's mother insisted on taking one afternoon, for absolutely no reason whatsoever. Adam and Joan had their arms around in each other and were looking at each other in that disgusting, couplely way they always did, and she was off to the side rolling her eyes and looking revolted in that way she always did. She let out a small sigh when she realized that photo held everything that made the trio's friendship. She knew things would never be the same with Adam and Joan, and that meant things would never be the same for her either. Things would be okay for a couple days while they sorted out their issues in their heads, trying to make some sense of it, but she knew it was only a matter of time before they started playing tug of war for her friendship.
Grace looked at the photo one last time before cramming it in a drawer and walking over to her bed and flopping down on it. She rolled her head over and looked at her phone, remembering what Adam had said earlier; how Joan never talked with him, how their connection had faded. She stared at the phone for several minutes before finally reaching over and picking it up, dialing a number that had become increasingly familiar over the past year.
"Hello?" a familiar voice answered.
"Hey, Geek," Grace replied, a small grin making its way to her lips.
"Hey! What's up?"
"Nothing," Grace answered. "Just…wanna talk."
Grace thought for several seconds before finally answering with a shrug. "Whatever." She smiled softly to herself as the voice on the other end of the line excitedly went into a rant on superstring theory. She only understood about a third of what he was saying, but it didn't matter. He talked, she listened, the connection stayed exactly where it was.