The winter months slogged onwards, January melting into February, and Brenda found herself wondering how two women handled Valentine's Day. She recalled Sharon saying she was the woo-er, as it were, but Brenda felt like maybe she wanted to do something for Sharon, as thanks for the woman putting up with the fairly frequent intrusions of her parents, and that one time Joel had left a hairball in the toe of one of Sharon's sling backs. And also perhaps for the volley of temper fits she'd launched at Sharon over the last few months. And also because telling Pope had gone about as well as expected, which was to say not well at all, since during that meeting, she might have said that Sharon was a better lay than Pope on his best day, and while she meant it as a compliment, Sharon seemed to think that was the sort of thing one didn't just blurt out to their boss, even if, as Brenda pointed out, he wasn't going to be their boss much longer, if Delk had his way. And the culmination of all of that was what led Brenda to the little florist Morales had suggested, after Brenda had accosted him near the coffee maker, whispering about needing discreet flowers. The man behind the counter was what her daddy would call light in the loafers, but he seemed to know his stuff when it came to bouquets. She stopped him in the middle of his explanation on the deeper meanings of tulips, and handed him her Visa card.
"She's the most important thing in the world to me. I just need a bouquet that says that. I don't need a whole PhD in botany, thank you so much."
He took her card, smiling. "You leave it to Eduardo, and you will be happy. She will be happy. You both will be happy together."
Truth be told, Brenda never put much trust or stock in people who spoke about themselves in the third person, but his winsome grin and seemingly encyclopedic knowledge about flowers and their meanings meant that she was willing to put her faith in him. She wandered around the tiny storefront, smelling the fragrant blossoms of a number of plants, as Eduardo maneuvered around her like a tiny tornado, whipping stems from buckets with a speed that belied his age. He whistled as he worked, arranging the blooms into a cacophony of sultry colors, richly textured and layered within a beautiful cut crystal vase. He tied a comparatively subtle ribbon around the neck of the vase, and pushed it across the counter.
"Here. Smells like love, does it not?" He smiled, the skin at his eyes crinkling in a way that made Brenda think of Sharon. She leaned in, inhaling the perfume of the flowers, her eyes fluttering closed at the complex layering of scents. Straightening up, she opened her eyes and turned her chocolate gaze on the petite man before her.
"It's exactly perfect. How did you…" She trailed off, unsure of how to phrase her question.
"You make it easy, with the look on your face when you talk about her. I just choose flowers that make me feel like you look." He turned away, sliding her card through the tiny reader attached to the register. "You protect that love. Don't do things that need bouquets like this. Eventually, flowers stop being able to solve all of your problems, you listen to Eduardo. So many people come in here, and they ask for flowers to apologize, or to express sympathy, but you come to get flowers for the most important thing in the world to you, so you remember that, when she is also the most important pain in your tush, okay?"
Brenda laughed, nodding as she took her card from him. He slid the vase into a box that was probably bigger than it needed to be, as it was nearly half as tall as he was, but it was lined with Styrofoam that seemed shaped to hold the vase snugly, and the top of the box allowed for enough space that the flowers weren't touching the cardboard. He rang a tiny bell on the counter, and a young boy, maybe 15 or 16 emerged from the back of the shop.
"Miguelito, you carry this to the nice lady's car, don't drop it, it is my masterpiece, okay?"
"Si, Papi." He smiled, and Brenda was struck by the resemblance between father and son. She followed him out of the store, the bells on the door merrily tinkling their departure.
Later that evening, Brenda stood nervously on Sharon's porch, the hugely awkward box of flowers at her feet, as she pulled her dress straight, and leaned on the doorbell. She could hear the even click of Sharon's shoes against the hardwood floor, and she hurriedly picked up the box, holding it in front of her, a combination of shield and peace offering.
"You're early…what on earth?" Sharon interrupted herself as she hauled open the heavy door, and came nose to cardboard with a flustered Brenda.
"I know I'm early, but I couldn't wait to see you. I hate it when you're cross with me, and I know I said a whole lot of stuff I shouldn't have said but he just made me SO MAD, and you ARE a better partner than he EVER was, and to think that he was even THINKING of you…" Brenda was derailed from her tirade when Sharon gently took the box from her arms, and set it aside, before pulling her in for a kiss.
"I'm not mad anymore. I was just embarrassed, and the torrent of hostility you unleashed on Pope was icing on that cake. To be clear, I'm not embarrassed about us, or because people know about us, but because I'm not accustomed to being the subject of the inevitable gossip. I don't have experience with the finer points of being involved with a co-worker, as my previous relationship with a colleague didn't begin until after she'd transferred to a different department. But that's neither here nor there. What's in this box?"
"Open it and see." Brenda leaned against the door, grinning like a Cheshire cat. Her smile belied the butterflies taking flight in her stomach. She'd never tried to woo anyone before, and she suspected Sharon was a difficult nut to crack under the best of circumstances. Still, she thought the colors in the arrangement matched the riot of autumnal tones in Sharon's hair, and the golds and greens in her eyes, and the scents combined in a rich layer, as complex and varied as Sharon's own scent. Sharon pulled the flaps open, and gasped, reaching in to extract the vase from its Styrofoam nest.
"It's gorgeous!" She exclaimed, breathing in the fragrance, and admiring the vividly contrasting colors.
"Happy Valentine's Day. I um, I was going to get you chocolate, but I realized I'd probably eat it all anyway, so this seemed like a better idea." To Brenda's eternal horror, Sharon seemed to be tearing up. "Oh gracious. Don't cry, for heaven's sake, it's just flowers!"
"I've not gotten flowers from anyone since I graduated from the Academy, and my father brought me a dozen roses as congratulations for following appropriately in his footsteps. I can't tell you how much it means to me, that you thought of me, and thought that I'd like something as frivolous as flowers. Normally I get absurdly practical gifts, like leather polish for my holster, or appliances, or stationary." Sharon discreetly wiped at the corners of her eyes.
"Well, I did ponder getting you a package of those Bic pens that started all of this between us. But then I thought about your desk, and how you'd never lose a pen there, and how my desk looks like a hurricane has swept across it all the time, and I figured I'd probably lose the darned things before I had a chance to stick a bow on them. It's hard to lose a bouquet when it's the size of a toddler, even on my desk."
Sharon laughed, and set the vase on the table behind her sofa, before turning and wrapping her arms around Brenda, holding her close. They embraced for a long moment, and Brenda drew back, laying gentle kisses on Sharon's eyelids, and forehead.
"You, my Cap'n, are the person most deserving of frivolity. You spend so much time making sure things are organized and sane for everybody, that you deserve flowers, and clowns, and balloons, and maybe those tiny monkeys that play instruments."
"I'd like to state, for the record, that clowns are grounds for divorce in my world." Sharon chuckled.
"Surely you aren't scared of them!" Brenda's voice was laced with mirth.
"Scared is a verb I'd save only for armadillos, and the occasional brush with death. But I am not fond of clowns, no. They disturb me on a level similar to things powered by animatronics, and the sound of Styrofoam squeaking."
"I will never get tired of learning these little quirks in your unflappable armor."
"I'm sure, Chief." Sharon replied wryly. "Now, let's learn more over dinner. I believe you said you were taking me out."
"I am, at that. And I even made reservations!"
"Wonders never cease, Brenda. You're making me feel positively spoiled."
"Don't sass, Sharon. It's not becoming."
Brenda thought revisiting the Italian restaurant where Sharon had taken her on their first official date was a brilliant plan, and she was pleased when Sharon hummed delightedly as they turned into the parking lot. The Maître D ushered them to the same table, thanks to a generous tip from Brenda when she'd stopped by to make the reservations, and there was already a bottle of the red on the table, aerating. Brenda pulled Sharon's chair out with a mock flourish, and gestured for the brunette to have a seat. Sharon complied, arching an eyebrow at the younger woman.
"Brenda, I get the sense you're wooing me. Or doing your best impression of a southern gentleman."
"Well that's just silly! Can't I do nice things for the woman I love?" Brenda paled as she realized what she'd said. "I mean..."
"Don't take it back. You were asleep, and probably didn't hear me, but I've already told you that I love you. And although confessing our love for one another on Valentine's Day might fall under the heading of trite, it doesn't change the fact that I am, in fact, in love with you." Sharon's voice was thick with emotion.
"I don't want to take it back. I just…you spooked so easily before, and I didn't want to move too fast for you. But I've had the notion for a while. "
"I got the sense from something you said a while back, but it was another fairly oblique reference, along the lines of 'it's one of the things you loved about me', and so I took it with a grain of salt."
"I have a terrible time minding my mouth around you." Brenda poured wine into both of their glasses, and took a long sip. "You sneak past all of my filters."
"Indeed. I've noticed that. Particularly in front of our superior officers." Sharon smirked.
The waiter appeared, and they placed their orders, mushroom risotto for Sharon, and a primavera for Brenda, along with crisp salads, and a loaf of warm, thickly crusted Italian bread. They chatted about work, and Sharon mentioned that her children were coming in for Spring Break in March. Brenda stopped eating, and glanced up, looking slightly startled.
"They want to meet me?" She echoed weakly.
"They do. I can tell you're not thrilled with the prospect, and I assure you, they'll understand." Sharon's voice held a tinge of frost.
"No! No, I don't mind meeting them at all. It's just…what if they don't like me?" She blinked a few times. "I'm not always the easiest person to get along with, after all."
"That may be true, but my children are excellent judges of character—they take after me in that regard. And even when you were busily thwarting my every move, I had a grudging respect and admiration for your tenacity and perseverance, even if I questioned your tactics. My kids will have the benefit of getting to know you without all of that framework, and with the added bonus of knowing that you've made their mother extremely happy. I should also note that since my relationship with their step-mother ended, I haven't bothered introducing them to any of the other women I've dated. So they recognize that you mean something to me, and they're smart enough to behave themselves. "
"Well all right. And besides. They're probably kittens compared to my mama and daddy, and that went so much better than I was expecting—how bad could it be?"
"Your confidence is inspiring, Chief." Sharon replied archly.
The waiter appeared to clear their plates, and offer up the dessert menu.
"We won't need the menu. A zucatto and two spoons." Brenda grinned wickedly.
"This all seems so familiar…"
"Why mess with perfection, after all?"
They shared the rich confection, and Brenda encouraged Sharon to finish off the wine, before they took their leave. On the way home, Brenda realized that a slightly tipsy Sharon Raydor was an extremely handsy Sharon Raydor, and she was grateful that she'd limited her wine consumption, because navigating the highways back to Sharon's house required all of her focus, thanks in no small part to the questing digits wandering along her thighs, and the warm breath on her neck. As she put the car in park in Sharon's driveway, she leaned down and brushed her hand along the smooth skin of Sharon's ankle.
"Do you remember?" She whispered, dragging her nails along the gentle curve of her calf.
"Yes. Of course I do." Sharon breathed, letting her head fall back against the headrest.
"I wanted so much to do this…" She slid her hand over the cap of Sharon's knee, drifting along the smooth skin of her inner thigh.
"I wanted you to touch me, just like that. Even though I knew it was crazy and even though I knew you were married, and even though I knew what it felt like to be the unwitting partner—I couldn't help how much I wanted you."
"I think it was inevitable, don't you? I mean, from the start, my feelings for you were stronger than normal. Initially, it was rage against your rules, and your structure. Who has time for all that? But then, sometimes, when we'd butt heads, afterwards, I'd have this ache, deep in my spine, or my belly, and I'd chalk it up to misfired synapses, the thin line between love and hate, or something. That day in the morgue, though…it all changed."
"For the better, I'd hope." Sharon's voice was ragged with arousal, as Brenda's fingers played across the damp fabric of her panties.
"I'd say so. Now, I plan on taking you to bed, Sharon Raydor, and loving you all night long. I also plan on going first."
"After you, Chief Johnson." Sharon replied, gasping as Brenda slid her fingers along slick folds. "Always."