Well, after "hearing" tons of Ray in tonight's episode I was inspired to finally put this up. I wanted to have it fully done because cliffhangers give me nightmares and make me hit the refresh button an unhealthy amount of times. The story ate and ate away at me until I finally put it on paper. Hope you like it!
This one's for all the Reela fans! (And in particular the Save Reela board-mates that make over-analyzing tons of fun.)
Neela had never been to Boston before. It was apparently a smaller city with a downtown that wasn't very large, but she appreciated the history the town had. It reminded her of London, though a very young teenage version of it.
Abby had taken her to a restaurant in Beacon Hill, saying it was the closest thing to "traditional Boston" she could show her. Neela liked the neighborhood, its lanterns lighting the cobblestone streets and the slightly yellow snow. It was perfect weather for a hearty meal, followed by coffee or hot apple cider. The weather was less biting here than in Chicago, and even though there was still snow, the temperature was a welcome reprieve from the more chilly weather she had left behind. Still cold, but not the cold that made your nose feel like it had left the vicinity of your face.
Abby had left Luka behind with Joe, simply stating "this is one of the few girlfriend nights I get, suck it up." Neela didn't think Luka had minded with the way the two men were bonding over a children's book. Luka doted on his son. That was readily apparent from the fact that they barely got a half wave upon leaving the Kovac/Lockhart apartment.
A vacation in March – it was just this side of sad. Dubenko had finally come to her and in his typical round-a-bout manner had mumbled something about HR and fulfilling time off requirements and wouldn't she like to get out of Chicago and go someplace warm?
She had literally maxed out her time off – something a doctor had a tendency to do. But with her lack of a social life she had probably maxed the damn thing out faster than the other residents before her. She had brainstormed – where should she go? Then had she realized the only thing she wanted to do was see friends.
So, she had booked her week (Dubenko: "Neela, it's never a good time. Just take the damn week whenever you want.") in March, and had called Abby for a visit.
And she had called Ray.
The latter took three nights of pacing in front of the phone. Wondering if it was appropriate for her to ask. Wondering if the "girlfriend from Georgia" would mind her visiting. Wondering if she cared if the Georgia peach minded. Wondering if Ray would give her a lame excuse, causing her to spend the rest of her vacation on the couch in her apartment.
She finally grew some tequila-aided balls and called. Thankfully he picked up – she hadn't even planned what her voicemail would have been. Knowing her she just would have hung up, then realized her missed call would have appeared on his phone all too late. These days she avoided the topic of "girlfriends from Georgia." She wondered if he noticed.
During their phone calls neither mentioned the text message exchange from January, both hoping the other would bring it up.
Much to her relief he had jumped at the opportunity of having her visit, and even said he'd rearrange some of his shifts to get two consecutive days off. She didn't doubt his bribery skills were up to the task. Then he had asked her what the hell took her so long, and by the way, if she thought she was staying at a hotel she had another thing coming.
She wondered what the "girlfriend from Georgia" would think of that.
So that led to her vacation – three days in Boston, four days in Baton Rouge. The Boston part hadn't been so hard, but as she faced down her flight to Baton Rouge even her scalp felt like it was stressed to the limit.
"It's not going to be that bad." Abby scooped more curry onto her plate. "You need to chill out. One look at that expression you're wearing and Ray will think that all that he's in for during your visit is misery and boredom."
"I can't stop. It's like every time I think 'what's the worst that could happen?' I come up with eighteen other scenarios that show what a bad idea this was." Neela knew her imagination could run rabid, but ever since she had started packing and reality had set in her imagination had her in a constant vise. And it wasn't pretty.
"Why are you freaking out about this? It's Ray. He's not exactly a Bond lothario. I distinctly remember having to remind him to take his dirty laundry from his locker. Remember the green shirt he had in there that had been vomited on? He had that in there for days, Neela." Abby shuddered.
Neela just stared, morosely wondering if she needed to recap everything that had happened in the last two years. Ray might have been a slob, but he was still her slob.
Her expression must have said enough for her because Abby rebounded with, "Ok, I know you said he looked great the last time you saw him. But I doubt that his new maturity has cured him of his basic personality traits. He's still easygoing, and he still has a 'whatever goes' 'tude." Abby leaned over and placed a hand on the knee that Neela hadn't realized she had been shaking under the table. Great, now she was developing additional nervous ticks to place into the Ray-Barnett-induced-annoyances treasure trove.
"That's part of the problem. I don't want to drag him down to my level. He has his shit together. I don't." Pathetic, overly worried and neurotic were the only adjectives Neela had for herself in the past year. "Wait. Did I just say Ray Barnett had his shit together?"
Both women suddenly paused. Abby responded with: "I think Hell just froze over."
They both descended into chuckles, relieving some of Neela's tension.
Abby sighed. "Neela, you should be viewing this as an opportunity. See what happens."
"What's going to happen? He has a girlfriend." Neela winced. A stranger at the next table would have been able to catch the dejected tone in that statement, it was so obvious.
"Ah-ha!" Abby pointed at her emphatically. "You want to get it on with him."
"Abby!" Neela hissed. "Would you mind not sharing my personal life with all the patrons of this restaurant? Besides which, I never said –"
"Sure you didn't. You, my friend, have a lousy poker face."
"It doesn't mean I'm ready to shag him!"
Abby responded by carefully eating a piece of chicken curry, chewing it until it seemed like she would have pulverized the chicken one hundred times over.
"Abby!" Neela thrust her hand into her hair with frustration. "He- I-"
"When he left he made it sound final. He was in a 'good' place. A place without a neurotic friend interfering with his life. A place with a 'girlfriend from Georgia.' I'm doing nothing but visiting. Nothing!"
"The land of denial you're in isn't pretty."
"I'm just repeating what he said."
"And then he texted you."
"Did you ever talk about it?"
"Confess to the fact that a teenager sent a message I couldn't? No!" Neela forced herself to take a bite of what she could have sworn was the most tasteless curry on the planet.
Abby just stared.
"Were you always this timid? I could have sworn you had confidence with men at some point. You were never this shy with Michael."
"Neela – the problem is that you are gonna have to take some initiative on this one. From the way you tell it, Ray was always the initiator in the past, and this time around I suspect he's not going to try until you give him a clue as to whether it's reciprocated."
"I've given him clues. Haven't I given him clues?"
"I kissed him."
"Yeah, two years ago in a car on the way home. Wow. Dr. Rasgotra, gotta hold you back you're so on fire."
"No – before he left for home!"
"Uh, no. The way you told it to me the first time, he kissed you."
"I told him I was ready for a relationship."
"As he was lying in a hospital bed doped up on God knows what."
"I wanted him to stay the night!"
Abby cocked her head to the side and gave Neela her best skeptical look. "Did you say those exact words?"
"I hate you."
"Truth's a bitch sweetheart."
"Okay, so what do I do? Tell him, Ray, I know you have this new girlfriend, hope her parents were great during Thanksgiving, and by the way, and oh you know, I'd consider sleeping with you?"
"Were you raised by monkeys?"
"I can see that." Abby tucked an errant lock of hair behind her ear, turning serious and thinking hard. "Neela, I can't tell you what to do, but what I can see, what is so apparent to me, is that you care about him. A lot. And you talk about sleeping and shagging when I know what you really mean is being together. And not just for one night. Am I right?"
Neela sighed into her curry. "It's hard to explain…"
"I'm a planner. Always have been. Partially why Michael and I had such difficult conversations. I can't plan around this one…and it's throwing me for a complete loop."
"You didn't answer my question."
"What I mean is, I can't look too hard at it because I think I know my answer, but if I admit the answer to 'do I care,' I'll have to plan. And I don't know if Ray is up for planning with me. And it's Ray, Abby. He's not known for long-term commitment."
"He's committed to medicine. His family. You. Out of all of us he did a lot of growing up in his three years of residency at County."
"He still can't get a shot without breaking out in hives."
"Well, you can't win 'em all."
Neela finally finished her dinner and set the plate aside, idly wondering what she would eat while in Baton Rouge. And if she would remember any of it. She quietly said, "I want it to work. He makes me feel… He just…makes me feel." She winced, wondering how umpteenth years of education fled the minute she had to discuss her feelings.
Abby, with the tact she always seemed to have, just let it go. "You better have me on speed dial. I expect daily reports. I live for daily reports."
"I hope I have something to report."
"Neela. It's you. You'll have something to report."
As they left the restaurant Neela lifted her face to the cold night, sending a silent prayer that her vacation would be fruitful and full of romance. She supposed she could chalk it up to a slow building burning excitement, but the thought of seeing Ray Barnett was making March seem like a month full of promise.