Till the red morning light
Summary: Four seasons. Four different moments. Or, how Jane and Lisbon's relationship changes over the course of a year, gradually bringing them closer together.
A/N: This is what happens when our crap weather prevents me from actually going out and doing anything productive. I'm still exploring the characters, getting to know them (and having fun with these two hee), so I'm writing these little "moments" mostly for my own benefit. I've had this floating in my head for awhile now, so decided to write it down after all. Basically, it'll be four oneshots, except that they will be loosely tied together as they happen throughout one year. In my mind this takes place somewhere after the season 2 finale and will probably follow its own timeline from there, unless canon decides to be on my side for once. Although, I haven't actually completed any of the others yet, which puts me in a mild state of worry. :s
Spoilers: Probably throughout season 2.
Disclaimer: I do not own anything even remotely related to The Mentalist. Or the lyrics. Those belong to John Mayer. Title stolen from Kings of Leon.
Nothing to do
Nowhere to be
A simple little kind of free
Autumn has always been Lisbon's favourite season.
There's absolutely nothing that compares to seeing all of the leaves slowly changing colour, tumbling to the ground, giving everything a soft golden shine. Autumn in Sacramento is a treat. Freed from the heat of summer and its fickle days, the slightly cooler breeze leaves enjoyable temperatures in its wake; a considerable improvement. She loves when all of the trees are suddenly bare, stripped of their beautiful colours, preparing themselves for what's next. A small smile plays on her lips as the outside world passes them by, landscapes flashing alongside their car.
"It really is the most gorgeous time of year."
Jane's soft statement interrupts her musings, though she's not at all surprised he figured out what she'd been daydreaming about. She shifts in her seat to face him, heaving a sigh. Because she hadn't slept much the night before – and because he kept pestering her, stating what a long drive it was and that they should really alternate – she let him get behind the wheel to head back to HQ.
"Yea," she replies. "It always reminds me of when I was a kid, when I used to roll around in a pile of leaves in our backyard, messing around with my brothers."
Before Jane has the chance to make her elaborate, savouring each rare occasion when she divulges a few small details of her past, she switches the conversation back to the case they've just solved. He can almost always pinpoint the exact moment she retreats back into her shell, putting up her self-made defences.
The late October sun is slowly sinking on the horizon, casting a subtle glow across her features, illuminating her eyes as she stares at the road ahead.
"Aren't you glad I persuaded you to take the car instead of flying?" He interrupts after a moment. "You can't see everything this clearly from a plane."
"What would your argument have been if it had been a rainy, windy day?" Her tone of voice is teasing, not quite willing to admit she's actually enjoying the scenery.
"That we're still safer down here than up there."
"Statistics show that you're far more likely to be killed in a road traffic accident than in a plane crash."
"Not with my driving," he easily replies, shooting a grin in her direction, knowing exactly what her opinion of his driving skills is. "Besides, this significantly saves up on general expenses. The CBI budget people will thank me."
His general dislike of flying may be what led to their impromptu road trip, but it's most definitely not the only reason. He's always been used to being on the road, touring the countryside, crossing state after state. Even though he has long since left that part of his life behind him, he has to admit to missing it every once in awhile, which is why he will always prefer taking a car over a plane.
They spent the last week down in Watsonville, working on a case that took longer to solve than he would've liked. Still, they managed to find the murderer eventually, and he and Lisbon stayed behind half a day longer than the others to round up the investigation with the local PD.
"We still have a pretty long drive ahead of us; what do you say we take a break? Stop to have some dinner?"
She casts a dubious glance in his direction.
"I'm not that hungry. Plus, if we keep driving we'll make it back before 9, and I can get started on the paperwork."
"Please, Lisbon. If it hadn't been for my perfect master plan to catch the killer, we could've been stuck there another couple of days. So really, I just saved you some time. The least you could do is take that chance and not think about work for a night."
"Your perfect master plan involved endangering a young girl's life, and you once again did it without my knowledge of the whole scheme. Forgive me if I don't thank you profusely," she replies sarcastically.
"Meh, I didn't endanger her life, I knew the guy was never going to harm her. He was in love with her, it was all so very obvious." He brushes it off with a wave of his hand. "I bet there are some great little restaurants lurking behind every exit here. Come on, let me buy you dinner."
"Because, I want to do something nice for a change. This'll be my way of making it up to you. Though come to think of it, I'm actually quite pleased to say that I couldn't have behaved better on this occasion, and therefore, I don't really have anything to apologise for."
He grins, putting on his most angelic smile.
"Yes, you definitely exercised your usual restraint," she mutters. "Besides, as if you ever apologise. I'd prefer it if you just stopped your shenanigans altogether."
"Hmm, I think we both know the chances of that happening aren't in your favour. Therefore, let's you and I stop for a delicious meal, and that'll be my way to make up for any future stunts I may or may not pull."
He seems to keep his voice deliberately pleasant, making her look at him a little more closely.
"You're starving, aren't you?" she remarks with a clear hint of amusement, a thought suddenly dawning on her. "I told you to eat something before we left, but you wouldn't listen and I knew you'd be hungry later on." A triumphant smirk considerably lightens her features. "Well tough luck and suck it up. You should've listened."
"Yes, mom," he mockingly retorts. "However, there's one small thing that seems to have slipped your mind."
"I'm the one currently driving this vehicle," he casually says, a huge smile taking over while he's already signalling for the next exit.
They leave the Interstate, and he continues to drive aimlessly about until he discovers a restaurant that seems to meet his criteria. Lisbon has long ago stopped trying to argue whenever his mind is set on something, but when she notices the small building tucked away at the end of the street, she frowns.
"What's wrong with take-away food?" she inquires upon taking in their surroundings. "It'll be much faster."
He looks at her, unconvinced. "Let me be the first to enlighten you, Lisbon, that when something's fast, it's usually never any good."
The smirk and devilish look that accompany his words leave little doubt in her mind as to what exactly he's hinting at. Even if it did, his next observation certainly proves her right.
"Good food is like sex; you have to take your time to fully enjoy it."
Before she has time to think of an appropriate reply, if there even are any, he continues. "And besides, when's the last time you've actually let yourself relax and have a fun evening? Enjoyed a good dinner that doesn't consist of something you put in the microwave?"
Though he does have a point, she's not entirely certain this is the right place to do just that.
"Still, I can think of a few objections."
"Good, you can make a list when we're inside."
"This looks way too expensive, Jane. I can't even pronounce the name."
"Nonsense. Repeat after me: 'La Grenouille'," he says in what even she can hear is a pretty bad French accent, causing her to chuckle.
"It means 'the frog'," he clarifies.
"Oh, well that immediately eases my worry. Consider me convinced," she mocks.
"Now, now, Lisbon. Negative expectations lead to a negative outcome, you know that."
To be honest, she's more worried about the fact that this looks like a very classy, romantic place. It has all the charm of a small and cosy restaurant, as if they are somewhere in the French countryside instead of northern California. And she's had dinner with Jane plenty of times during all sorts of cases, but they're usually joined by the rest of the team. Nevertheless, it's either give in now or face a hungry consultant the entire way back, and one who has the habit of acting like a child when he hasn't had his food at that.
With a small shake of her head, she starts for the door, not entirely unaware of the smile lighting up his face, or his hand on the small of her back, gently guiding her inside.
Once they're settled in one of the quiet back corners, she takes a moment to observe her surroundings. The interior has been tastefully decorated, the walls adorned with various old black & white photographs of California's most prominent cities. As small as it looked on the outside, the room they're in is surprisingly spacious, and Lisbon detects a large back patio for people to use during the summer months.
There's a little basket at the centre of their table with cut-up pieces of French bread, a tray of olives, and a bottle of the house wine. She has to admit that the atmosphere in general is very much to her liking, even though it quickly becomes apparent that most tables seem to be occupied by couples.
When she puts her menu aside, Jane offers up a sceptical look from behind his.
"You've chosen already? Let me guess," he trails off, skimming the menu. "You'll order the shrimp salad to start with and then... ah yes, the grilled salmon."
She purses her lips, only mildly annoyed that he guessed it right yet again. "Do I detect a hint of mocking in your tone?"
"Of course not, I wouldn't dare," he playfully responds. "Those are excellent, albeit safe choices. You prefer sticking with what you know, you're afraid to try anything new."
"If you're going to suggest I eat frogs' legs, I can tell you right now, it's not happening."
He lets out a laugh, signalling to the waiter that they're ready to order.
"And I'm not afraid, I just think there's less risk involved if you don't go for the unknown," she adds.
"Always the rational decision-maker," he remarks with a smile. "So, what are you afraid of? Is there even anything that scares a fearless CBI agent like yourself?"
"Birds," she replies without giving it much thought, making his eyebrows shoot up in surprise.
She doesn't know if he was delving for anything deeper - though knowing Jane, he probably was – but she figures it'll be safer to stay on light-hearted topics, given the restaurant's intimate settings.
"You're afraid of birds?" He doesn't even bother disguising his obvious amusement at this particular fact.
"I'm not afraid of them," she stresses. "I'm just not a fan either."
"Why not? What's wrong with birds?"
"I don't know; they seem so unpredictable. I just feel like they could attack you at any given moment." She shudders involuntarily, causing him to chuckle.
"Now that's an interesting piece of information. A strong, tough policewoman like yourself, and you're afraid of killer birds." He takes a sip of the red wine the waiter has poured them, smiling at her over the rim of his glass.
"Go ahead, laugh all you want. It could happen."
"Oh, of course," he nods seriously. "In an Alfred Hitchcock movie maybe."
It's not until their food arrives that she begins to fully relax. The background music mixed with the quiet chatter around them appears to have a soothing effect, taking with them the last of the case thoughts still floating through her mind. Of course, it might also be attributed to the man sitting in front of her, who is proving to be a pretty good dinner companion.
"We should share something," he suddenly speaks up.
"No, thank you. No offence, but your bouillabaisse doesn't really appeal to me all that much," she says, eyeing his plate suspiciously. "You're welcome to try some of mine though."
He laughs, picking up another piece of bread. "No, I mean we should talk about stuff; share things."
"Why?" She sounds alarmed by the suggestion alone.
"Because everybody bonds during road trips, Lisbon – it's part of the experience."
"This is not a road trip," she counters. "Besides, we're not even in the car right now."
"Suppose you were stranded on a deserted island," he continues, undeterred. "Who would you rather be stuck with: Cho or Rigsby?"
"Why would I be stranded on a deserted island in the first place?"
"Aha! You're intrigued, admit it."
"Is this supposed to provide you with some sort of insight into my inner psyche? Like if I say Cho, it'll somehow automatically reveal to you that I have a tendency to fall for younger men?"
He raises one eyebrow in obvious interest. "You have a thing for younger men?"
"No! I was giving an example."
"Well, I'm not Freud."
"No, I imagine you're much worse." Amusement is evident in both her eyes and her words, causing him to smile.
"Dodging my question, huh?"
"I'm not dodging anything; your question is absurd. Although if you want an answer that badly, I can tell you I'd much rather be stuck with either of them than with you." She teases effortlessly, finishing off the rest of her salad.
"Ouch, I'm wounded. But you know I'll get to the truth eventually. I always do."
"Yea, and I have a never-ending pile of complaints on my desk to prove it."
"Oh, please," he gives a vague wave of his hand. "People can never stand it when you lay everything out in the open, and all of those complaints are simply to mask their anger and frustration at getting caught. Nonetheless, I do always enjoy watching one of my plans unfold." A faint, almost reverent look crosses his face and she laughs.
"Oh, really? Even though you get punched in the nose half the time?" she playfully replies.
"Well, what can I say?" he grins. "Perfection has its price."
"So does arrogance," she retorts with a small smirk.
The words instantly resound in her head, wiping the smile off her face as she suddenly becomes conscious of the underlying implication, thinking back to the last time he put that arrogance on display on national television, and what it ultimately led to.
"I didn't mean-" she quickly interjects, but he puts up a hand to stop her, silencing the apology.
He offers up a small smile to prevent her from dwelling on it too much; his own way of letting her know it's okay. Yet, to Lisbon, it only serves as a reminder that despite the comfortable environment, despite the light and playful mood, the man sitting in front of her is still very much a damaged one. Even though their daily interactions sometimes make it easy to forget his past, it always manages to resurface in the end.
"So, have you made any plans for Thanksgiving yet? I imagine your brothers have all asked you to visit." He easily changes the subject, turning the spotlight on her, which she has come to understand is some sort of defence mechanism.
"I'm not sure yet," she simply says, giving off one of her standard replies whenever anyone inquires about her holiday plans.
"You should go. They ask you every year, and you always refuse – probably by making up some lame, incredibly transparent excuse – but you should go this time."
His advice makes her look at him sceptically.
"And I suppose you have wildly exciting plans for Thanksgiving?"
"Of course not," he says in a neutral tone of voice, as if it's the most obvious thing. "Then again, I don't have any family left. You do, and I just think they'd all love to see you."
His candid reply takes her by surprise as she briefly wonders if that wine might already be getting to his head, though he's barely had half a glass. Tempted to blurt out that that doesn't mean there aren't people who care about him, she swallows those words quickly.
She rubs a hand across her eyes tiredly. "I'll think about it."
"No, you won't," he immediately cuts in. "We both know you've already made up your mind. I was just hoping to change it."
She's not exactly sure how their discussion started at some deserted island and ended up here, but she knows it's unusual for them to even sweep past a more serious topic. Her initial intention to brush it off and carefully avoid this subject changes when she looks at him to find a kind, encouraging smile on his lips. She wonders if this is just his innate curiosity taking the upper hand, or if it's something more; if he genuinely wants to know because he's interested in the reason behind her decision.
She wavers under his gaze and lets out a frustrated sigh. "It's not that simple, Jane."
"Sure it is," he interrupts.
"No, it's not," she continues in a softer voice. "People don't always just forgive and forget, and particularly with my brother, Tommy, there were some... problems, in the past." She decides to keep it vague, not interested in spelling it all out for him. "Nothing big, but things were said; harsh words thrown back and forth between the three of them and it changed things. I've always tried to keep them all happy, you know, in spite of certain circumstances. It's the only thing that mattered to me after... well, after."
Her eyes have lost their focus, looking past him, having settled on a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge on the opposite wall. Jane is watching her intently, trying very hard to resist the sudden urge to reach out and put his hand on top of hers. It would only be a comforting gesture, but he's afraid it might break her reverie, and he's far too intrigued by this unexpected turn in the conversation. Never before has she seemed as vulnerable as she does right now, trusting him enough in this moment to let the words flow freely.
"And God knows it wasn't always easy. But everyone makes mistakes." She casts her eyes down at the last statement, leaving Jane to wonder if she's still talking about Tommy.
After a moment's pause, he decides to take the risk and gently covers her hand with his.
"I'm sure they'd all be more than happy to see you."
His comforting words have the opposite effect, causing a panicky sensation to flicker inside her. Their conversation is dragging her back to the past, the last place she wants to go. She blinks and quickly slides her hand from underneath his, a small, uncomfortable smile appearing on her lips.
She excuses herself to go visit the ladies' room, and when she returns, the air around her carries nothing of her former vulnerability.
"So when were you planning on admitting that my choice of restaurant is excellent?" Jane looks at her smugly, quite pleased at how much she seems to be truly at ease, completely enjoying herself.
"The food was excellent," she nods her agreement. "Though I have to say, the service probably could have been a bit better." She observes as her eyes sweep the room and land on their waiter, who doesn't appear to be in the best of moods.
Jane follows her gaze, turning back around with a solemn expression on his face.
"You should give the poor guy a break; he only found out recently that his wife was cheating on him and she's filing for divorce," he explains casually.
She rolls her eyes at his observation, briefly wondering if he ever makes any of this up as he goes along.
"Don't you ever get tired of reading people?"
"Never. They're far too interesting. Especially when they try to hide all sorts of things." He puts his hands together in a conspiratory kind of way, making her grin.
"Alright, but there must have been situations in the past where you've been completely wrong about someone's personality."
"Very rarely," he huffs. "Need I remind you that I once read you pretty accurately as well? Not to mention the others, they're basically all an open book."
"And need I remind you that you failed to even guess which musical instrument I used to play?"
"Oh, please. I still stick by my story that you probably invented the whole thing."
"Or, you'll have to accept the fact that you can't figure me out so easily after all."
He regards her seriously for a moment, a crooked half smile greeting her.
"You love apples, but only the red ones," he starts counting on his fingers. "You hate arrogant drivers because they remind you of your father, who I'm guessing had more than a few problems with road rage. You don't care for surprises very much, even good ones, because you don't like being unprepared for something. You keep count of every person you've ever shot and killed in the past, because you always feel guilty, no matter what their crime was." He pauses, pretending to ponder over the next one. "Oh, and you can't pee in a public bathroom unless no one else is there."
She frowns, crinkling her nose at the last statement. She doesn't really want to know how he figured that one out.
"How am I doing?" he inquires, a self-satisfied smile already crossing his face.
"Four out of five."
"Alright fine, all of those were right," she begrudgingly admits. "But I bet those apply to a lot of people."
The mild annoyance clearly visible on her face causes him to laugh, and Lisbon lets out a small smile in return. The thought suddenly crosses her mind that there haven't been many occasions when she has heard him genuinely laughing. It's a nice feeling, knowing that she's doing her part in making him forget every now and then, however short-lived those moments may be.
"Your turn," he remarks with a twinkle in his eye.
When she looks at him non-comprehendingly, he elaborates. "Try your skills on me, let's see how you get on."
"Oh no," she shakes her head. "I'm not touching that."
"Oh come on, Lisbon," he pleads, reminding her of a little child who's used to getting his way. "Even though you might not always let on, you're pretty good at figuring people out yourself. Your instincts hardly ever fail you and I know you're almost just as good as me. Almost," he repeats with a grin.
"You mean I don't always brag about it every chance I get, like you do."
"You say potato..." he shrugs, taking another sip of wine. "I promise you I won't be offended."
"As if I'd ever worry about that."
"Then prove me wrong," he smiles expectantly. "Fire away."
She's not one to ignore a challenge, especially coming from Jane, who always seems to know just how to push her buttons and get her riled up. But something's holding her back when she meets his eye, the amused glint signalling he's enjoying this far too much. Perhaps it's the fact he's having a good time, and she's afraid she'll ruin the mood by being too honest in her assessment. Or maybe it's simply because he's far too complex, and she's not confident enough to share her findings. Though she's pretty sure she actually has him figured out, for the most part at least.
He cocks his head to the side, silently attempting to chase the thoughts running through her mind. Leaning forward, she puts her elbows on the table and runs her finger along the rim of her glass, keeping her eyes fixed on the soothing circular motion.
"You have the attention span of a five-year-old," she reproachfully begins. "One of the few indulgences you still allow yourself is food. Your curiosity knows no bounds, but your actual interest in people fades as soon as you discover whatever it is they're hiding. You don't care much about money or material things, at least not anymore, which is why you hardly ever carry any cash. And you tend to shut down your emotions, so as not to show any sign of weakness, which you always use to your advantage, immediately intimidating whoever comes into contact with you. Although I firmly believe you simply don't have a weak spot."
She pauses and looks up to find him watching her carefully, as if transfixed by her words.
"Also, you're generally insufferable," she adds, infusing the mood with some much-needed levity.
When he blinks, the spell is broken and he sends a grin her way, putting his hands together in mock-applause.
"Not bad, Lisbon. Not bad at all."
As he reaches for the menu, he doesn't tell her she was only mistaken on one account. He most definitely does have a weak spot, no matter how much he tries to ignore it or keep it hidden. Though he never allows himself to dwell on that particular thought too long, he's well aware there will come a day when he'll be forced to make a decision, and that is when his weakness will clearly show.
"So," he swiftly continues. "Dessert?"
Once they're back on the highway, with Lisbon behind the wheel this time, Jane almost dreads the end of their evening. Tonight served as an escape of some sort, and he always treasures the rare opportunities when he gets to forget everything else for awhile. As the road stretches on in front of them, his mind wanders back, coming to the conclusion that each one of those past moments can somehow be associated with Lisbon. There's an air of tranquillity about her that always seems to put him at ease. He knows this was exactly what she needed as well; shake off the responsibilities for once, and stop worrying about always having to carry the weight of the world on her shoulders. Or the weight of keeping him in line, for that matter.
"You know, I don't think I ever really apologised for that incident last year."
She looks over at him, but he's staring through the window into the darkness.
"What incident? I'm afraid you'll need to be just a bit more specific."
He shifts in his seat until he's facing her, amused at her mocking look.
"Me getting thrown into jail. Locked behind bars. Leading the prison life, et cetera, et cetera. I could go on."
She rolls her eyes and laughs, sneaking another glance in his direction.
"Why would you suddenly apologise for that? Are you growing soft on me?" she playfully remarks.
"Well, no. I..." he stalls for time, finding the buttons on the radio to be of sudden interest. "I just never really said I was sorry for what you had to do to get me out of there. I know it couldn't have been easy, and yet, you went ahead and did it anyway. And I want you to know I really appreciated that."
"Jane, that was almost a year ago. Why are you thinking of that now?"
Her voice is much softer now, and he suspects his sudden reference to that unpleasant occurrence probably has her thinking of Bosco. Not the smartest move he's ever made, he silently berates himself, because he's never been quite ready to discuss that particular topic with her, and he only hopes it won't put a damper on her evening.
"Because we just passed by the penitentiary," he answers.
"Good, that means we're almost home."
Though he knows it's probably safer to let this subject go instead of voicing his next question, his curiosity gets the better of him once more.
"Why did you go to such an extreme measure to make sure the charges would be dropped, huh? Could it be because you have grown soft on me maybe?"
He words it carefully, going for a joke and merely teasing her out of habit, but somewhat surprisingly, she doesn't allow it to lighten the mood.
"No," she softly begins, taking a deep breath as if to gather up some courage. "But you shot Hardy, who was basically the only link you had to Red John, to save my life. And every time I feel the urge to reach for my gun and shoot you myself for all of the crap you pull, that one particular fact suddenly seems to enter my mind. And you get away with it, yet again."
She's infinitely grateful that she's the one who's driving, as it provides a perfect excuse for keeping her eyes on the road. Jane appears to be slightly taken aback by her honesty, studying her more closely. There's something about her quiet, genuine answer that gets to him, perhaps because he hadn't seen it coming.
Though she can feel him staring at her, can feel his eyes pierce right through her, she fights the urge to look at him, unsure of what she'll find. He remains silent, and she almost asks him the one question that has plagued her on more than one occasion since that particular event. They've never discussed it, like so many other things, but that doesn't mean she hasn't wondered if he ever regrets saving her.
The rest of the ride back passes in relative silence. Her eyes are starting to get weary, which is why she's instantly relieved when the familiar red brick building comes into view further down the road.
"Well, this was fun. We should do this more often," he says, keeping his voice carefully toneless as they get out of the car.
"Sure. I always enjoy spending more hours with you than necessary," she retorts.
He stretches, turning his gaze towards the sky and observing the full moon. There's a chill in the air, and as he turns around to face Lisbon, the moon's soft glow reflects off her curly hair, giving him pause. At times, it's almost scary when he stops to think about how much he's come to appreciate her and everything she does. There's probably little chance he'll ever get to show that appreciation or return the favour in any way, but he knows if there's anyone who gets to him, it's her. He likes to hide behind all sorts of masks, but they both know she's the only one who can really handle him. Though she would probably argue that fact if he ever brought it up.
She looks up seconds later, a faint blush appearing when she catches him staring.
"You're such a gentleman, Jane. Do you mind?" She says sarcastically, gesturing to the bags she's hauling out of the trunk all by herself.
He laughs and shoots forward, taking his small suitcase out of her hands and some of the various files she seems to be struggling with. When they're done putting everything into her car, she takes a step back, fiddling with her keys.
"Thank you," she smiles. "You were right; I probably did need a fun night and it's taken my mind off of things. I really enjoyed myself."
"You say that with such a discouraging amount of surprise, I'm actually a little hurt. I'd hate to say I told you so," he winks.
She rolls her eyes, already regretting her brief moment of gratitude, when he softly adds, "The pleasure was all mine, Lisbon. You make wonderful company."
She's tempted to shrug it off with another joke, something about how she wishes the same could be said for him. But the sincerity of his comment reaches deep within her and has her feeling unexpectedly shy. Though they're only friends at the very most, there's no denying that tonight shared a lot of similarities with what one might call a date. And even if she doesn't particularly want to dwell on that fact too much, she can't completely stop it from entering her thoughts. Something about the way he's looking at her is unfamiliar, almost too intimate as she feels a light flutter somewhere deep inside her.
Trying to diffuse the momentary awkwardness between them, she lets out a sigh and grins at him.
"I'm glad this case is over though. I'll be more than happy to be home and sleep in my own bed again," she says by way of goodbye, already half-turning toward the safety of her car. "Good night, Jane. I'll see you tomorrow."
He offers up a goodnight of his own while she climbs into the driver seat, giving a small wave when she drives off. He stands in the parking lot a moment longer, watching until the taillights of her car become nothing but a blur in the distance. He can imagine her finally reaching the sanctuary of her bedroom, and dropping onto the bed with a satisfied sigh.
"Home," he whispers to himself while he looks to the building on his left, already turning around to head inside.