Stella was humming softly to herself as she tapped her pencil repeatedly on the stack of paperwork in front of her. She was stuck in the office today, swamped in paperwork for a particularly tricky case. It was cross-jurisdiction and the amount of paperwork was always exponentially increased depending on the amount of agencies involved. Despite all that a smile graced her face as she tackled the project in front of her. Since she had 'moved in' with Mac, she found herself finding more to smile about in life. Although they didn't work identical schedules, each day they found time to unwind together. More and more she had found herself leaving at the end of shift instead of finding excuses to stay. Today they were meeting with the realtor to look at the townhouse that Jeff Morrow was representing. It had been over a week since she had originally gotten his phone call and she had dragged her heels about going to see it. She glanced over at the clock and realized she only had about ten more minutes before they'd have to head out if they were going to keep their appointment. Mac had been strangely insistent that she go see the place. Something about 'closure' and 'no regrets'. Stella had found it odd that he had spent so much time convincing her to come stay with him, and now was encouraging her to find her own place.
"Don't shoot the messenger, but I have more forms for you," Lindsay said with a sign as she brought another armload of papers into Stella's office. "Mac said to bring them in here since he's trying to wrap things up before he leaves for DC. The good news is they just require a signature."
Stella smiled at the younger woman, "Just leave them on the chair there." Stella pointed to one of the chairs across from her desk. "Hopefully I'll have them done by Thursday." The two women laughed together though Lindsay's seemed a bit forced. Stella tilted her head to one side and studied the junior detective. Lindsay looked a bit paler than usual, although she had tried to cover it up with make-up. There was a thick layer of concealer under her eyes attempting to disguise dark smudges, which might not be apparent to a casual observer, but was to a criminalist. Yesterday Lindsay had asked Stella if it was okay if she was a little late as she had an appointment. Stella wondered how long this had been going on and if she had missed it due to her own distractions.
"Everything okay, Linds?" Stella asked with concern. She put down the papers she was holding and turned her full attention to Lindsay.
"Yes, of course it is. Why do you ask?" Lindsay said in a rush as she edged towards the door.
"Well, you're looking a little pale, and I know you had a doctor's appointment this morning."
"Oh, that," Lindsay made a dismissive gesture. "Just a check-up, you know, normal stuff. Nothing to worry about." Lindsay peeked out in the hallway, avoiding her gaze. Quickly she changed the topic. "Mac's got Danny in his office. Looks serious."
"Mac's probably just letting him know that he's going to be in charge for a few days while we're both off."
"Danny?" Lindsay looked surprised.
"Why are you surprised?"
"It's just he can be so. . . irresponsible." Lindsay spat out. Stella sensed there was something going on between the on again, off again couple.
"You know you can talk to me, right?" Stella offered quietly.
"I gotta go," Lindsay declared running off in the direction of the locker room. Stella blinked at the odd behavior and made a note to follow up with Lindsay later in the week.
Stella turned her attention back to the paperwork, trying to wrap up a few last things before taking them down to the desk. The stack that Lindsay brought to her was pretty straightforward, just needing a supervisor's signatures. She was finishing up the last of the folders when a shadow fell across her desk.
"Need help with those?" a familiar voice asked. Stella turned to see Mac standing in the doorway.
"Actually, the majority of it is ready to go." Stella closed the file she was holding and stood up. She handed one stack to Mac and followed it with a second.
"You've been busy. Your hand must be tired," he commented as he juggled the second set of papers. She made a show of flexing the muscles in her fingers before grabbing her purse, kit, and third pile of folders.
"I like to leave a clean desk before I go away."
"As do I," Mac returned nodding his head in the direction of his glass-walled office as they headed for the elevator.
"Ah, but you just relocate the mess instead of clearing it," she teased.
"So, you should just relocate everything to Danny's desk," Mac countered.
"How'd it go?" Stella asked as they entered the elevator.
"He was," Mac paused to find the right words. "Surprised is probably the best description. But he was excited by the opportunity to 'live up to my expectations'." Mac stopped and hit the button for the ground floor. "He opened up and said that he had been going through some. . .stuff." Stella was pretty sure that Danny used a different word starting in 's'. "It was a good talk."
"Ironic that Lindsay was just in my office acting strangely."
"It's something they're going to have to work out between themselves," Mac shrugged.
The pair stopped at the desk to hand their files in before heading out. Their conversation changed to their plans to meet with the realtor and what to do about dinner that night. They managed to make it to the showing with just a few minutes to spare. The building was made of a non-descript gray stone, but possessed of small details that made it stand out from its neighbors. Extra attention had been paid to the carving of the stone around the entryway and the window frames. The upper levels sported private balconies on the sides of the buildings, although only the bottoms were visible from the street level. Jeff Morrows was waiting out front for them. Stella had liked the realtor when she met him because he exuded an earnest aura instead of the oily salesperson she had found other realtors to possess. She quickly introduced Mac to Jeff and watched as the two men shook hands. Jeff smiled over at her and indicated that they should head up to see the place. The three made chit chat about the neighborhood and the weather as they rode the elevator up.
"The property is currently vacant," the realtor explained as the exited the elevator and paused in front of a thick oaken door. "It's a bank owned property and doesn't have any furnishings in it. The previous owners treated it well in the small time they were here and did not damage the property when they moved out. Sometimes it's better to see a space without furniture as you can envision your own belonging in it easier." Jeff opened the door and allowed Mac and Stella to pass through.
The townhouse boasted a small foyer with a coat closet and a half bath. Stella absently listened to the realtors patter as he rattled off the features of the property to Mac. Three bedrooms, two and a half baths, hardwood floors throughout, newly painted, updated kitchen with granite countertops, and so on. She paused in the archway between the foyer and the main living space. Sunlight spilled in through two floor-to-ceiling windows on the far end of the great room. Set in between the two windows was a set of doors that led out to a terrace. The soft golden rays of the setting sun warmed the warm wood tones of the floor and muted red of the bricks on the opposing wall. A fireplace dominated the other wall with a flagstone hearth. Stella stood in the center of the room drinking in the sunlight and scanning the room. She could easily picture a cozy configuration of furniture in front of the fireplace and an informal dining area in front of the windows. An area rug in rich earth tones would complement the warm tones that the room already had. From her previous visit she knew there was a hallways that led down to the kitchen and private area of the home. Before heading down the hallway she paused in front of the windows to stare out at the city below her. She felt, rather than heard Mac come up behind her, his hands wrapping around her waist from behind. Instinctively she leaned back into him.
"I can see why you fell in love with this place, the view is spectacular," Mac observed following her gaze out the window. "Your realtor has been studiously filling me in on all of the features of the place."
"Did he tell you about the sunken garden tub?" she asked.
"No. He did mention that it had two and half baths though."
"You have to see it," Stella said taking his hand in hers and leading her down the hallway, past the kitchen. She led him into the master bedroom which he quickly noted was large and sunny like the rest of the space and possessed of another set of door which most likely led out to a balcony. Stella led through the room past the doors to a closet, and into the master bath. The room was done in brown natural stone with gold fixtures. The tub that had brought him to see was a deep, oversized, whirlpool tub of deep green marble. It was raised up from the bathroom floor next to a large window.
"Can you imagine coming home after a long day and soaking in that?" Stella asked enthusiastically. "It's so hard to soak in a regular tub. My legs are too long and they hang over the edge." She sat on the edge of the tub. "This is probably big enough for two."
Mac contemplated the tub and indeed could imagine Stella coming home from work and soaking in that tub. And indeed, for a few moments, he indulged himself in imagining exactly that. Stella soaking in the tub that was probably big enough for two. He scanned it with a professional eye and was not convinced that it was in truth 'big enough for two', but he was willing to try. His mind conjured up a picture of Stella unwinding in the tub, candles lit on the edges of the tub. Her hair would be pulled up out of the water, damp tendrils clinging to her neck and tickling the tips of her. . .
"So do you like what you see?" Stella asked.
"Yes," Mac answered huskily drawing closer to her. Stella found herself tilting her head upwards as Mac's lowered down to hers.
Footsteps from behind them broke the spell. "Did you have the chance to view the other two bedrooms?" Jeff called cheerfully as he entered the room. "They have their own bath and would be perfect kids rooms."
"No, no we haven't," Mac answered clearing his throat. Stella stood up and brushed past Mac their bodies touching as she headed out of the room. Mac closed his eyes and took a deep breath before following her down the hallway.
Mac and Stella finished the tour of the apartment and Jeff concluded the tour by telling them he would wait by the elevator if they wanted to take a few more moments to look around. He pulled the door discretely behind him leaving them alone to discuss the property.
"So. . ." Mac asked slowly.
She sighed, "I don't know. The place looks even larger without furniture. I'd be rattling around here all by myself." She gave a last longing look around, "it is beautiful, though."
"It has a certain quality that makes it feel warm and homey," Mac conceded.
"You noticed that, too?" Stella asked tossing her curls to one side.
Mac had noticed it, when he saw Stella with her face upturned into the sunlight. Home to him was where Stella was.
"Though you are right. You probably don't need three bedrooms of your own."
"No, I don't. And it's still a lot even at the reduced price. I don't have any furniture; I'd have to furnish the place."
The realtor had filled Mac on all the details such as the asking price, taxes, the typical monthly payments. Stella was right. It would probably be a lot on just her salary.
"You just need a roommate. It would take care of the money problem, and the space issue."
"A roommate?" Stella blinked. She'd lived alone since college up until when she had 'temporarily' moved in with Mac. She couldn't imagine going back to having a roommate. Here was Mac trying to push her out again.
"Well, you see lately my place has been getting a little small," he half smiled at Stella, "with my step-son and everything. I've been thinking about upgrading."
Stella looked confused, "You want to move in with me? What about your place?"
"Well, I wouldn't sell it. I'd probably keep it as an investment and sub-let. It's paid off." The insurance on the mortgage had paid the balance at Claire's death.
Mac nodded his head, "Think about it, Stella."
"I will," Stella said seriously. "I will."
Jeff had been pleased when they said they were interested in the property, but wouldn't be able to make a decision until after their trip to Washington. He gave each of them his business card and told them he'd be in touch. They ended up getting home later than expected after lingering over dinner at a Thai place. Mac had gone to pack when they got home as he had an early flight out the next morning. They would have to be up before 5 the next morning as Stella was driving him to the airport before going in to work.
Stella had taken Mac to the airport and vice versa on many occasions. She'd taken Flack there and even Lindsay. It was a routine thing. An everyday thing. This time as she was sitting in the Avalanche waiting for a space at the curbside check in at JFK she felt an unaccountable sadness. She glanced over at Mac who was staring out the window at the other passengers unloading the cars and getting into the line for the SkyCaps. Tears pricked at her eyes and she blinked stubbornly at them. She didn't know what had gotten into her lately with all these tears.
"I'm going to miss you," she said softly reaching over with her right hand to take his left. He turned to face her, his eyes a curious mixture of emotions.
"I'll miss you, too," he replied leaning over to kiss her gently on the cheek. "I'll see you in a couple of days." Tenderly he brushed his hand through her hair.
"I emailed your ticket to you before I left this morning. I asked Don to take you to the airport."
"You didn't have to."
"I know. I just knew you'd have a lot on your mind."
"Don't have too much fun without me," Stella tried to joke.
"Testifying for an FBI case, I couldn't if I tried," Mac smiled wryly. "Think of me when you're at a scene digging through trash. You'll be having more fun than me."
"I'd rather think of you at home."
"Oh?" Mac asked arching an eyebrow.
"Mmm-hmm," Stella responded leaning in to kiss him full on the lips. The two lost themselves in the bittersweet taste of a farewell kiss. Neither was inclined to stop as to end the kiss was to say goodbye. In the end, the blaring sound of a horn behind them ended the kiss.
"I know I'll be thinking of you," Mac said drawing in a shaky breath as Stella pulled the Avalanche into a now free space.
"That was the general idea."
Glancing at her watch, Stella noticed she was cutting it a little closer to 8AM then she would of liked. She pulled Mac's Avalanche into the first available spot she could find in the garage and dashed into the building. It didn't really matter if she was late. After all, the boss was away, but it wouldn't set a good example if she was late to work. As she was rushing across the lobby she heard the receptionist call out her name. With a sigh she slowed her steps and turned toward the desk. "Hello, Jeanine," she said stopping in front of her.
"Morning, detective," she replied with a coy smile. "I have something for you." She handed over a manila envelope with her name scrawled across it in Mac's handwriting. It was obvious that Jeanine knew it was Mac's handwriting as well from the knowing look she was giving her.
"Thanks, Jeanine," Stella said heading for the elevators.
"Wait, Detective," she called coming out from behind the desk. "These are for you as well." In her hands was a cut glass vase of brightly colored sunflowers. Not just simply yellow, they were shades of russet, amber, and coral as well. They were beautiful.
"Wow," Stella said, trying to prevent the goofy grin from spreading across her face.
"They came by courier this morning, Detective. He said they had to be here by 7:50AM and he was afraid he'd be late."
Stella touched the satiny petals with her finger and hid her smile behind the blooms. Mac knew exactly how long it would take her to get from JFK to the lab and had wanted to make sure they beat her there.
"Thanks, Jeanine," she murmured and headed up to the lab. As she walked from the elevator into the lab a few of the techs commented on the flowers and how 'lucky' she was. Stella found herself agreeing with them. She headed for Mac's office, where she usually spent her days when Mac was away. Carefully she set the blooms on the edge of the desk, turning them so the smiling faces of the flowers would face her while she was sitting at the desk.
"Hey, that's a nice piece of evidence you got there, Stell," Danny said as he strolled behind her into Mac's office.
"Thanks," Stella said touching the flowers one more time. "I think they're beautiful."
"Who they from? That Walsh guy?" Danny asked as he flopped himself into one of the chairs across from Mac's desk. Walsh was a firefighter on the opposing team for their upcoming NYPD softball game. He had been chatting Stella up at a scene yesterday.
"No," Stella said dismissively. "They're from Mac."
"Mac sent flowers to himself. You'd think he woulda known he was going to be in Washington." Danny deadpanned.
"Very funny, Messer," Stella countered.
"I figured I'd come by and see if you wanted help passing out the assignments. Not that you need help," he continued hurriedly, "but I thought you might want to show me how it's done before you go away, too."
"Good thinking," Stella complimented as she took the stack of the days assignments. "First, you need to see what we have on our plate. Then you prioritize based on complexity, geographic area, and level of urgency. Anything with Sinclair's name is urgent," she smirked. Danny shared her conspiratorial grin. After showing Danny the process and handing out the days assignments, she headed back to Mac's office. Settling into his chair she picked up the manila envelope and spun the chair so that her back was to the lab. She cracked open the seal and pulled out the letter.
I know you said that you were planning to do some shopping now that you weren't paying for the hotel. I hope you treated yourself to an evening dress. A buddy of mine from the Marine Corps invited us to a benefit at the Smithsonian Friday night. It's black tie. I hope you don't think it's too much like work. I might even be persuaded to dance.
I hope you don't mind, but I arranged for a car to pick you up at the airport. We're staying at the Mandarin Oriental. There will be a key waiting for you at the desk in case I'm still tied up at the Bureau. We'll have to be ready to go by 6:30.
Stella read the note and read the note again. The Mandarin Oriental? She was pretty sure that wasn't the name that Mac gave her in his contact info. The paper with his contact info was in her purse and she double checked. No, he was definitely in the Hyatt near Pentagon City. Curious, she called up the website. One of the top 100 hotels in the country? She sat back in her chair. Mac was determined to treat her like a princess. Then she would make sure that she looked like one. With a smile she remembered a dress she had seen in a little shop off 5th Avenue. One that she adored, but was certain she'd never have someone to wear it for. She wondered if they still had it. Quickly she located their number online and was about to call, when her phone rang. No caller id showed up so she answered with her usually, "Bonasera." When she heard Mac's voice on the other end of the line she was stunned. His flight should have been on its way to Washington. What was even more unexpected was that there was a murder on the plane. Time for daydreams was over.