She watched him admiringly as they dressed in silence, and he straightened his tie in the mirror. He caught her reflection and winked.
"Zip me up, would you?" she said and turned her back to him. He obliged, and let his rough fingers rest briefly on her bare shoulders when he finished.
"You look gorgeous," he whispered and nibbled at her earlobe.
"You scrub up pretty good yourself, Pollack." She turned to him then and draped her arms around his neck, pulling him in for a kiss.
It was comfortable, this. Wasn't that what it was all about? Comfortable? Someone to eat popcorn with on Friday nights? Someone to zip up your little black dress?There was the bedroom, too, of course, she thought to herself as he ran his hands through her chestnut waves. She had missed that, the touch of another human being in the dark hours. This was right, wasn't it? This was good.
She broke the kiss and backed away with an apologetic half-smile. "Look, I'm sorry I had to drag you to this thing. It's the office Christmas party, and I'm expected to make an appearance. You really didn't have to come."
"What? And miss the opportunity to be seen on the arm of the prettiest M.E. in Boston?"
"Don't let Nigel hear you say that. I'm pretty sure he thinks he's the prettiest."
He frowned. "You always deflect a compliment with joke. Did you realize that?"
"Deflecting compliments with a joke is one of my Super Powers."
"There you go again."
She gave him a small, sheepish smile and turned toward the mirror with her lipstick. She could see him over her shoulder frowning, hands on hips.
"What did you do for lunch today, Cavanaugh?"
"Oh, you know." She shrugged lightly. "Grabbed a sandwich. Worked at my desk."
He paced in a small circle before speaking again. "I stopped by your office around noon. They said you'd headed over to the precinct for the day."
She wheeled around, her mouth agape. "Are you spying on me?"
"You don't have to lie to me, Jordan."
"And you don't have to sneak around!" She turned back to the mirror with her lipstick, but her hand was shaking, part with anger, part with the shame of being caught.
"I don't need to ask. Woody Hoyt, right?"
"It was just lunch, J.D. We're working on a big case that's coming to trial in January. We just had some files to go through, that's all. It was strictly professional."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know." She held her hands up in surrender. "'Love is like malaria.' So you've said. But it was just lunch."
"Then why lie?"
She sighed wearily. "Because...I knew you'd react like this"
He watched her still, but she avoided his gaze. "I just wish you didn't have to see so much of him."
She turned from the mirror and slid her arms around his solid frame. "Woody and I are bound to be thrown together, given our jobs. But I'm with you. You. Just where I want to be." She gave him a long, soft kiss as if for proof and then nuzzled in under his chin.
Finally, he dropped a kiss on the top of her head. "What do you say we get away this week?" she said, looking back up into his face. "I've got a light caseload right now, and things won't start to heat up with the trial for another couple of weeks. We could take a little Christmas break somewhere."
"Or.." He laid a trail of kisses along her shoulder. "We could just stay here all week. Spend some time together...curl up in bed..."
"You read my mind."
He gave her a sly grin and pulled teasingly at one of her spaghetti straps. "We don't really need to be on time for this thing, do we?"
"What? And miss the open bar?" She kissed him playfully. "Think of it as something to look forward to later tonight."
He laughed and jangled his car keys. "Guess I'm the designated driver."
They drove on through the streets. Boston was illuminated, it seemed, with thousands of white fairy lights draped across every available surface. She looked out the window as J.D. sat silently next to her. It was a comfortable silence, she told herself. Everything was fine. She reached over once and squeezed his free hand reassuringly.
The thought of him sprang into her brain. It was strictly professional, wasn't it? They had sat there at his desk that afternoon, sharing a sandwich, plodding through a stack of paperwork for the upcoming trial, avoiding eye contact.
"This is nice." she finally said quietly.
Woody looked up at her and blinked. "What's nice?"
"This." She motioned between the two of them. "Just working. No...weirdness." It wasn't the word she had wanted, and she cringed. He frowned and cocked his head. "I mean..." Her jawed pumped in a futile attempt to find the words. Finally, she gave up and dropped her eyes back onto the file.
"Sure. I guess," he said, and they lapsed into another silence.
But it was nice. Nothing more. They had been friends, the best of friends. Maybe they had missed their opportunity to be more than that, but there was no reason they couldn't work together as colleagues.
It didn't matter that a little shiver had gone down her spine when he had slid into the van next to her and his shoulder pressed against hers on the ride out the Mass Pike the week before. It didn't matter to her that she felt a strange, unidentifiable longing when he leaned across the desk that afternoon to pass her a file, and she was overwhelmed by his clean, familiar scent. They were just friends. Co-workers.
She had fallen into a blue mood by the time they reached the party. Maybe it was the grey, bitter cold that had settled over Boston, or the stress of the holidays. Or perhaps it was something else.
"You okay, Cavanaugh?" J.D. asked as they stood in the doorway of the restaurant, and he slipped his hand into hers.
"Yeah, fine." She flashed him a smile and they stepped down into the party. They were all there, all of her morgue family and invited guests. Rene Walcott had made her usual appearance and stood cool and elegant by the bar. There were some detectives, some ADAs. Jeffrey Brandau mooned over Lily while Matt Seely brooded in the corner.
She downed her first drink quickly and gripped J.D.'s hand, half-hoping Woody would come, half-fearing he might. She made light chit-chat and grabbed a glass of champagne as a waiter passed by with a tray. An hour passed, a few began to make early exits. Woody had not come, and she breathed a sigh that was a mix of relief and disappointment.
And then her eyes fell on the doorway at the figure who had just emerged from the icy December air. He scanned the room and ignored whoever had just come by and slapped him on the back with a drunken Christmas greeting. His eyes fell onto hers then, they locked for a moment. She could see the muscles around his jawline tighten, then his eyes flitted away.
"Well, if it isn't Encyclopedia Brown," muttered J.D.
"We can go. Let's just go." She tightened her grip on his hand.
"No, no. It's all right. I'm...cool with it, as you Americans say," he said with a hint of sarcasm. "Besides. I want to drive him mad with jealousy knowing I'm the one who gets to take you out of that dress tonight." He smiled at her. It was meant to be a joke, but the corners of her mouth pulled down into a frown. "Kidding. I'm kidding, Cavanaugh. We're all grown-ups. Let's just have a good time, shall we?"
She nodded and let herself smile. "Speaking of a good time...how about another drink?" She held up her empty glass.
He looked at her and then over at Woody, who had settled by the bar. "Sure..." he said uneasily, and took her glass.
She watched him edge his way around the crowded room slowly. One of the new ADAs grabbed her and nearly knocked her over with his boozy breath in a ridiculous attempt to hit on her. She motioned over his head for J.D.'s attention, but he was still fighting his way through the crowd.
Someone was behind the lawyer, then, and gently ushered him out of the way. The
young man wobbled off in the opposite direction and tried his line on one of the pretty interns.
"Merry Christmas, Jordan." He stood with his hands jammed nervously in his pockets.
"Woody!" She feigned surprise, as if she hadn't seen him when he came into the room. "I...didn't know you would be here."
"Thank you," she said simply. "You, too. Nice tie."
He lifted his hand self-consciously to his chest and smiled. "Still with the ties."
"Well, it's an improvement over last year's battery-operated number where Rudolph's nose actually lit up."
They shared a small laugh and then lapsed into an awkward silence. He rocked back and forth on his heels.
"So, you and Pollack." He paused and licked his lips. "Looks pretty serious."
"Well. You know." She lifted her shoulders helplessly. "He's a good guy. You'd really like him, I think. If you got to know him, you'd..." She closed her mouth he looked away, and she realized she was sputtering.
"That's great. I'm glad you're happy."
She narrowed her eyes and looked up at him. Was he? Was he happy? His jaw had tightened again, and his forehead was creased. She replayed it in her mind. That's great. I'm glad you're happy...had a sharpness crept into his voice?
She was still scanning his face when a voice broke through. "Look! Look up!"
She blinked herself back into the moment. Lily was pointing above their heads. "Look up!" She said again tipsily. "Mistletoe!"
Their eyes both dropped to the floor and Woody took a step backwards.
"No, no, no. You've got to kiss her! Those are the rules!" A small crowd of slightly inebriated morgue workers had gathered around.
"Come on! Kiss her!" someone shouted.
"I don't think they're going to let us get out of this," Woody whispered to her. His voice had grown rough.
"No..." she said, shaking her head once. Her heart raced.
He leaned forward and gave her a quick, chaste kiss on the cheek.
"Lame! Lame! That wasn't a kiss! Should we make them do it again?" Lily turned around to the crowd, and they let out a loud cheer. She turned back around and crossed her arms against her chest. "I'd say it's a do-over!"
They stood there face-to-face, their eyes locked, each waiting for the other's response. The moment was agonizing, and then he leaned in slowly. Her eyes closed, and she raised her chin to him. She could feel the heat of his body, his breath against her cheek, as he turned his head slightly, and his lips pressed against hers. Every nerve stood on end, and then there was a kiss, soft and yearning.
The room seemed to stand still for a moment. They lost the noise of the crowd, the soft tinkling of the piano music. And then they stood back from one another. His eyes were soft. There was a brief flicker of emotion in his face, and then it was gone.
He backed away, not looking at her again and headed to the bar. She watched him slouching there, and then her eyes fell on J.D. He stood at the other end of the bar with her drink, watching with hurt in his eyes. She looked away guiltily.
She waited for him to cross the room again, and he silently handed her the glass with a disapproving look. "Reliving old times, eh?"
She rolled her eyes. "That? Come on! It was nothing! Just a stupid Christmas tradition. Every year someone gets caught under the mistletoe. Last year it was Walcott and Bug. It was hilarious." She laughed, but Pollack failed to see the humor. She drained her glass. Her mood had shifted. "God, I hate these things." She nodded her head towards the group of revelers and put the empty glass down on the table. "Let's get out of here."
"Are you sure?"
"Positive." She slid her arm through the crook of his elbow. "I can't wait to get you home. Alone," she murmured in his ear.
He grinned down at her, and with his hand on her back, they hurried out the door.
She threw herself onto him with abandon when they crossed the threshold into her apartment. There was a tangle of limbs as they stumbled to the bedroom leaving a trail of shoes and coats across the floor. They tumbled onto the bed, still tearing at each other's clothes.
She straddled him, eyes closed, hair tumbling down her back, as their bodies moved together toward a heated crescendo. She cried out once and collapsed against him. They lay still and breathless for a moment, and he traced small circles on her back.
"You okay, Jordan?" he finally whispered. "You're shivering."
"Cold, that's all." She rolled over, and pulled the sheet up around her as he curled his body next to hers.
She lay there with fat tears in her eyes as he began to snore softly. No, it wasn't the cold air against her dampened skin that had made her shiver.
Pollack was right.
Love is like malaria.
If she shut her eyes, she could still see him there under the mistletoe and feel her mouth yielding against his.
It's never really gone, it just goes dormant.
As she shivered there as if from fever, she knew all of her feelings for Woody were coursing back through her veins like an infection.
Then, when you least expect it, it's back.
She closed her eyes as tears dampened her pillow.
It was back.