A/N: Well, here we are. Last chapter. I hope everyone has enjoyed it and I truly appreciate every single reader, and each review. Will there be more? I don't know. The writing muse is a little weary right now, but I'm always open to suggestions. Just PM me if you have a thought. Hope you like the last chapter as well as the first, and please, please, R&R! Thanks again!
Disclaimer: I do not own or operate "The Closer."
Chapter 25: The Heart of the Matter
Andy noticed Kelly was a little antsy Wednesday morning as they drove to work. "What's the matter with you?" he asked.
"Weather. It may get bad this afternoon," she answered, peering through the windshield at the sky.
"The sun's out!" Andy answered.
"Doesn't matter. In fact, that could make it worse. I'll have to check the weather when we get in." When they arrived in the squadroom, Kelly fired up her computer and checked the National Weather Service site. "Oh, shoot. We're already under a tornado watch," she said.
Casey had come in. "Already? Crap. That ain't good. When's it supposed to get here?"
"Sometime between 1 and 3," Kelly answered. She checked her e-mail. "Well, the Emergency Management Agency is taking it seriously. Coordination meeting at 11:30 a.m. Good thing we're not working on anything else right now."
"Yeah," Casey agreed. "Cause we'll all be working storm duty this afternoon."
Andy was looking confused. "What exactly is a tornado watch? I mean, what does it tell you?"
"They're issued by the Storms Prediction Center in Oklahoma," Kelly explained. "Means if we get a thunderstorm, that the atmospheric conditions are favorable for a tornado to form. They're usually issued several hours before they expect the bad stuff to hit, so people can get ready. A watch at 8 a.m. means things are going to get started early in the afternoon, probably." She looked at the screen again. "Oh no."
"What is it?" Casey asked.
"It's a PDS watch."
"Eeeew," he answered.
"And that is?" Andy asked.
"Particularly Dangerous Situation. The Storms Center doesn't issue many of those, and when they do, it's because they expect really, really bad weather. Let me look at the advisory." She read the notice. "Yay. It says 'strong, long-track tornadoes are possible with this system.' Oh, fun. I guess the Chief knows."
Chief Carroll walked in. "About the weather? Yeah, I know. I was hoping we'd get through the spring without too much of this." He looked over at Andy. "You're about to get an education. I'll talk to everyone when we're all here."
When the full crew had arrived, the chief went to the front of the room. "O.K., people. I know we've all heard the weather forecast. It's supposed to get bad this afternoon. For the most part, our uniforms will be doing traffic and so forth. But any of us may end up doing anything. It's gonna be that kind of day. If you took the chainsaw certification classes, go draw your chainsaw from supply and gas it up. Everyone needs to have a full tank of gas in their department cars, and park your personal cars in the underground garage. If we get hail, you don't want them to be damaged. Also, make sure you have your 5-gallon gas cans filled and your towing line in your vehicles. Check your first-aid kits and restock them. Go get blankets and a couple of flats of bottled water. Make sure you have your reflective vests and for God's sake, if you're out in a bad area, wear your boots and body armor. And if you find yourself driving in a bad storm, don't act like you're in a movie and drive through the heaviest rain. You might find yourself right in the middle of a funnel cloud. Listen to the spotters on the radio. If one says he sees a funnel cloud, note the location, but always wait for confirmation from a second spotter. Anything else?"
"Yes, chief," Kelly raised her hand. "If you've got a smart phone, download the National Weather Service app. It will keep you updated on when tornado warnings are issued."
"I forgot to mention that, Kelly. That's right. If you find yourself somewhere without power, that could come in handy. All right. Andy, you go with Casey today. He knows the area and we'll be working anywhere within a 20-mile radius as long as it's in the county. Kelly, you and Shantina pair up, and Lacey, you and Morris are together today. Jon worked last night so he's coming in at one. First priority: stay safe. Do what you can, as you can, but be safe about it. Calls where human life is in immediate danger always take precedence. Oh, and that reminds me. ALWAYS make sure dispatch knows where you are. If you get in a bad spot, we'll know where to find you. If you can't raise our dispatch, call the county sheriff or EMS and have them relay your position. Somebody needs to know where you are at all times. If I need to update after the EMA meeting, I will, but I think we've covered everything."
The last time Andy had been involved in anything like this was the last time an earthquake had hit the Los Angeles area. Fortunately, the bad ones were infrequent. He supposed the advantage was that, if you knew a bad storm was on the way, you could prepare. Predicting earthquakes was much more chancy. He looked over at Kelly. "Can't you, like, see tornadoes coming from a long way off? All the footage I've ever seen of them was made from miles away."
"You can if you're some place like Oklahoma or anywhere it's flat and there aren't any obstructions," Kelly explained. "The trouble with them around here is that the terrain is rolling, so your horizons aren't nearly as far away, and they frequently come wrapped in a rain curtain, so all you see is rain, not a funnel cloud. But if you're listening, you'll hear it long before you see it."
Andy looked impressed. "Wow. How do you know this stuff?"
Casey chuckled. "Self-preservation. Kelly, Morris and Lacey remember the '74 Super Outbreak, and we all remember the '89 tornado that hit Airport Road. Know your enemy," he said.
"1974?" Andy asked. "Seems like I remember something about that. A town in Ohio, maybe, got hit?"
"Yeah, Xenia. Just about wiped that place off the map," Morris said. "And I was working here that night. I'd joined the force in 1973, so I was still a rookie. It was awful. You've never seen anything like it. And the '89 storm hit about 4:20 in the afternoon – just as rush hour started. It was a nightmare. I think 23 people were killed. So yeah, we take it damn seriously around here."
"Have any of you ever seen one up close?" Andy asked.
"Not real close," Morris said. "I've seen one on the ground, I think it was in '93. Wasn't a very strong one. We'll need to get you into the next spotter class so you can get trained on how to know one when you see one. We've all taken the class."
Spotter class? These people were serious. "O.K. Sure," Andy said. He looked over to Kelly. "Kelly, have you ever seen one?"
She nodded. "But only by chance. I was still substituting, when one of my students came in from P.E. and said the sky had turned green. That's never good, by the way. So, I went outside, and saw what I know now was a funnel cloud, still in the air. It's hard to describe, but if you've ever seen one, you'll remember it. It's like part of the sky tears itself off and starts rotating."
"Wow. That's amazing," Andy said.
"Well, we can't sit here all day telling war stories," Morris said. "I need to go get a chainsaw and gas up my vehicle."
"Yeah," Kelly said, "And I'll go move my car to the garage. Shantina, you want to check our car for gas and stuff, and when I get through moving my car, I'll move yours?"
"Sounds good to me. Here's my keys," she said, handing them to Kelly.
Andy was still doubtful about the seriousness of the weather until he looked out the west window and saw a low, gray bank of clouds rolling in. In 20 minutes or so, the sky was dark and heavy, and thunder could be heard rumbling in the distance. The wind rose and large raindrops began to fall. They had the television on in the squad room and an alert noise sounded.
"What is it?" Chief Carroll asked.
Shantina read the crawler. "Ummm, tornado warning in Tishomingo County, Mississippi, and severe thunderstorm warnings in Colbert and Lauderdale counties. Moving, ehhh, 50 miles per hour, east-northeast."
"Usual track," Kelly said. "We've got right at an hour, then, if the cells maintain that speed."
"All right," said the chief. "Casey, you and Andy get going and meet the ambulance under the Jordan Lane overpass at 565. Shantina, you and Kelly move out to South Parkway and meet the ambulance at Airport Road. Morris and Lacey, I want you out North Parkway towards A&M. Stay under the overpasses until the ambulances move out and follow them. Jon will direct people to our public shelter. Be careful, people."
A chorus of acknowledgments followed. Kelly went to Casey. "You take care of him or your head belongs to me," she said, indicating Andy. She went to Andy and squeezed his hand. "Be careful," she said. He smiled at her.
As Shantina and Kelly waited with the ambulance, they were watching the weather rapidly deteriorate. "It's about to get ugly," Kelly said, peering at the radar image on her iPhone. Then the hail started. Under the overpass, they were protected, but they could hear the hailstones pounding around them.
Casey and Andy were watching the same storm, facing southwest, and listening to the spotters. Casey nudged Andy. "You wanted to see a funnel cloud."
Andy looked where Casey indicated and the hair on the back of his neck stood on end. As Kelly had described, it looked like a piece of the sky had come away and wrapped around itself. There was a bright patch behind. The cloud was roiling and horizontal. "It hasn't touched down yet," Casey said. "Plenty of rotation in it, though."
Andy watched in horrified fascination as the cloud passed south of their location, still in the air, still apparently warring with itself. He'd been in earthquakes, had seen floods and wildfires. This, though, was an entirely different proposition. The cloud seemed to expand and contract midair as it rotated. "Holy shit," he said.
"Yep, that about covers it," said Casey. He got on the radio. "Shantina, funnel cloud midair, just west of the Space Center. Probably crossing the Arsenal now. Moving pretty quick, so you all hang on tight."
"You got it, Casey," she answered.
The ambulance next to the men moved forward, lights flashing. "Here we go," Casey said, following the vehicle out on to the freeway. He was on the radio with it. "What we got, HEMSI unit ten?"
"Three cars overturned on Old Madison Pike, with entrapment. Truck 40 is on the way with the jaws."
"Copy that. HP unit out."
"Three overturned cars?" Andy asked.
"Yeah. Probably high-profiles like SUVs, and the wind caught them."
"I've only heard of that happening in the desert," Andy said.
"Happens in this kind of weather, too."
Out on South Parkway, Shantina and Kelly spotted the cloud Casey and Andy saw. "Looks like it's fallin' apart," Shantina said.
"God, I hope so," Kelly answered.
About 8 p.m., Casey and Andy staggered into the squad room. The chief met them. "Good work, guys. The Red Cross people came by and brought cokes, sandwiches and pizzas. They're in the break room."
"Kelly and Shantina?" Andy asked.
"On their way in, last I heard," the chief answered with a smile. "We dodged the bullet."
Andy looked at Chief Carroll like he was crazy. "Whaddaya mean? It was chaos out there!"
"Compared to what it could have been, it wasn't too bad. Mostly vehicle accidents. Some trees and power lines down, roofs off houses, that kind of thing. There were ten fatalities in Mississippi. We had injuries here, but none serious."
Casey had four sandwiches and was drinking a soda. "Yeah, this was more like a drill. The worst of it went south of us. Heard it got real bad around Cullman."
The chief nodded. "Yep. Possible fatals down there.
"How many more times this spring?" Andy asked.
"Hopefully not many, but some years are worse than others," Casey answered. "You never know. Once we get through April, it should calm down a little. Chief, remember November '89? Tornadoes that afternoon and once the cold front came through that evening, we had snow flurries."
"I'll never forget it," he answered.
Andy grabbed a slice of pizza and a bottle of water. He was starting to wonder where Kelly was. He was a little concerned. Several minutes later, his cell rang. It was Kelly. "Where are you?" he asked.
Kelly smiled at the worry in his voice. "We're fine, hon. Just getting through traffic, that's all. We'll be there in just a little bit."
Some 30 minutes later, Kelly and Shantina came in. "Woof," Kelly said, collapsing at her desk. "When are people gonna learn to get out of trailers when there's a tornado?"
"When Jesus comes back," Casey said.
"You're right," Kelly agreed. "We had to stand by while the fire department basically peeled the trailer wall back like the top of a sardine can to get the people out. It's just by God's mercy they weren't killed or hurt real bad."
"Where were they?" Casey asked.
"Out past Hobbs Island Road. They said they didn't have anywhere else to go. A ditch would have been better. I don't know how many times the wind rolled that trailer over. It was 100 yards from where it originally sat."
"A hundred yards? You serious?" Andy asked.
"Oh yeah," Shantina answered. "It must have been like being tossed around in a clothes dryer, but they were all right. Bumped and bruised is all."
Andy brought Kelly two slices of pizza and a soda. "Thanks, sugar," she said. "You'd better eat here, because when we get home, I'm going to bed! If you want anything else, you can cook it yourself."
"Cooking? No way. Not after a day like this." He exhaled and shook his head.
On the way home, Kelly was driving carefully, dodging tree limbs in the road. "It could have been worse," she said.
"That's what everyone else was saying," Andy answered, "But it was pretty bad."
"Not really. No one was killed. Only a few houses were completely destroyed. Considering what the weather people thought was going to happen, we got off fairly lightly."
"I guess so," he replied. "Hope your house is all right."
Kelly smiled. "I think it is. I haven't heard about any damage much out this way." As they pulled into her subdivision, she said, "See? Everything looks pretty normal."
"Yeah it does." Andy was relieved for everyone involved.
"Good time to buy a car," Kelly said.
"What do you mean, buy a car?"
"Hail damage. The dealerships can pop those dents out and replace windshields, but you can get a new car for a big, fat discount. Like, get a new one for the price of a good used one. They can't put the new car price on a car with hail damage. I imagine all the dealerships will be running hail sales by the end of the week. We'll have to keep an eye on the paper."
Andy shook his head. "I guess I know what I'll be doing this weekend."
"Look, Elaine. The only people who are going to be there are Pastor Walt, Sandra and Elle. That's it. None of Andy's family will be there. I'm not snubbing anybody. Mama hates weddings, and you know that. It's really just going to be the ceremony. We'll plan a reception for later on for the family."
Elaine was not pleased with Kelly's wedding plans. "It just sounds like you don't want me there."
Kelly counted to ten. "Elaine, we want something small. And the only reason I asked Elle is because we needed two witnesses and she's doing my flowers so it makes sense." Well, that and because Kelly just wanted her niece to be there, but it wouldn't do to tell Elaine that. At all.
Elaine had come to Kelly's house and they were in the kitchen. Andy and Casey had taken off somewhere. Kelly wasn't sure what they were up to. Looking at cars, maybe
"I'd just think you'd want your sister there."
Honestly, Elaine could be like a broken record. "Even Mama won't be there. Not that it will bother her that much. We'll have a photographer there for like, forty-five minutes. Otherwise, only us. Can't you just be happy for me, Elaine?"
"I'm happy for you. But I feel like you don't want your family involved in this and that bothers me."
"Sometimes, I don't think you're happy unless I'm miserable, Elaine!" Kelly exclaimed. "While I was missing Andy so much I was crying myself to sleep nearly every night, you were all encouraging and upbeat. Now that he's back, and we're getting married and something in my life is working out, you're just acting ugly."
"Well, if anything in my life ever worked out, I might not feel that way."
That did it. "I knew it! I knew it was that jealousy that rules your life. Well, let me tell you something. You've got some things I can't have and some I may never have, so why don't you count your blessings for a change and let me have something good in my life?" Kelly was near tears. She knew this was coming. It was just a matter of when.
"What do you mean by that? Everything's always worked out for you," Elaine said bitterly.
"It has for you, too! Ellie is so beautiful, and Thad is so wonderful and has always been so good to you. So you've got kids, and I can't have them. Yeah, I know I said I wasn't cut out to be a mom, but it would still be nice to have the option, you know? But I don't."
"You didn't have to have that hysterectomy at 27," Elaine said.
Kelly rolled her eyes. "No, not strictly. But what were my chances of getting pregnant and carrying it to term, anyway? Slim to none, that's what, and you know it. You know what else? You and Thad will probably see your 25th anniversary. Playing the odds, yeah, you will. If you both stay in reasonably good health, you've got a good shot at seeing your 50th anniversary. Andy's in good health, but I'll be lucky to have 25 years with him. He'll be 80 by then. Thad's five years younger than you are. In 25 years, barring any unforeseen accidents, you'll both be watching your grandkids grow up. In 25 years I could well be a widow, just playing the life expectancy odds. So pardon me for not letting you have your pity party because my fiancé is better looking than your husband. Lord knows, I've waited long enough for him, and I intend to appreciate him for as long as the Lord sees fit to let me. You really need to do the same for Thad."
Kelly's words made Elaine angry, but suddenly, the thought of her watching grandchildren grow while her sister was a widow threw cold water on that emotion. It wasn't Kelly being morbid. It was true. "I don't guess I ever looked at it like that," she admitted.
"Well, sometimes, we just need to be grateful for what we've got."
"You're right. I'm sorry."
"I'm sorry I yelled at you," Kelly said.
"I guess I deserved it."
Casey and Andy blew in about that time. "Kellybean! Got anything to eat? I'm starving!" Casey said.
"There's a couple of apples in the crisper drawer in the fridge, and I've got peanut butter and jelly. You must be out of Pop Tarts and Diet Mountain Dew. Or chili cheese Fritos, or whatever junk it is you eat when Shantina and I aren't around to keep an eye on you."
Andy got a laugh out of that, especially when Casey said, "See, Andy? What did I tell you? They think it's their job to keep me in line!"
"Join the club," Andy chuckled.
"What were you two up to, anyway?" Kelly asked.
"Scouring the car lots," Andy answered. "You were right about the hail discounts. We found some good deals. I'm just trying to decide what I want." Something about the twinkle in his eye made Kelly suspicious.
"Let me guess. You found a steal on a new Camaro and you're wondering if you'd look ridiculous driving it," she said dryly.
The look on Andy's face told her she had hit pay dirt. He looked over at Casey.
"Well, I didn't tell her! You know how she is! She can take one look at me and know when I've been cheating on my diet."
"That's because you look guilty when you cheat. You've never had a poker face in your life, Casey. And as for you, Andrew, I was just picking at you. I had no idea what you were looking for. I was just messing with you. You know, midlife crisis and sports cars. I could have said a Porsche."
Andy wasn't so sure of that at all, but he said, "Really, I'm trying to decide if I want a sedan or a small pickup."
Casey had made himself a sandwich and was halfway through it. "Get the truck, Andy. You can haul stuff in a truck." Clearly, this was important to Casey.
"I'll think about it. I'm going to do more looking."
"Do you like it?" Kelly said. Elle looked at the dress her aunt was considering for her wedding. They called the color "rum pink" and it was beautiful, in her opinion. The dress was tea-length, with a fitted bodice that fell to an A-line skirt. It was shell-pink lace over pink satin and had a scoop neck and cap sleeves.
Elle sighed. "It's beautiful, Kelly. Just gorgeous. And your pearls will be gorgeous with it."
"I thought the same thing," Kelly said, as she turned so she could see the back in the three-way mirror. "And cream or bone pumps, I think?" she said.
"Yeah. Too much pink and it would look like a prom dress," Elle answered.
"I think you're right." She went into the dressing room and got changed, then came out with the dress. "Let's go to the jewelry store after we get out of here. I've got to pick a ring for Andy. And something else, but I don't know what."
"What kind of ring are you going to have?"
"Plain, narrow gold band. I hate rings. But I think I can wear this one," Kelly said. She bought the dress, and the salon promised to have it steamed and pressed the day before the wedding.
In the jewelry store, Kelly found a white gold milgrain wedding band. "How about this?" she asked her niece.
Elle examined the ring. "Yeah. Definitely. This silver against his olive skin? Makes me drool."
Kelly giggled. "I thought the same thing. Now, for a wedding present." She turned to the sales associate. "I'd like to see the watches, please." She found one with a white gold milgrain bezel that matched the wedding band. It had a black face and white gold hands and numbers and a stainless steel band. She put the watch beside the ring on the velvet display board. "That's the one, definitely."
"Andy's going to wonder what hit him," Elle confidently predicted.
"And so is my bank account, but he's absolutely worth it," Kelly answered.
"He's just so sweet!" Elle enthused.
Kelly laughed. "He is that, but you two have a mutual admiration society going, anyway. His daughter doesn't like to be touched. No hugs, that kind of thing. You're just an affection hog, though, and I think you get the love he'd like to show Bridget."
"I'm not an affection hog!" Elle protested.
"A love sponge, then."
She considered it. "O.K. A love sponge. That works. Wonder why his daughter doesn't like to be hugged or anything?" Hugs were a major part of Elle's life, and she couldn't imagine not wanting them.
"I don't know. She's just a little weird that way. The only time I've ever seen her really hug her dad is right after he was cleared of that rape charge. She did then. I'm just sorry that's what it took for her to appreciate him."
"I can't believe that witch did that to Andy," Elle said.
Kelly made a growling noise. "She is so lucky I didn't take a shotgun after her. If we had been here, I might have. And that sorry, no-count boyfriend of hers? Ooooh, what I wanted to do to him."
"I don't blame you. But now that we have your dress swatch, we can go to the florist and pick out flowers. Guess we'll have to do that this week, though, since it's Sunday," Elle said, keeping to their plans.
"We need flowers, too, don't we? Let's see. Andy's wearing that charcoal gray suit and tie and white shirt. What should his boutonniere be?"
"Charcoal gray? Mercy. I might marry him, instead!" Elle teased.
"You do and I won't get after you with a shotgun, but I will take a switch to you!"
"I'd say you'd have to catch me first, but I think you could." Both laughed at that.
"Yeah, I'd be well motivated," Kelly answered.
Kelly had Elle take the jewelry store bag back to the guest bedroom as soon as they got in the door.
"Find anything?" Andy asked.
"Found a dress," Kelly answered.
"Will I like it?"
"I think so."
Elle came from the back room. "Hey Andy!" she said and gave him a hug. "Can I just hug on him a while, Kelly?"
"Fine with me," Kelly said with a grin. Andy always looked so pleased when Elle said something like that. He really did miss being able to hug his own daughter. So he tugged at her hair, and she smiled up at him.
"You're so cute," she said.
"I'm cute now, she says, Kelly."
"Well, she's right, but that's not a bad thing to be. I told her she was a love sponge. Actually, I said affection hog, but she didn't like that term much."
Andy laughed. "Yeah, you're a love sponge, all right. But I really can't say that I mind." And he didn't. He thought Ellie was a wonderful young woman, and it pleased him no end that she liked him, too.
Elle reached up to kiss Andy's cheek and said, "I'll see you all later. Gotta run!"
"Be careful, Elliebelle," Kelly said.
"Will do!" she answered as she went out the door.
"I like that kid," Andy said, watching her leave.
"Well, she loves you, that's for sure. I told her just today I think she gets some of the love you'd like to give to Bridget, but can't because she won't let you."
Andy nodded and went to sit on the sofa. "You've got a point. Found a car today."
Kelly joined him. "Oh really? What did you get?"
"It was kind of a tough decision, really. The last thing I wanted was some old man car," he said.
"So you don't get a Buick, a Lincoln or a Cadillac. Lots left to choose from after that," Kelly answered. "And I've already told you I don't care. You're the one making the car payments, not me."
Andy grinned at her. "See, I thought about that."
"You got the Camaro, didn't you?"
He actually turned a little red as he said, "Yeah. Yeah, I did. Nicest car I've ever had. All I've ever been able to afford are pieces of crap on wheels. And cars are so damn expensive in California, along with insurance, gas and maintenance, you know, I've just kind of limped along. I could always drive my department car if I had to in L.A. But with the hail discount, and cars being so much cheaper here anyway, I could swing it."
"So where is it?" Kelly asked.
"In the body shop. There's a reason I got the huge discount. It had a dent the size of a basketball and a bunch of smaller ones on the hood and top, along with a cracked windshield and one hailstone or rock or something hit the spoiler exactly right and split it in two. Plus all the paint dings. So, it's getting what amounts to a complete body re-work for free."
Kelly nodded. "Mind if I ask what you paid for it?"
"Well, sticker was twenty-four five, but the sales guy said they were already coming ten percent off that for the coming weekend, which made it $22,000. And then, with all the hail damage, would you believe, they lopped off another thirty-five percent, which took it down to $14,300. And they're fixing it for free!"
Her eyes widened. "Wow! I'm impressed! Well, I guess when you think about it, they were looking at the value with nothing done to it, which would be less than what you paid for it. So, by fixing it up and giving you the discount, it's off the lot, frees up space for a new one, they've made a sale and garnered some good will. You'll look there for another car at some point."
"Or you will."
Kelly grinned. "Nope. Not me. I drive Fords. Cold air, remember? So when will your new baby be ready for the road?"
"A week or ten days. Maybe before Saturday. Maybe not. I took a picture. Want to see it?" He took his phone from his pocket.
"Sure." Kelly peered at the image. "Black. I figured. That son-of-a-gun's gonna be an oven in the summer time, you know that."
"That's what a/c is for, Kelly."
"I know. Red stripes on the hood. Yeah, I can see that ginormous dent. But, it is gonna be one more badass looking car when it's fixed up. It's not an old man car, that's for sure."
Andy chuckled. "Will I look too ridiculous driving it?"
Kelly had a mental picture of Andy in sunglasses behind the wheel. Made her pulse skip. "Nah. And it's not really a midlife crisis car. It's the car you always wanted, and can now afford. There is a difference."
"I almost feel a little guilty, buying that beast when you've got a practical little sedan sitting in the driveway," he said.
Kelly grinned. "Don't. I love my Focus. Even more, I love the gas mileage. Is this car a V6 or V8?"
"Well, that's a little better. But while I'm still going on the same tank of gas I got at the beginning of the week, you'll have to fill up again."
"Dealer said it got 28 on the highway."
"Yep, and my little four-banger gets 35. And about 28 in town."
"Well, it's my gas-guzzler now," Andy said.
"That's all right, baby. Long as you're happy with it. That's all that matters. And I've got something for you," she said.
"Let me go get it," she answered.
Kelly went to the bedroom and returned with Andy's wedding present. She resumed her seat next to him.
"What's in this?" Andy said when Kelly presented him with the box containing his new watch.
"Open it and see. It's your wedding present from me."
He did and saw the watch. His face was unreadable for a moment.
"You don't like it?" Kelly said anxiously.
He smiled a little incredulously at her. "How could a guy not love this watch? It's fantastic. Thank you so much." He took off his old watch and put on the new one. It looked stunning on his wrist. "Wow. I didn't expect this."
"I had to get you something for those pearls you bought for me! And you're always griping about how scratched up the crystal on your old one is."
Andy leaned to kiss Kelly so softly. That alone told her he was overwhelmed. By a watch, of all things. "It's perfect. What made you pick this one?"
Kelly shrugged and grinned. "I was looking at watches, and this one winked at me and said 'Take me home to Andy.' So I did."
He laughed. "It's beautiful, babe. I'll be proud to wear it."
The ladies in homicide insisted on taking Kelly on a girls' night out. Even Cindy said she felt well enough to join them for one night. They met at a Mexican restaurant, where they sat on the patio, drank daiquiris and ate enough cheese dip and chips for an army. Landon, Cindy's husband, was the official designated driver, and would pick them all up and take them home when they were ready to go. Kelly had her one "leaded" drink, and like Cindy, drank virgin daiquiris the rest of the evening.
After about four of the leaded kind, Lacey looked over at Kelly. "Now we want to know. We've discussed this, for your information, and we want to know."
"O.K. What?" Kelly said.
"About Andy," Lacey answered.
"What about him?"
"Guys who look as good as he does, and honey, he looks good, you know, so we want to know if he's that good in everything else."
"Yeah," Shantina giggled. "I'm buzzed so I'm blunt. Is the man as good in bed as he looks like he would be?"
Kelly and Cindy looked at each other and burst out laughing. "I'm sober," Cindy said, "but I have to admit to being curious."
"Lord, you three are awful!" Kelly exclaimed, still laughing. "What do you want? Measurements?"
Lacey cocked her head. "That would be a start," she said.
Kelly rolled her eyes. "I can't believe you all. You're crazy!"
"So are you gonna tell us or not?" Shantina asked.
"I'll say that he is definitely as good as he looks like he would be," Kelly answered.
"So what was it like the very first time?" Lacey said.
At that question, Kelly raised her eyebrows and shook her head with a grin. "Let's just say nobody had to rock me to sleep."
"I like it when they wear you out," Shantina said approvingly. "What else?"
"Shan, you're incorrigible."
"I knew that much. What else?"
Kelly looked heavenward. "O.K. I was sore. All over. All over. And I had to hide a hickey all weekend, all right? From there, you can let your overly active imaginations take over. That's all you're getting out of me on the subject."
"Oooh, he's a wild man. Mmm, mmm, mmm. I knew he was. I just knew it," Lacey said.
"I swear, we sound like a bunch of teenagers, you know it?" Kelly answered.
Cindy nodded. "Yeah, and we're bored teenagers. I mean, I'm 55 months pregnant and have to keep my feet up all the time. What excitement do I get out of life?"
"When is your due date, anyway?" Kelly asked.
"Three years from now," Cindy groused. "No, really, they keep changing it. It's up to May fourth, now."
"Bless your heart," Kelly said. "I know you're tired of this. One bright spot. At least it's not the middle of August."
"Oh, don't I know it!" Cindy answered. "I'd have never made it."
"Now girls, you all cannot be leering at Andy in the squadroom in the morning. He picks up on that kind of thing, and I could get into trouble. Plus, it would embarrass the devil out of him," Kelly admonished.
"Oh, we'll behave," Lacey said. "We'll just giggle in the ladies room."
"That's fine. Just not in front of Andy."
Saturday morning dawned clear, much to Kelly's joy. Should be a beautiful day for her wedding. In keeping with one tradition, Andy had opted to spend the night at Casey's house. Elle would pick him up there and they would ride together. Kelly was driving herself. Elaine had come over and helped her with her hair and make-up. "I'll dress at the cabin near the chapel," Kelly said. It was an hour's drive to the camp and she didn't want to wrinkle her dress beyond repair.
Elle helped her get ready and handed her aunt the bouquet of tulips that exactly matched her dress. "How's Andy holding up?" Kelly asked.
"Asked me at least five times if I really knew where I was going when I turned off the highway. He's nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. But he did tell me about his two previous tries at this. His first wedding was a big Catholic to-do at some huge church in Jersey. Whole nine yards. He and the Barracuda got married in a Vegas wedding chapel. So this is a change for him."
"I'll say," Kelly answered.
"Well, you're ready as you'll ever be," Elle said. "Pastor Walt, Sandra and Andy are in the chapel. Ready to go?" she asked.
Elle handed her aunt a handful of tissues. "I know you," she said.
Kelly giggled at that. "You could be right."
Elle preceded Kelly into the chapel, as Andy looked around at the place. It was beautiful. The steep, peaked roof had exposed beams and the walls were native stone halfway up, and above the wainscoting was local pine paneling. The plain wooden pews were big enough for two. A kneeling rail in the front was made of wood, and the kneeling bench was stone, covered in a simple cushion. A wooden cross stood on the stone altar and clear windows cut to the angle of the roof looked east into the woods. A light was on over the altar, but that was the only illumination needed. It was a serene, holy place. The prayers said over the years in the building seemed to saturate the walls and Andy could definitely feel a Presence greater than himself there. It had been a long time since he and the Almighty had been quite as near to each other. He understood why Kelly wanted to be married here.
Her pastor was a foot shorter than Andy, balding, with merry blue eyes behind his glasses, and a grin that lit up the room.
"It's one of the greatest pleasures of my life to marry you two," he said to Andy.
"Thank you, pastor," Andy answered.
"Here's your beautiful bride, now," Pastor Walt said.
Andy turned to see Kelly in the doorway and as she walked the short way to him, he looked with admiration at her dress. She smiled at him.
Pastor Walt took their hands and said, "Nothing gives a minister more joy than to perform the sacrament of marriage for someone he performed the sacrament of baptism for. Today is a joy for me." He turned to Andy. "When Kelly was nine years old, I baptized her. She made that decision with knowledge then, and I'm satisfied she is making the decision to marry with knowledge now."
He then joined their hands and began the service of marriage. Kelly grinned at Andy as she placed the ring on his finger and he looked a little bemused as he did the same. They knelt at the altar for a prayer and a blessing and Pastor Walt raised them up and his blue eyes shone as he said, "Now, with rejoicing in my heart, I pronounce you man and wife." Andy kissed Kelly gently and they stood, hands clasped, looking at each other for a moment that seemed suspended in eternity.
The suite at the Wynfrey was beautiful. Inside, they found sparkling cider, strawberries, with and without chocolate, and a miniature wedding cake – just enough for two.
"This is your doing, Andrew," Kelly said, seeing the goodies presented
He shrugged. "Since there wasn't a reception, I figured we should have something, at least. The people here were more than happy to help."
Kelly had gone to the window, and looked out over the busy Birmingham streets. It was quiet in the room, though.
Andy took his coat off and came to stand behind her, hands on her shoulders. "I don't think I ever got around to telling you how beautiful that dress is, and how beautiful you are in it."
"Thank you, sugar. You look almighty handsome, yourself."
He took her hand and led her to the loveseat and pulled her down to sit in his lap. After a long kiss, he said, "This is what I've looked for. I've just wanted you."
"So what are you going to do now that you've got me?" Kelly teased.
He nuzzled into her hair and sighed. "Love you. Hold you. Take care of you."
"I think I can live with that," she answered. "Because, obviously, I've waited a long, long time for you, mister."
"I'll do my best to live up to your expectations," he said. He kissed the base of her neck and parted her hair to nibble at the skin there. He eased the zipper down on her dress, his hands smoothing the skin on her back. His breath on her neck raised chillbumps on her skin and she sighed. "You know what that does to me," she whispered.
"Yeah, I'm counting on what it does to you," Andy said, scraping his teeth lightly against her skin, and soothing it with tiny kisses. He continued unzipping the dress and slid it off her shoulders. "I know you wish you had darker skin, but I love it. I'm glad you're not a sun-worshiper. Your skin is so beautiful." He kissed her shoulders.
"It's awfully pale," Kelly answered.
"And it's like satin. It's so soft. I love to touch it," he said against her ear. "Besides, I turn dark enough for the both of us when I get out in the sun." He turned her to face him. "Kiss me, Kelly Flynn."
"Gladly, Andrew," she said, catching his perfect mouth with hers. She threaded her fingers through his hair and felt the slight scrape of stubble on her chin. He had shaved, but his beard was heavy, especially on his chin. She slid her hands underneath his collar, lightly scratching the nape of his neck, bringing his mouth closer so she could kiss him like she wanted to. His mouth was soft under hers as she outlined his lower lip with her tongue, and then did the same to his upper lip, and moved to touch his tongue with hers. She positioned herself on his lap facing him and while she was kissing him with every bit of imagination she had, her hands were busy loosening his tie. It came away and went to the floor. She then felt for one wrist and unbuttoned the sleeve cuff and did the same to the other wrist. She unbuttoned his shirt and ran her hands down the skin on his chest as she did.
"You want to take this to the bedroom?" Andy said in her ear.
"Absolutely," Kelly answered. She stood and Andy finished unzipping her dress and it pooled at her feet. She had wriggled out of the "body armor" as he called it, in the bathroom, and stood in a matching pink satin bra and tap pants, trimmed in cream lace. She stepped out of her cream pumps and took Andy's hands to draw him to standing and kissed him again. She led him to the bedroom and sat on the bed and watched as he took his shirt off. It was indeed those little things that were so sexy to her, like the way the white gold of his watch and wedding band looked against his olive skin. His pants went next and Kelly's jaw dropped as she saw he was wearing the gift she bought him just to make him laugh: black silk boxers. He had gotten a laugh out of them, but had resolved to get the last laugh by wearing them for her.
Kelly's mouth dropped open. "Great day in the morning," she croaked. There had to be something in the Code of Alabama declaring anything that looked this good a class A felony. And not only was he standing there looking totally, impossibly sexy, but he was her husband. She still hadn't wrapped her brain around that concept. He was all hers by civil and canonical law.
"Come over here, you fine-lookin' thing," she said.
"So you like the boxers, huh?" Andy said, his grin evil.
"In a word, yeah."
"I"ll remember that," he answered.
Kelly held out her hand to him. "Well, c'mere. Unless you're just planning to watch TV all afternoon."
That got a laugh. "There's only one thing I have planned for this afternoon," he said, coming to sit beside and behind her on the bed. He brought his mouth down to the back of her neck again, and around to her ear. "And that's makin' you scream loud enough to make the neighbors complain."
"Come on then, big man."
He started those little nips again. "You don't believe I can do it?" Andy's voice was like roughened velvet.
"Oh, I believe you can. I know you can. I'm just waiting to see how," was the answer he got.
That sexy, low chuckle rumbled in his chest and Kelly felt fire low in her belly. The kisses on her neck continued and she felt her bra come unclasped. She started to slide it down her arms, but Andy stopped her. "Nope. All you're gonna do is what I tell you to do."
"Is that so? I'll remind you, big man, that paybacks are hell."
"So I've heard," he said, continuing those maddening kisses and nips along her neck and shoulder lines. "We'll see about that."
"Yeah, we will." Revenge was a dish best served cold, after all. In the meantime, she was happy to let him be the alpha male. He was so well suited to it, after all.
Andy slipped Kelly's bra straps off her shoulders and it hit the floor. He brought his hands around to cup her breasts, his thumbs teasing her nipples to arousal. Her back was still against his chest and he brought his long legs around her, bringing her close to his groin and holding her in place with his hands and mouth. Kelly raised her hand to his head, to stroke that thick hair she so envied. He put his mouth to her ear and said, "I wonder if I could make you come just like this, whispering to you and touching you."
Fire started in Kelly's toes and raced all the way up her body. "Almost," she said raggedly.
"Yeah, I think it could almost happen. Maybe if I told you how I love holding you and touching your breasts. They're so soft and fit right into my hands. The first time I kissed you, I almost had you right there in that alley. And I thought about kissing you the rest of the day. When I closed my eyes, I was kissing you again. At your house that night, I could hardly stand to be a gentleman, when all I really wanted to do was take your clothes off, get you in bed and make love to you all night. You were in my blood even then."
Kelly leaned her head back against his shoulder, eyes closed. Just Andy's whispers were the most potent aphrodisiac she could think of. "And when I finally did make love to you for the first time, I couldn't believe how hot you were. You were insatiable that night. Remember?" He laughed again, and Kelly literally curled her toes with desire. "Now I know why, though. It had been so long since anyone had loved you or cared for you, or told you how special you are. Nobody should have to go through that. But as long as I'm around, you won't have to go through it again. You're my woman and my wife, and I love you more than anything else in this world."
"Oh, Andy, I love you so, so much," Kelly whispered in her turn.
"Now tell me what you want," he rasped in her ear.
"Just you, Andy. Just you. I don't care. I just want you."
He slid his hands down from her breasts, across her belly, and one hand slipped underneath her tap pants, and felt for the wetness she knew was there. He stroked her softness and whispered again, "When I touch you, you catch fire for me. Do you know what that does to me? I can hardly keep it together, thinking about it."
Kelly answered, "Then don't keep it together. Lose it a little for me. I want you to."
A roaring started in Andy's head when Kelly said that. More quickly than she would have thought possible, he had her naked, on her back. She looked into his eyes. There was a wildness there she had never seen before. It sent a tiny frisson of fear down her spine, but something inside her responded to it, as well. Suddenly, he was just not civilized anymore. And then, he was plunging inside her, and Kelly could swear he was growling. But she didn't care. It was more than a little heady for her that she could provoke this reaction in him.
She met his body halfway, matching his movements, clawing his back, wrapping her legs around his hips, her hands on every part of his body she could reach, her body meeting every thrust of his, both of them moaning, gasping, growling, past any coherent speech. Andy was touching her and Kelly did scream her orgasm. Shortly after, Andy was collapsing beside Kelly and was gathering her body to his chest. Their breathing slowed to normal and while Kelly was still feeling threads of her climax snaking through her muscles, making her shudder every so often, she felt Andy laugh. The wildness had gone from his face and he was her Andy again.
"What is it, sugar?" she said.
"I probably shouldn't say it," he answered.
"Go ahead. Say it."
"Would you be offended if I told you that you are one hell of a fantastic lay?"
Kelly laughed this time. "No. And I could say the same about you, hon."
His eyes were twinkling again. "I don't think I've lost it like that since I was, oh, 18 or so. I told you a long time ago you do things to me."
"You did indeed. And you sure enough made me scream, baby."
"Yep. And I'm exhausted. You wear me out, woman."
She grinned at him. "Well, we're in a fabulously comfortable bed, so how about we sleep it off?"
"Sounds like a plan to me."
Kelly cuddled up next to her husband and raised her face to his for a kiss. He gave it readily. It had been a long, long road, but Kelly had found who and what she had always been looking for. Secure in that knowledge and Andy's love, she fell easily asleep.
As they pulled into the driveway at Kelly's – correction – their house, Andy smiled.
"Home again," Kelly said.
He nodded. "Yeah," and turned off the ignition. They walked inside for the first time as husband and wife, and Andy looked around the house with new eyes. He realized that, not since he had left his childhood home in Jersey, had he ever felt he was really "home." But being here, with the woman he loved, in a place he never thought he'd be in a million years, he knew he was finally, really home.
He kissed Kelly. "I love you."
"I love you, too."