The Ghosts that Haunt Me, Chapter 1

"You have got to be kidding me," said Fritz. Brenda could clearly hear his irritation through the phone. She was a bit taken aback, since it took a lot to get Fritz upset.

"What's wrong? I said I'm sorry I can't have dinner with you tonight, but this case—"

"Brenda, do you realize that in one breath, you asked me to use my FBI connections to get information on your suspect, and then turned around and broke our date?"

"Yea…" Brenda said, confused. She still didn't understand why he was mad.

Fritz sighed. "It just makes me wonder if you would be dating me if I weren't an FBI agent, that's all. Or if I wasn't so willing to help you out with your cases."

"Fritz, do you think I'm usin' you?"

"I don't know, Brenda, are you?" Fritz was clearly angry at her. She chewed her lower lip.

"So all of a sudden I'm this bad person because I cancelled our dinner date? Don't you think you're overreacting just a bit, Fritz? And hey, if you don't want to help me, than don't, OK? I'll get what I need some other way." Brenda felt her own ire rise.

"Oh no Brenda," Fritz answered with a tint of sarcasm in his voice. "I know nothing is more important to you than your cases, nothing at all. I'll e-mail you the information you need."

"Thank you Fritz, I appreciate it, and I'm sorry…" it was too late. He had already hung up the phone.

Brenda stuck her own phone in her purse and headed back to her office from the vending machine, Ho-Ho's in hand. She had never heard Fritz that irate with her before. They had been dating for three months now, and she thought things were going reasonably well, especially for her. The three month mark seemed to be when men stopped being captivated by her looks and started to get irritated with her work obsession. With Fritz, he never made her feel bad about her long hours, the sex was phenomenal, and she loved spending time with him. She got the sense that he cared about her more deeply than she did him, but she tried not to dwell on that, or it would scare her to death. She had a disastrous track record with men, and she didn't want to get too attached to Fritz, and she certainly didn't want to fall in love with him.

She opened the door to her office, happy to see it empty, no one there to tug on her sleeve because they needed anything, and no one there to yell at her either. She needed a few minutes alone to think about why Fritz was so mad at her. She quickly checked her e-mail and saw that Fritz had already sent her the document she requested. That was fast, she thought. She was hoping he put a little note to her in the e-mail, but there was just the attachment and nothing else. Oh, he is mad, she thought. Fritz would usually send her a couple of e-mails a day to say hi or pass on something humorous. Brenda always smiled when she saw his name pop up in her inbox, and responded to him in kind with a suggestive or flirty message. It was flattering to know that she thought of her during the work day. Brenda opened the attachment and printed it out, then wrote "thanks Fritzy, you are the best!" in all capitols in her reply, hoping it would serve as an olive branch.

Brenda knew she wasn't the most insightful person. When she was honest with herself, which wasn't all that often, she admitted she liked it this way. She didn't want to go through life analyzing her own behavior for deeper meanings. She did enough of that with suspects that she really didn't care to turn her keen eye inwards. But Fritz's irritation bothered her, and she was clearly the source of it. Normally, she didn't really care about what people thought about her, but she did care about how Fritz saw her; she cared very much. She hated that she cared, but she did, and he had insinuated she was using him to work her cases. She unwrapped the Ho-Ho and bit into it, savoring the chocolate flavor, and dipping a finger down into the cream. Ahh, that was better, now I can think clearly.

Using him. Was she? Of course not, she wouldn't be sleeping with the man to get information from the FBI. Could he really think that? Brenda ate the rest of the Ho Ho, going over their relationship so far. Well, she had asked Fritz for help on a lot of cases, she had to admit, and he was always eager to help her. And she was very grateful to him, because with his help, she closed cases faster. But she also broke a lot of dates with him because of working all the time, and he always sounded disappointed and hurt when she did. Perhaps she had been a little too casual with breaking dates, and her refusal to rearrange any aspect of her life to make room for Fritz might finally be taking its toll. Well, I gave him half a drawer and let him leave a toothbrush at my house, she thought. That's pretty good, but I guess not good enough. She sighed. Men are so needy. She gave him her body, and her attention when she could…why wasn't that enough?

Brenda took off her glasses and rubbed her tired eyes. Well, I guess it's time to step up and play the good girlfriend, she thought wearily. She would see if he could get out of here at a decent hour and have him over tonight. He liked to talk about relationship things; she certainly didn't, but she also didn't want him to think she was exploiting him either. They will talk for awhile, go to bed, make love, and hopefully all will be forgiven in the morning. First, she has to see if she can actually manage to get out of work at a reasonable time. She really wanted to look through the evidence boxes from the suspect's previous crime, but she supposed Sgt. Gabriel can handle that, and he had volunteered. She hated to hand anything over to anybody, especially since she was just getting to know her squad and there was a lot of uneasiness between them, but what the hell. It will probably make Sgt. Gabriel happy, seeing she trusted him enough to delegate. Makin' men happy, she thought wearily, tossing the Ho-Ho wrapper in the trashcan and standing up, heading for the murder room. Not exactly the way I had intended to spend my day.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

Brenda got home at 7:00, which was unusually early for her. Kitty seemed a bit confused at her early arrival, since the food bowl was usually empty by the time Brenda showed up. Brenda hopped in the shower to wash off her day, and then changed into her comfy jeans and a pink top. She opened a bottle of Merlot and poured a glass before calling Fritz.

He answered on the first ring. "Hi," he said shortly, clearly still annoyed.

"Hey Fritz," she answered tentatively. She was hoping he wouldn't be mad at her any more, but that didn't seem to be the case. "I called for a couple of reasons. First of all, I really want to thank you for the information you sent over today. We're arresting the guy tomorrow based on what you gave us, so I really appreciate it."

"You're welcome," he said curtly. "And the second thing?"

"The second thing is that I'd really like you to come over this evenin', please."

"You aren't at work?"

"No," she answered, taking a drink from her wine glass. "I'm at home, so if you are done with your day, I'd love you to come over now, I mean, if you want to."

"Brenda, why did you cancel our date if you were actually going to be free? You should have called me when you knew you were wrapping up early, and I could have taken you out somewhere nice." Fritz lost any trace of anger in his voice.

Brenda's heart stirred. Fritz really is the sweetest guy in the world, she thought. What in the world is he doin' with me?

"Well, I had planned to stay late to review a bunch of evidence, so I would know this guy's background really well before we picked him up tomorrow, but I decided to give Sgt. Gabriel the task, and see how he could handle it, you know, how well he is at summarizin' evidence."

"It about killed you, didn't it?" The smile was back in his voice.

"What about killed me?"

"Delegating. You are the biggest micromanager in the world. That's why you are always at work."

"Well yea, it was pretty hard," she admitted. Brenda paused. "But, Fritz, I know you are upset at me, so I wanted to get off early so we could talk." Brenda cringed. It sounded so…relationshippy. She hated talks about feelings, where the relationship was going, etc…all those terrible discussions you are forced to have when you are dating someone. And now she had to do it with Fritz. She poured herself a second glass of Merlot.

"All right, I'd be happy to. I just got home myself, so I'll be over in about 30 minutes."

She smiled. "That's great Fritz, I'll see you then," and hung up the phone. Thirty minutes should give her plenty of time to down a few more glasses of Merlot. If she had to have a relationship discussion, she sure as hell didn't want to be sober for it.

Fritz arrived a half an hour later, as promised. He looked so good in his leather jacket that Brenda was tempted to drag him into the bedroom the moment he walked through the door. She much rather make love to him than have a deep, heartfelt conversation. She was much better at the former and horrible at the latter.

Fritz leaned down and kissed her. "Are you OK?" he asked

Do I look drunk, she thought. "I'm fine, why?"

He took off his leather jacket and sat down on the couch. He looked sexy in black jeans and a rust-colored button down. "I just didn't think I'd get a phone call from you asking me to come over and talk. For most women, that either means they are expecting a proposal or they are going to break up with you. Somehow I get the feeling that this isn't the case. At least I hope you don't want to break up with me." Fritz squinted, looking a little worried.

Brenda carried the near-empty Merlot bottle and her glass into the living room and sat down across from him. She shook her head and smiled. "No Fritzy, I don't want to break up with you. I just, well, I know you are mad, and I think I get why, which is really good for me, because I'm not really into this relationship stuff and sometimes I'm a little dense, but I guess what I'm tryin' to say is I'm sorry if you think, you know, that I'm just datin' you because you are an FBI agent and can get me information. Because that's not true, it's just not true, honestly, I'd date you no matter what, because I think you're great." She paused and took a breath, and Fritz burst out laughing.

"Hey, what's so funny?"

"Brenda, that was the worst apology I have ever heard in my life."

Brenda was frustrated. She felt like she had been completely clear. "Look Fritz, I'm just really bad at this stuff, OK? So cut me a break."

"Bad at apologies?"

"No. I mean yes, I'm terrible at those too. What I meant was I'm really bad at this whole emotional thing, I mean really bad. So I'm doin' my best here."

He stared at her for a moment. "How many glasses of wine did you have to drink to work the courage up to try and assure me that your not using me and you actually care about me? Assuming that's what you were just trying to say." He looked at her expectantly.

She was startled by the directness of his question. "Um, most of a bottle," she answered quietly. "And since I didn't make a lot of sense, I guess it wasn't enough, huh? 'Cuz that was what I was tryin' to say, I mean, what you said." This is torture, she thought.

She bent down to the bottle sitting on the floor and poured the remaining wine into her glass. She heard Fritz ask her, in a voice barely above a whisper, "Brenda, who hurt you so badly?"

She almost spilled her glass, and stalled for time so she wouldn't have to look at him. Finally she sat back up and took a long drink before she met his eyes. "What do you mean?"

"Who hurt you so badly that you have put up walls like this, Brenda? That you are so afraid to let me in?"

She just stared at him. How could she answer the unanswerable? If she had walls, like he said, they will built with many hands. And what he called walls, she called self-preservation, an insurance plan against another broken heart, another failed relationship. And if he wanted names, like any good cop would, she wasn't going there, no way, no how.

"Was it Pope?" he asked in that same soft voice one might use with a child.

This got a reaction out of her. "Pope? You have got to be kiddin' me. If I'm some kind of emotional cripple, some kind of miserable hard-assed bitch who's hard to be with, I refuse to give him the credit for that." She could hear the bitterness in her own voice. "I wouldn't ever give him that kind of power over me. I was a big girl when I was with him, remember, Fritz? I was 29 when we started datin,' 32 when he dumped me. I was plenty old enough to pick up the pieces, thank you." She glared at him from across the room.

"OK, you never told me about what happened in your marriage, Brenda. I told you about my seven-year disastrous relationship with Cindy, but I don't know anything about your marriage except that he was the one who was the reason behind your ethics inquiry in Atlanta. Besides that, I don't know anything."

"You are enterin' very dangerous waters, Fritz. I do not want to talk about Hart with you. Not now, not ever." She drained her glass and tried to slow her breathing. She couldn't believe he was asking her these things.

"Why not, Brenda? When you are in a relationship, you tell each other about your past, if you trust the other person. I know this isn't easy for you."

Anger flared up in her. "You don't know anything, Fritz Howard, anything!" he jumped a bit at her raised voice. "Don't start pokin' around places you don't belong."

"Oh, but I think I do belong there, Brenda. I know you are scared to death of being hurt. I know trust is extremely hard for you. I know you don't like opening yourself up to being vulnerable to anyone. What I don't know is why."

She closed her eyes, aware of the tears that were forming, and fought to chase them back. She didn't want to dredge up memories she fought so hard to suppress. It just hurt too much. She thought of Fritz, gentle, kind-hearted Fritz, and realized that he asked very little of her. She just didn't know if she was strong enough to grant him this one particular request.

"Tell me why you want to hear this," Brenda said softly, her eyes still closed.

"Because I really care about you," he answered, equally softly. "And I want in, Brenda. I want to know more of you, learn about all the parts you have hidden away because you are so afraid of getting hurt. You are such an amazing person, and I want to see the real you. All of you, even the painful parts."

Brenda's eyes opened and she looked at him in surprise. Here she thought she had covered up that vulnerability so it was invisible to the naked eye. But Fritz saw right through her. Was she that transparent, or was he that insightful?

"OK," she heard herself saying. "OK Fritz, have it your way. If you wanna hear about the train wreck that was my love life, you can hear about it. But I have to warn you, don't you dare act like you feel sorry for me. I'm not damaged, I'm not, I'm just careful after havin' some bad experiences. Got it?"

He nodded. "I got it, Brenda. And for the record, you are one of the strongest people I know. I don't think I could ever feel sorry for you, for anything. I know you can take care of yourself."

She laughed. "Yup, I'm tough all right," she said sarcastically. "So tough that I'm not goin' anywhere near this topic of conversation without more wine." She got up and opened a second bottle of Merlot and brought it back to the chair she was sitting in. She poured a full glass and drained three-fourths of it in one gulp. She put her glass down and refilled it. Fritz looked at her, worried.

She pointed a finger at him. "You wanted to hear this, but I'm gonna do it my way. And that's with a high blood alcohol content. It's the only way I can tell you this stuff without makin' myself sick."

More to come...