Shelly sat at the kitchen table, banging out a paper on an old electric typewriter she'd found at the Salvation Army. Classes were going really well. Her first English comp paper had received an A-, the first she'd ever gotten in her life. She got a C in her math class, but she outshone everyone in her photo classes. Shelly's bathroom had a clothesline in it with drying prints. They were looking better and better. The people in them fascinated her. She'd taken to street photography, and her haunting pieces blew away her teacher. One night she took her aside and told her her work was reminiscent of Diane Arbus. Shelly had no idea who Arbus was, but she must have been good. Her teacher had given her a number to call for a local gallery. The owner had noticed her work in the class show.
Actually being in school felt weird. She was older than most of her classmates. Been through a lifetime more, and it showed. She'd made friends with an outgoing girl named Brenda, who was another photographer. It was nice to have a friend with some direction. A couple of guys had asked her out, but she politely turned them away.
It had been a long while she'd seen Gordon Cole. She figured he was probably okay. She didn't know when he would return. He'd called her in September to wish her a happy birthday. His voice sounded strained and tired. All he could disclose was that he wanted to come home as soon as he could.
She'd gotten occasional goofy initialed postcards from various locations…most of them motel postcards of rundown hellholes that he'd drawn rabbits on. They were great. She had stuck them on her fridge. Her favorite was the rabbit dressed like a little witch for Halloween.
She thought about him often. The sweet face, the crooked smile, the slicked back hair, the hearing aids. How he smelled. His warm, solid body. She missed him…a lot. She was glad they hadn't hopped into bed, though. Since Gordon left, Shelly was doing really well on her own. She loved the freedom and independence of visiting places she'd always been curious about. Seattle was a really neat city – there was plenty to do there that Twin Peaks couldn't offer. Slowly, Shelly started breaking out of the shy, naïve battered wife and found herself becoming keenly aware and attuned to her surroundings.
She became great friends with her landlady, Mrs. Perkins. It turned out that she was actually Gordon's mother's cousin. (He hadn't mentioned it to Shelly.) Shelly, who was very used to older ladies, cooked dinner for her every Thursday night. They talked about their pasts. Mrs Perkins was a character, and for her class, Shelly did a wonderful photographic series of her sitting at the kitchen table, smoking a cigarette, her hands waving wildly in the air.
Thanksgiving was coming up. Shelly hadn't celebrated it since her grandparents were alive. She fleetingly thought about how nice it would be if Gordon came home for it. She could have a Thanksgiving dinner for Gordon and Norma and Big Ed, and Brenda and Brenda's boyfriend Chuck, maybe. She'd never roasted her own turkey before.
She surveyed her apartment. She'd arranged it pretty nicely. It had a charming vintage feel to it. The sofa, placed in front of the window, was worn but pretty. She'd placed some old fashioned chintz pillows on it. She had found a few old posters and framed prints that were pretty. A few spider plants and ferns sat on the side tables, covering water stains.
She had gotten a cat from Mrs Perkins's friend Edna for company. A pretty calico, which she'd named Clara. Clara slept on her lap a lot.
Shelly walked into her bedroom to fetch her glasses. The antique bed was decorated with a pretty new satin comforter in a bright green. Soft, comfortable, a place she liked to be. Leo would have hated it. Good.
She had put the moose photo in a little frame and it rested on the side table next to the bed. Before she went to sleep at night, looking at the picture cheered her up. Nightmares about her old life faded away. She was a brand new, empowered woman. No more scheming, no more bad situations. She could hardly believe that she had escaped Twin Peaks – her unhappy childhood in the trailer, her abusive marriage – and found a place where she could finally blossom. Gordon had gently pushed her in the right direction, and she was forever grateful he had the insight in her that most lacked.
But she liked Gordon for himself. He was a peculiar man, for sure, but his particular brand of peculiarity was that of someone very interested in everything. She thought about the happy couple of weeks she spent with him.
Brenda came over one afternoon, and Shelly showed her around the apartment. Brenda picked up the picture of Shelly and Gordon under the moose, and wondered who the cute guy in the picture was; he looked like a riot.
"Someone very special to me," Shelly replied, blushing. She didn't know what he was. Not a boyfriend. Not a friend. Just Gordon.
"OHHHHHH," Brenda replied, winking and lighting another cigarette. She made it sound sordid.
"No, not like that."
"Oh, one of those."
"Not that either. He's a dear friend."
"Something tells me in your face that he's more than that to you."
"Don't be silly. He's nineteen years older than me."
"I think you're in love with him."
"Ugh. Love. That got me in trouble twice already."
"You can deny it all you want, but I think you are."
"What makes you think that?"
"Because you've turned down the hottest fucking guy in class. And three others. So either you're a lez, but I don't think you are, or you want someone else."
"Well, that's not 100% true. I mean…I used to be married."
"No shit, really?"
Shelly filled Brenda in on the details. Brenda's mouth hung open in shock.
"So you see why Gordon is very special to me."
"Sure. You're in love."
"When's he coming back?"
"I don't know."
"That would be nice. I've always wanted to host my own Thanksgiving."
But Thanksgiving came and went. Shelly got a postcard from Gordon beforehand. He couldn't disclose where he was, but he said he wouldn't be back by Thanksgiving as planned. On the front was a drawing he'd done of the first Thanksgiving, where he had drawn rabbits dressed as pilgrims. Shelly couldn't help but cry. She'd wanted so badly to give him something special.
Well, no one was stopping her, were they? It would have been so much nicer with Gordon.
Norma came and got her for Thanksgiving at Twin Peaks with her and Ed. Ed conked out watching football, so Norma and Shelly sat in the basement den and had some hot cocoa.
Norma's sly, knowing smile crept over her face as she sipped.
"Notice anything about the cocoa?" she purred.
"Ohhhh yes. Hot chocolate mudslide," giggled Shelly.
"I thought we deserved a nice treat," said Norma. "So….I'm dying to know. Has anything happened between you and your handsome friend Agent Cole? I hope you've been spending lots of time together. "
"We were…." Shelly's face got red. "I mean, we would be if he were still here. I think."
"Where is he?"
"I don't know. He's been on call for a few months and can't tell me where he is."
"It has to be serious. But unfortunately, that's the nature of his job."
"Of course. So when your Special Agent returns, are you going to continue where you left off?"
"We didn't start anything."
Norma gave her the knowing eye.
"Okay…" Shelly continued, "we made out."
"Nothing more. We decided to hold off until I got my life back in order."
"Are you happy about that?"
"Of course I wanted him, Norma. But he was right after all. I'm really happy in Seattle."
"Your photos are really excellent. I'm so proud of you."
"I'm proud of me, too. And he's right in other ways, too. He's a lot older. He's got a different perspective on things than I do. I'm glad I just didn't jump in his arms and not get to know him first. He's been so good to me without asking for anything of me. I want to do nice things for him, too."
"Shelly, this is how it's supposed to be."
"I'm glad you and Ed got together," Shelly said.
"I am, too. He's the one for me. He always has been, always will be. I'm glad Hank let me divorce him. But one word of advice, honey. Don't wait too long. Don't let Agent Cole slip away from you."
"You love him, don't you?"
"I do. I really do. The age difference doesn't matter to me. I can't relate to anyone my own age, and they can't do the same for me. But Gordon gets me. And it works."
"So what are you going to do about it?"
"I won't know until he returns."
"For your sake and his, I hope you make it work. He's a good, kind person. He'll let you grow, but he'll also support you."
"I hope I can be as good to him back."
It was two weeks until Christmas. Seattle was cold and windy, but no snow. Shelly decorated her apartment. She'd bought an aluminum Christmas tree and some old decorations at the antique shop Gordon had taken her to. She was now a regular customer there. Every time she went, she passed the showcase with the lovely earrings she'd tried on the night Gordon took her there. She wished she could afford them. Maybe someday.
She made snowflakes for the window, and thought about she'd never really seen much snow in her life.
She thought for a minute about a conversation she'd had with Mrs. Perkins.
"When's your young man coming back?" asked Mrs Perkins, slyly.
"I…well, he's not my young man," replied Shelly.
"Your old man, then. I always worry about him out there in the woods with those weirdos."
Decorating her own tree for the first time, Shelly sang along to her favorite Duran Duran tape. She loved being able to listen to music she liked. No more angry Slayer. No more Leo ripping apart her cassettes if she did something to anger him. Clara batted at a ball at the bottom of the tree. Shelly had quit smoking after her trip to Twin Peaks. After a few harrowing days, she did it cold turkey. It made her feel much better.
A few minutes later, the buzzer rang. She wasn't expecting anyone. She undid the chain and peeked outside. She was met with a sad face, not quite frowning, but certainly weary.
"Shelly, Shelly, Shelly. Let me look at you." His light tone stood in sharp contrast to the worn, sad look in his eyes. He put his hands on her arms, and looked at her intently. Lovingly. With small signs of relief. He took her in his arms and held her tightly. After a few seconds – what seemed like forever – she broke the tiny spell.
"Are you okay?"
"I'm getting too old for this kind of work."
She took his trench coat and hung it in the hall closet as he made his way into the living room. Gordon sat at the kitchen table. His face brightened a little when he saw the collection of rabbit postcards on the fridge. Shelly opened up a Santa tin, filled with cookies from Norma, and put some on a plate. Gordon ate four.
"Can you tell me what happened?" she asked.
"Awful, awful stuff. The gory details will be out in the news when it breaks. I don't want to think about it anymore. But I think I'd like to tell you, if you have a strong stomach. It's not one of my brave stories to woo you, sadly."
"I'm listening." They went into the living room and sat down on the sofa. Gordon opened up quite matter-of-factly, as if he had been holding in bile for months. He nearly had.
This last assignment had been brutal. A serial killer in rural upstate, close to the coast. He had killed seven young women and an eleven year old girl, all tortured and rotting in the cellar of a cabin. After the long days put in gathering evidence, exhuming what was left of their bodies, he'd had horrific nightmares of seeing Shelly or his little nieces filleted on the morgue table. They had caught him. He led them to the fridge in the basement and showed canning jars full of hair, teeth and organs, labeled like chicken soup. This was by far the worst thing he had ever seen.
Gordon hadn't meant to just drop in like this – he would have called, but as soon as he got back to Seattle he'd run straight to her building.
"I needed someone to talk to." Tears filled in his eyes. Shelly found herself wiping her eyes, too.
"Oh, Gordon. Of course. I'm…I'm very sorry this was such a hard one." She rubbed his arm.
"I'm getting too old for this, Shelly. This just about did me in. We're expected to be the height of professionalism, but how can I do it when I see a child chopped up in a quart canning jar? I think I'm going to have to leave the field. Retire. I'm no hero."
"You helped save who knows how many more women by getting this killer."
"But I wish we had gotten him sooner. Saved them all…"
"What's important is that they didn't die in vain. They told you how to get this bastard with the clues they left you. I do know how it feels to be on the wrong end, how it could have gone. It haunts me every day."
"Of course, oh god, Shelly. I'm sorry."
She put her hand on his.
"I'm not. I was lucky. I'll always remember that. The bad times will never fully disappear, but good things about life will fight them off. You know? One time I overheard Agent Cooper say something to Sheriff Truman at the diner. Every day, give yourself a present."
"I know that line well, my dear. In fact, he has said it to me himself."
"I think it's a beautiful sentiment. It's stuck with me. Here. I know what will hit the spot."
She got up and poured him a cup of strong, black coffee.
"Sweet nectar! And Coop never lies about a good cup of coffee, either. You are an angel of mercy. Tell me how things are going here. I need something cheerful."
"I have something better than telling you." She went back to the kitchen and took off a paper from the fridge.
Gordon beamed at the paper for a few seconds before speaking.
"I made Dean's List this semester. Me. Shelly Johnson."
"I'm gonna give you an A+ in knocking my socks off."
"Even better…I might have an exhibit in a gallery downtown. Those photos on the wall are mine. I've been developing my own pictures in the bathroom, and they're getting pretty good. I'm really excited about it."
She presented him with the work she'd been producing all semester. She had such a positive glow – of pride, of accomplishment, of a self-possession he'd never seen in her before. Shelly had grown from a frightened young girl into a confident, strong woman. He loved her even more.
He looked around at her photos. Photos of strange and wonderful people on the streets who had caught her interest. Her work was beautiful; haunting…like Diane Arbus. It seemed to reflect a small nod to her sad past, but didn't linger there. There was an interesting naïveté to her photos, he thought, but certainly a dark curiosity. She was good. Really good.
"Have you eaten?" she asked.
"No, I haven't. Come to think of it, I'm actually starving."
"I have leftovers. I make dinner for Mrs. Perkins every Thursday, and last night we had Chinese food. I'm expanding my menu."
"I haven't had a home cooked meal in months."
Kung pao chicken, some egg rolls, some fried rice. A while later, the remainder of dinner was on the coffee table, 2/3 a bottle of wine was kicked, and the two were chattering happily. It was the first Gordon had felt relaxed since he left.
"Your home is delightful. You've really done a nice job putting it together."
"I love it here. I'm so happy."
"Hearing that makes me thrilled."
"Do you have plans tonight?"
"I picked up a movie at the video store. Want to watch it with me?"
He picked up the tape. The Shop Around the Corner.
"Oh my goodness. I love this movie. Haven't seen it in years. Or heard it."
"Jimmy Stewart. I haven't seen this one before, but I've been watching his movies all week. He reminds me of you, a little."
"My dear, I take that as a high compliment."
They piled up the pillows back onto the sofa and chairs. Unfortunately, Gordon's hearing aid could only pick up the movie at high decibels. Shelly and Gordon snuggled on the sofa and settled in comfortably.
Halfway through the movie, Shelly laughed and turned to him.
"I love old movies, don't you? It's all I watch. There's nothing on TV except bad news and stupid cop dramas. Give me an old fashioned movie any day," she said.
"They do take your mind off the bad things, don't they?"
"I guess it makes sense, since they were made during the Depression and the war, huh? Like they were designed to put you in a good mood, no matter how sad things are at home. When I stayed at my grandparents as a kid, we used to watch the late afternoon old movies every Sunday. Jimmy Stewart, Bette Davis, all the old movies, Grandpa knew every one. He'd seen them at the theatre."
"You must miss him terribly."
"Yeah, I really do. Grandpa was my best friend. He died before Leo and I married. I just wanted to get away from my mother. Leo wouldn't let me watch anything, hardly. I spent all my time looking after the house. Sometimes I'd daydream, you know? Like I'd remember a snippet from an old comedy film, and mimic the way people talked. I'd perform whole scenes as different characters at the diner. Norma thought I was crazy. It entertained me. It was something Leo couldn't take away from me, at any rate."
Gordon looked at her blankly.
"You must think I'm crazy, too," she giggled.
"No, not at all, my dear. I think it's sweet, but so sad."
"It got me through."
"Can I confess something? I do the same thing when I'm working long cases. Like this last one. If something is really sad, I think about funny movie lines. I wish I could hear movies again."
"Oh, Gordon. Have you been coming home all this time after these sad cases, with no one to talk to?"
"For nearly twenty years."
"I know what it feels like. It's very lonely. This is so much better. But having you back home is the best Christmas present I could hope for."
"Oh, Shelly. Shelly."
Before either of them realized what had happened, they broke apart from the most intense, urgent kiss Shelly had ever experienced. She brushed his cheek with her hand, her heart pounding.
"I wanted you to do that," she panted, as her face reddened.
He tilted his head and smiled.
"I'm going to do it again." He took her in his arms and the two kissed, sweeter this time, tongues flashing, their hearts pounding against each other.
"Gordon. I love you so much. Being away from you so long has been so hard. Just be with me, here, now."
He brushed her cheek with his, thrilling to the feeling. He thought he would burst.
"I can't begin to tell you how much it means to me to have you in my life," she said, "but don't think that it's just me being grateful. There wasn't a day since I met you in the diner that I haven't thought of you. And that you've believed in me from the start as a person, not as a dumb high school dropout."
"That's because you're not. And I know you're capable of making a difference in people's lives. You've made one in mine."
"Don't ever leave, again."
"I don't want to. I'm retiring as soon as I can. I've made enough to do it comfortably. I can't go through this again. No more sad things. Let's just be happy together, you and me. We can go to neat places, take our good old time appreciating the beauty and fun of life."
"Which reminds me. Merry Christmas."
He handed her a small box. Inside were the green earrings she had been admiring at the antique store for nearly a year. Shelly began to cry.
"I didn't forget," he said, slyly. "I've been memorizing that photo of us for months. Kept it in my wallet."
"I have something for you, too," she grinned. "I've been so excited to give it to you."
She went in the room and came back with a big present. Inside was an incredible photo she'd taken of the Double R diner at Thanksgiving, matted and framed.
"I thought you'd like to have a photo of where we met."
"It's the most beautiful Christmas present I've ever gotten," he said, "aside from you."
They stumbled into Shelly's room, kissing passionately. Shelly was burning up. They collapsed on the bed, entwined, groaning louder, tearing each other's clothes off.
"You inflame me, Shelly Johnson," said Gordon, looking upon Shelly's nude body for the first time.
"Please, take me now," she gasped.
Neither had ever had such intense sex in their lives, but as they recovered afterward, their chests heaving from exhaustion, they held each other tightly.
"I'm all yours, Gordon Cole."
"And I am yours, Shelly Johnson."
By the end of the week, they'd agreed on one very important thing, and Gordon asked her to be his wife. He gave her his grandmother's ring.
In the middle of January, soon after Gordon's birthday, Shelly and Gordon got married. Dale and Audrey came along with them to the justice of the peace. Audrey did Shelly's hair. They had a sweet little reception in the Twin Peaks fire hall. Norma baked Gordon a special pie. They couldn't take their eyes off each other the whole night.
Bobby Briggs read about it in the paper and punched a hole in the wall. He was seeing a girl from the next town over, but Shelly had forever broken his heart. Someday he would become a successful lawyer, but he never worked out how to have a good relationship with a woman.
Gordon insisted that Shelly keep her beloved apartment.
They converted it into a photography studio. Gordon's advice had paid off: her photographs were praised for tapping into the emotional souls of her subjects. She quickly ended up becoming one of the most successful photographers in Seattle, and her street work became a cult favorite, much like Diane Arbus. Celebrities often visited when she did shoots for magazines. As much as Shelly had liked school, her work became in such high demand that she decided to end it there. She was learning much better on her own.
"Geez, Gordon, I never thought that I'd drop out of school again after getting married," she mused one evening.
"Are you happy you did?"
"I'm doing pretty well, aren't I?"
"You can always return when and if you want."
"I might. But for now, this is working for me just fine."
Gordon retired from the FBI not long after they married, and took up illustration work. He became a celebrated children's author for his delightful "Agent Rabbit" books. They tried to interview him on "60 Minutes," but had to do a voiceover because he yelled so much.
For the first time in her life, Shelly was able to travel to all the places she'd read about. She and Gordon went all over the country, and even traveled through Europe for a month. Gordon, who had been travelling for over 20 years straight, was happy to do it without a gruesome case to deal with, and with such wonderful company. They even took his nieces on a trip to Yellowstone, which was a lot of fun. Shelly could see why Gordon loved them so much. They were bright, inquisitive, and fun. And his sister, in her early 30s, was a doll. Just as goofy as Gordon, just as warm.
A year after they married, Shelly and Gordon became parents themselves, to a little girl they named Charlotte.
Gordon was beside himself when he realized he could hear her, too.