Chapter 14 – Batman Speaks
I wasn't surprised that Ranger found me; he had so many trackers on me that he probably knew where I was going before I did. He'd been sitting next to me for about five minutes now, and besides his soft 'Babe' in greeting, he hadn't said a word. He just sat there, staring out over the ocean. I didn't say anything either, and I was too unsure of his presence to move in closer to him. But when I shivered, he put his arm around me. I immediately forgot about my insecurities, and nestled in to him.
"You didn't have to come out all this way."
He shrugged. "Thought you might want company."
Which was his way of saying he didn't trust me to be here on my own. Oh, well. I was too wrung out to be all that mad at him. And he could have sent Tank or Hal to watch over me from a distance; this way, I was warm and wrapped up in a Bulgari cloud. "I'm glad you're here."
He kissed me on the side of my head. "You okay, babe?"
"Not really. Things didn't go so well with Joe tonight."
"Your mother called. And Morelli brought Bob over to Haywood to shit on the front step."
"Yeah. Lester said Bob ate a whole pizza, the box included. I made him clean it up. I had to give him hazard pay."
"Sorry about that."
"Don't worry about it. Lester needed something to do."
I snickered; I could just imagine Lester's face when Ranger gave him pooper scooper duty. Ranger's arm tightened around me as I laughed, and I leaned into his shoulder.
"So did you really shoot him?" He sounded more than a little amused.
I scowled. "I gave him the stun-gun, not a bullet. He was being a jerk and insulting. And he said I was… domesticated."
Ranger looked incredulous for a moment, and then he laughed. "Domesticated?"
I elbowed him. "He also said…"
I made a face. "He said I must not have tried very hard on my diet, and that's why my health hadn't improved."
"He doesn't know what he's talking about." He actually sounded annoyed.
"That's what I told him," I said. "But it still hurt. Especially since his cholesterol is back to normal, and mine isn't – and I knew for sure I tried harder than he did."
Once again, Ranger fell silent. Finally he said, "I used to eat at least twenty Big-Macs a month."
I almost fell over in shock. I turned to look at him properly. "What?"
He smiled. "I loved burgers. When I was in high school and college, I ate them every chance I got. And fries and coke. McDonald's was the only place I wanted to eat."
"No!" I couldn't believe my ears. It was like he told me he liked to get it on with guys. Ranger didn't eat McDonald's. This was a well known fact.
He nodded. "When I joined the army, I underwent a physical. The doctor told me that both my cholesterol and triglycerides were too high. They put me on medication and a diet. Told me I wouldn't make special forces until I got things under control. That got me straightened out in a hurry. Eventually I was well enough to go off my medication, and my army career moved ahead as planned.
"When I left the army, though, I wasn't so careful with my diet, and within three months, I was back where I started. I was on and off meds for a long time. My cholesterol is easier to control now, but my triglycerides are always going to be a problem. My first triglyceride reading I got was higher than yours, by the way. A lot higher."
I stared at him, completely flabbergasted. "Get out!"
He was smiling, enjoying my dumbfounded look. "I've found the right balance in my diet so that I don't need medication anymore, but I have to be careful. If I slip up, I'll be back on meds, and I don't want that. So I have to be strict with myself."
"Wait a minute. You're not telling me… Is this why you don't eat sweets or junk food?" I could hardly believe it – had another great, dark, Batman secret just been unearthed? Could it be that Ranger didn't eat donuts because he wasn't allowed to?
He nodded. "No fats, no sweets, no cake... That's the main reason why I banned cookies from the staff room at work. I told the guys they were getting fat, but truthfully, the cookies were too big a temptation for me. Especially Ella's cookies."
Tell me about it. "And you hired Ella because she's a dietician, right?"
"It's a lot easier to stay on my diet when someone else is doing the cooking."
"But what about beer? I've seen you drink beer. I'm not allowed to have any alcohol."
"My doctor told me I'm allowed to have one indulgence a week. So I drink beer. I can live without the cookies, but not the beer. And occasionally, it's nice to have wine with dinner."
That made my ears perk up. "Do you think I could have an indulgence once a week?" The thought of having a Tastykake, or a beer, or Ella's cheesecake made my heart beat faster.
He smiled. "That's up to your doctor. I have to warn you, though, it took a few years before my doctor allowed me that weekly beer."
I wanted to weep. "Oh." Years! Gah!
Ranger stood, and offered me a hand. He pulled me up to my feet, and stepped in close to me. "There are other indulgences you can have that don't need your doctor's approval, babe."
The look in his eye sent my doo-dah from humming to outright revving. "Like… pudding?"
He smiled. "Among other things. Some aren't so sticky as they are sweaty." He leaned in, and kissed my neck. "Does that interest you?"
Hmm… sweaty indulgences. "So long as these indulgences are in the bedroom, and not on the running track."
He laughed. "That all depends on whether it's over between you and the cop."
"I think it's safe to say that it's over." And then it hit me – Morelli and I were really through this time. I couldn't see him forgiving me for the stun-gun, or the time I spent with Ranger; and I couldn't be with anyone who gave ultimatums, or who wanted to turn me into something I wasn't. It was over. I was glad it was over, but I still felt kind of… sad. We'd been together for a long time. Sure, it was all on and off, but we had loved each other in our weird way, and that was hard to forget.
Something must have shown on my face, because Ranger looked sympathetic. "I know it isn't easy," he said. "But I can make it easier for you… if you let me."
My heart started to beat a little faster. "What are you offering?"
He pulled me nice and snug against his body. "Support… help… friendship… honesty…" With each word, he planted a kiss upon me, on my forehead, cheeks, lips. "I can also promise healthy meals and cooking tips… and sex. Lots of sex."
I was finding it hard to breathe now. "That sounds suspiciously like… a relationship."
He pulled back a little, and looked down upon me. "It does, doesn't it?"
"I thought you didn't do relationships."
"I thought it was time to give it a try," he said.
I probably would have fallen down if he hadn't been holding me so close. "Really? With me?"
He looked amused. "With you."
He leaned in to kiss me, and I very nearly let him. But I pulled away at the last minute. "I want to know just one thing."
He narrowed his eyes suspiciously. "What is it, babe?"
"Why did you want me to cook for Morelli?"
He chuckled lightly, and took a step back. "The million dollar question."
"Yeah, well… I want a million dollar answer."
He smiled. "Morelli proposed tonight, didn't he?"
I nodded. "How did you know that? Did mom tell you?"
"I knew it would happen soon. The man's ready to settle down, babe. He was just looking for a sign from you to move ahead."
I stared at him, not understanding; and then it hit me. "The cooking lessons! Morelli said he thought I was ready to settle down because I took cooking lessons!"
"Morelli's a good man, but he's old-fashioned. You've never cooked for him before. It's not so hard to believe that he thought you were changing to fit his idea of a wife."
"But that's ridiculous! He knew I didn't want to be a housewife!"
"Maybe he did; maybe he didn't. Maybe he was hoping that you'd be willing to give it a try. I suppose if the situation was reversed, I might have hoped for the same thing."
I stared at him. "So let me get this straight: you knew that if I cooked for Morelli, he'd propose, and I'd reject him? Is that why you wanted me to cook for him?"
He laughed. "No."
"Then why?" I was dying, wanting to know.
He turned so he was facing me. "I assumed that he'd ask you where you were learning to cook, and that my name would come up."
"And then what? We'd fight about you and break up?"
"Yes, but not for the reasons you think. I wanted Morelli to become aware of certain facts."
I blinked in confusion. "And those facts would be?"
He tucked some stray hairs behind my ear, and cupped my face gently in his hand. "That you can do anything, once you set your mind to it; that you're learning to accept help when you need it; and that I was the man who helped you reach your potential, and not him." He gave me a full two-hundred watt smile. "You're an amazing woman, Stephanie Plum. Morelli doesn't know it, and intentionally or unintentionally, he kept you from knowing it too – but I know it. I always have."
I stared up at him for a long time before saying, "That's a really good answer."
"I like to think so."
"And so now what?" I joked. "Are you going to spend the next several years showing me how amazing I really am?"
"That's my plan," he said. And he leaned in – and this time, I let him kiss me.
I want to thank everyone, regardless of your affiliation, be it Babe or Cupcake, for reading my story. I especially want to thank those who reviewed. Your thoughts, criticisms, and feedback have been invaluable to me. I loved hearing what you liked, and what you didn't. And since this is the last chapter of this story, I'd really like to know what you thought of the work as a whole. Please review, or send me a PM. I'd love to hear from you.
I look forward to reading more of your lovely stories. All the best to you, J.