So this is sorta kinda not really a 'continuation' of my first Casual Friday. Many reviewers requested a second chapter and I really wanted it to be a standalone fic because it just felt best that way. That said, a number of readers suggested that I do the same story from Jane's point of view. Hence this alternate take.
With that in mind, both the first Casual Friday and Casual Friday: Alternate Take are meant to be standalone fics—you do not have to read one to understand the other. However, the fics are also meant to compliment one another. Things in this one explain some things in the other and vice versa.
So I do suggest reading them both for a fuller experience, if you'd like. Order-wise? I'd check out Casual Friday (the original) first. But ultimately up to you.
Thanks, everyone, and I hope you all enjoy! Drop a note at the end and let me know what you think.
Casual Friday: Alternate Take
Jane's hand drifted to a halt over the modest stack of forms on her desk as her mind drifted too, pen poised to fill out the date on which a warrant was requested but failing to make contact with the paper. Jane was alone in the bullpen, the two officers here early for their evening shift having stepped out for coffee. All others had already vacated the precinct, eager to get their weekends started early. Even Korsak and Frost had skipped town in a rush after this long week.
For the first Friday in the history of ever, Jane wished she had a little more paperwork on her desk, just a few more forms to fill out—hell, even a case would be just awesome right about now. Because, she had a date tonight… a date she had been begging for, virtually delivered to her by her wily best friend. A date she was dreading.
Even if Jane had paused to ask herself why it was that she kept bringing up her graveyard of a love-life in front of Maura, she wasn't sure she would have been able to produce a reliable answer. Obviously it had been bugging her to some significant degree, or she wouldn't have been complaining about it in the first place.
Upon deep reflection, she might have realized that she was looking for something specific out of Maura's reaction each time she brought the subject up, but being Jane, she never pushed herself to that level of reflection if she could avoid it. Doing so only led to awkward instances of self-discovery that made Jane more uncomfortable than anything else. Even if she had pushed herself to that point, she wouldn't know what she wanted Maura's reaction to be.
She wasn't trying to bother Maura with it, but even when she tried to suppress the casual allusions to her romanceless life, they forced their way out. It was like a form a word vomit. They'd be discussing plans for the weekend or station gossip or Angela's daily special in the café or other mundane things and it would just grapple its way up from the depths of Jane's throat like it was constantly waiting for a chance to announce itself to the world. And announce itself it did. Over, and over, and over again.
"Damn it, Maura, I haven't had a date in months," or, "You know what would be awesome this Friday? A date." Or "I just went to a funeral today," and upon gaining Maura's undivided, concerned attention, she would add, "—for my love life."
Yep. Word vomit. Impossible to stop… like trying to keep Jo Friday from peeing on a new rug. Ew… That metaphor is kind of gross.
If Jane had been able to see past her own flustered insecurity surrounding the topic, she might have found it curious how Maura's reactions, though always unsatisfactory, gradually changed each time she brought it up.
At first the doctor had reacted with mere sympathy. "Don't worry, Jane, something will come up. You haven't really had time to expose yourself to the dating world given your case load." The next few times led Maura to begin suggesting things—a growing list of everything Jane could possibly do to acquire a date.
Jane remembered scoffing at each and every one of them, grinning absently at the forms on her desk as she recalled different conversations.
"What, Zumba? Are you serious?" She narrowed her eyes. "I think you're using my problem to trick me into coming to that torture-fest with you."
Maura looked severely offended. "For your information, Jane, there are plenty of eligible and, might I add, well-sculpted men who attend my class. You really should come with me!"
"I don't think so, Maura." Jane ended that discussion hastily before Maura started pouting and Jane found herself attending the vile Zumba class. She could see it now; her haphazard, unladylike coordination and her angry scowl battling to see which could repel men faster.
There were numerous other suggestions Jane also shot down, like going out clubbing, or going to yoga more often so that the men there could get to know her better, or even signing up for dance classes sans a partner in hopes that some hunkola decided to do the same thing—all of which were equally unappealing.
And then there was even the suggestion that she go roving the bars downtown like—like some caveman and pick out a target—"Maura, did you just tell me to 'pick out a target?'"
"Well there will be many men to choose from. It would be most efficient for you to target the one you like the most and 'get on you moves.'" She emphasized her words with a little jiggle of her chest and a coy arching of her brow.
Jane had to backtrack, distracted by Maura's little move of her own. She hoped the grin wasn't showing on her face. "I think you mean, 'put the moves on.' So let me get this straight. You want me to go to a bar…"
"And you want me to pick out a man who I think I want to date."
"And then you think if I waltz over to him and put these alleged 'moves' on he's going to ask me out."
Maura frowned at Jane's tone. "You don't think it'll work?"
Jane spread out her arms and looked herself down and up with a sour frown. "Do I look like I have any moves?" She shook her head, scowl melting into a grin she couldn't suppress at the sight of the doctor's own expression. "No, Maura, I don't think it'll work."
"Perhaps we need to work on your moves, then," Maura murmured thoughtfully, that mysterious, troublemaking glint flashing in her eyes.
And that's when Jane rolled her head back dramatically and demanded, "New subject. I hear Stanley the Uncanny is out sick and Ma's serving up fresh muffins."
So that discussion ended rather fast. But it was ironic, because this roving caveman idea of Maura's, which Jane had balked at like all the others, was essentially what Maura used to find Jane a date… Except it was super sketchy because Maura was acting as Jane's proxy. Yes, that's right, Maura went downtown to one bar after the other and spent her evenings scouting out men for her best friend. It was an incredibly selfless, thoughtful… absolutely ridiculous thing to do! Jane could hardly believe some random guy would trust a complete stranger setting him up on a blind date.
…Actually, on second thought, Jane could believe it, if Maura Isles was that stranger. Jane hadn't asked, but she figured Maura would have gotten dressed up for her bar-roving. The poor guy she found probably thought he was about to get lucky with a hot, famous model or actress or princess from some exotic country, because Maura just had that air about her when she wanted to. It'd be so easy to pass her off as royalty.
Jane wondered if he'd been disappointed when it turned out Maura wanted him for someone else. In fact, the skeptical detective was shocked Maura hadn't taken him for herself. Jane had met him just this morning in the Division One Café where Maura had deviously arranged for them to meet. He was drop-dead gorgeous with a smile that could kill. Intelligent eyes, just enough bashfulness that he was endearing but just enough confidence to let people know that he was the kind of guy who knew what he was talking about. Jane's mouth had dropped open at the sight of him, not just because he was so good-looking, though the thought had definitely smacked her in the face, but because he was also THE type of man Jane and Maura would fight over; Jane knew Maura's type, and this was definitely the kind of guy Maura would wrap around her little finger.
Jane had chatted with the guy in the café that morning, smiling awkwardly and forcing herself to maintain constant eye contact to compensate for the fact that she was barely paying attention to what he was saying. She was hyperaware of Maura watching them, watching her, and Jane realized she had no out this time. She had been complaining for weeks about not having a date. What would Maura say if she turned this steaming piece of sexiness down? And she had to pause at that thought and question herself: Why exactly do I want to turn this steaming piece of sexiness down to begin with?
Unable to produce an answer without delving into that part of herself that she was loath to delve into, Jane had no reason to turn down his offer for dinner that night at Maura's favorite French restaurant.
And her one chance to discuss the date with Maura—and look frantically for a way out of it—was interrupted when Korsak hauled in an uncooperative witness for interrogation just as they were sitting down to lunch. And besides, Maura had worked hard to find her this date. Jane owed it to her to at least give the guy a try.
But still… she really, really didn't want to go.
And so here she was, nearly time to clock out, looking for any excuse at all to get out of her dinner date. If there was ever a perfect time for a stomach flu… maybe she'd believe that I threw out my back.
She managed to fill in the warrant requisition date on the form before her pen stalled again over the blank space for the name of the judge who signed it. Isn't there a way out of this? She let out a long sigh and propped her head in a hand, flipping the pen in her fingers and bobbing her leg anxiously.
She glanced up at the familiar voice. "Oh. Hey, Frankie." She noticed his gym bag slung over his shoulder and checked her watch with a grimace. 4:58. "You heading out?"
Frankie shrugged. "I could be persuaded to stay." Jane raised an eyebrow at him, prompting him to continue. "Looks like you got some paperwork there. I wouldn't mind putting in overtime and helping you out with it."
Jane narrowed her eyes at him, trying to figure out his angle. "Thanks…" she eventually said. "But I got it. I can get it done a lot faster since this is all pretty fresh in my memory."
"Well you've been staring at the same thing for like five minutes now." Frankie looked over her shoulder at the form. "Having trouble spelling out Judge Waverly's name?"
Jane punched him in the arm. "No, Frankie, I'm just… I've got a lot on my mind, I guess."
He smirked. "Yeah I bet you do. Word on the street is Janie's got herself a date. Ma says he turned every head in the café this morning. She was pretty upset that you didn't introduce him and he left before she could get her hands on him."
Jane groaned, dropping her head into her hands, muttering a "Thank goodness for that." under her breath. "Yeah, yeah, I've got a date." She paused, testing out her only vaguely arguable excuse. "Or, I had one, but this paperwork… it's just stacking up and Cavanaugh's been on my back." It was partly true, Jane reasoned to herself.
Frankie's smirk softened into a brotherly smile. "That's what I'm saying, Jane. You haven't been on a date since like the dinosaurs were roaming." This earned another punch from Jane, which Frankie deflected. "Hey, be nice. What I'm saying is, let me do the paperwork. It's good practice and knowledge for, you know, if ever manage to make detective."
Jane flashed her brother a sympathetic look. "You're going to make it one day, Frankie, it's just a matter of time."
He waved her off impatiently. "Yeah, yeah. One day. But anyway, go get ready for your date. You deserve the break. I'll stay and finish this stuff up for you. You just go have a good time tonight."
Jane's jaw tightened as she once again found herself cornered. The paperwork was her last viable way out. All she would have had to do was reschedule… and then keep rescheduling until he, and Maura, gave up. She glanced back at her desk. "You don't have to do that, Frankie, really," she said weakly.
"Nah, I don't, but I'm a good brother." He gave her shoulder a slap when she didn't look as thrilled as he expected her to. "Man, it almost sounds like you'd rather be sitting here filling out these oh-so exciting forms." He misinterpreted her resistance as reluctance to leave her work for him. "Come on, Janie, it's already after five. I'm just gonna put in enough time to get Cavanaugh off your back and then head to the gym, so it's not like I'll be here for long."
Biting back another useless excuse, Jane muttered a halfhearted, "Thanks, Little Bro." She hoped her forced smile didn't betray her.
"Don't mention it. Now scoot. You gotta go home and get ready and I really have to get some cardio in today."
Jane drummed her fingers at the edge of the desk before she grudgingly heaved herself up, reaching for her phone on the desk and snapping it onto her belt. "Well, then, I'm going to check in with Maura and then head home…"
"Mmm, probably not a good idea."
Jane raised a brow in confusion, stepping aside as Frankie dropped into her desk chair. "And why is that?"
"Well I was just down there, thought I'd poke my head in her office and say 'hi' on my way up. But when I dropped by she looked really busy. Like, flustered, you know, and she was shuffling case files around and looking at her phone like she couldn't wait to be done with work." He shook his head. "Papers everywhere, Janie. I don't envy her right now."
Jane's expression fell and she rushed to pick it up again before Frankie noticed. "I guess I shouldn't bug her, then. If she's busy, I mean."
Frankie grunted a reply, only half paying attention at this point as he began to sift through the paperwork and files on Jane's desk. Jane was hopeful that he would somehow refute her statement as she collected a few other items, yanking her coat out from behind him where she had draped it over the chair that morning. But Frankie was already scribbling on the forms with gusto. If he wasn't such a goddamn good brother… Jane thought ruefully as she muttered one last thanks and tramped towards the elevators.
The impulse was hardest to resist when the elevator doors slid open on the ground floor. Jane spared a fleeting glance from across the lobby at the elevators that would take her to the morgue, hesitating only a moment before turning resolutely away and stalking out the door to her car. She desperately wanted to see Maura before this date… not that she was certain she had anything of substance to say to the loyal doctor. Jane had no right to back out of the date, and that's what she really wanted to do. If only she hadn't been griping for the past few weeks…
Maybe she could beg out of it, apologize to Maura profusely, and offer to go to dinner with her instead. Initially Jane brightened at the idea, but stubborn Rizzoli nature was front and center; Jane made this bed, and now she had to lie in it.
Acting fast before she could change her mind as her long legs sped her swiftly away from Maura, she fired out a text: "Hey Maur, sorry, I'm heading out to get ready for my date. I'll call this weekend. Hope you finish up soon." She tucked her phone away, returning to her previous train of thought.
…Right, back to making beds and lying in them. Besides, taking Maura out to dinner wouldn't even begin to repay the amazingly altruistic, considerate woman for all her efforts at securing a date with what was undoubtedly the Hunkiest Hunk of all that was Hunky.
Nope. The only real way to see this through was to go on this date, tough it out…
Jane slid into her car, throwing her things onto the passenger seat and turning the engine over. Why am I so convinced I'm going to be 'toughing it out?' she mused. If he was so delicious looking, Jane should be excited for this. She should be practically bouncing at the prospect of a date with this Adonis. She should be flustered and red in the cheeks and nervous as all hell about impressing him and looking her best for him because honestly, who wouldn't want the man whose image coined the phrase 'long, tan, and handsome' in and around the bedroom?
Me, apparently. Oh, Jane was nervous all right… Nervous about rushing the date along as quickly as one could within the bounds of 'politeness.' So that she could… what? Why was she so anxious to be done with this date?
Her thoughts scattered again when her phone finally buzzed with Maura's reply. She waited until she stopped at a red light before reading the short, disappointing, unusually empty response: "Good luck tonight!"
Jane frowned deeply at her phone, only realizing the traffic signal had turned green when a car horn blared behind her. Cursing, she jerkily made her turn. Already she caught herself constructing a mental list of reasons as to why Maura's response was so short and odd and unexpected. Friday evening after work and Jane was still in detective mode.
She quickly concluded the obvious, simply given Frankie's own testimony and little reason to assume otherwise: Maura was busy, preoccupied with finishing work, and just didn't have the time to send out a longer text to the nervous detective.
Still, Jane was only partially satisfied with this assessment of the two-word response as she pulled onto her road. Something in her gut told her that there was more to it. But there was no time to think. She was home, and she had to get ready. Ready to be done with this fast. Ready to give this stunning, successful, intelligent man enough of a chance that Maura would be satisfied, that Maura would believe she really tried to make this work, since it was her first date in god knows how long, so she could later shrug and say, 'it just wasn't meant to be.'
Because Jane already knew that was the case. There would be something wrong with him. She wasn't quite sure what, yet, but she would find out at dinner. If this flaw was big enough, ghastly enough, she would even have an excuse to drop by Maura's house on the way home to dish out all the dirty details.
Of course, as Jane climbed out of her car and headed for her building, already panicking over what she would wear and how she should do her hair and whether she should care enough to put on makeup, she didn't bother to address the obvious… That nothing about this evening made sense, that there was some big piece missing that would explain everything, like, why she knew Sir Hearthrob MacStud Muffin could never win her over, or why Jane was so hoping he would have some scandalous fault that would substantiate a late-night visit to the doctor's comfortable home, or why any of this was happening in the first place.
Anything she was feeling felt decidedly normal. And on the few occasions where her mind wandered and she realized with a small twinge that something, maybe even everything was off, she capped the thoughts immediately. If there was one thing she couldn't stand, it was evaluating and analyzing herself, especially after a long week. After all, it only led to those awkward instances of self-discovery that created more discomfort than Jane could be bothered to deal with.
If there was anything worth analyzing about the detective, Maura would always know when and how to point it out. In fact, Jane trusted her with that job over anyone else.
Jane stared at herself in the mirror, biting her lip. She had thrown on a flowing, formal blue dress she'd bought on impulse a year ago when Maura had commented that her closet remained "frightfully stagnant and unvaried." Naturally, the dress was promptly hidden in a corner of the closet and forgotten until today. It was just luck that Maura had recently forced (nearly blackmailed) Jane into buying a pair of heels that magically matched the dress—a fact Jane had only discovered ten minutes before her date was supposed to arrive.
She cursed at herself, hands on her hips, glare reflected right back at her in the mirror. It always took her forever to get ready for a date by herself. Usually Ma or Maura would be there to offer fashion guidance and smooth out the wrinkles in her appearance. Now in a frenzied rush, Jane gathered her dark curls into a loose bun and then applied as little makeup as she thought she could get away with.
The doorbell rang. She steeled herself with one last glance in the mirror. "All right, Rizzoli. You can do this. It's just a date." She took a deep breath. Just a date. One she already knew would never lead to a sequel. No big deal. The doorbell rang again, and she turned quickly to go meet him.
As she moved towards the door, she looked for something, anything, to get herself psyched. A smile crossed her lips. She was pretty excited about finding his flaw. Or flaws. Yay, plural! Her grin broadened. Oh, how she would delight in his flaws.
Flawless. The man sitting adjacent to her was flawless. Not overconfident, not sputtering. Chivalrous but not overbearing. A beautiful, honest grin and a realistic, borderline sarcastic understanding of life. An appreciation for the work Jane did and no assumptions about the kind of person she was because of it. Not to mention features that made every single woman in this hoity-toity French restaurant constantly peer at him over their menus or as they took a sip from their water glasses. Hell, Jane caught a couple men looking too. And he went about it as if he didn't even notice, didn't even expect it, didn't bother to elevate himself above anyone else. So goddamn modest.
Jane grew frustrated with herself as she found it easy to maintain a fun conversation with him. She could definitely get along with him. Things were so smooth.
And she hated it.
No matter how seamlessly the evening was progressing, something felt so inherently wrong about it. The frustration was with why. She had no idea. Something just felt wrong. And every time there was a break in conversation, her mind would wander to Maura—was she done with work yet? What was she doing? Did she remember that Ma would be working late tonight?
"We've almost killed this bottle."
His voice snapped Jane to attention, beckoning her out of her thoughts for the first time that night (highly uncommon since they had just finished their main courses—her mind usually drifted as early as five minutes in), and she smiled quickly to cover up her woolgathering. Head buzzing a bit from the two glasses of delicious, mellow red she'd already imbibed, she struggled to catch up with his words and figure out what was going on.
He had of course chosen the only bottle of wine on the restaurant's extensive list that she could honestly say she enjoyed as much as a beer; it just so happened to be his favorite too. Naturally. On any other day she might have smuggled the whole bottle for herself, but some absent, internal caution had curbed her appetite for the stuff.
A busboy was clearing away the plates previously bearing their main courses and her date was shaking the empty bottle of wine by the neck, handsome brows raised in question. Jane licked her lips, glancing at her empty wineglass. "Um, I think I could have another glass, but that's about it." She smiled wryly, already having noted his hefty penchant for the red, and added, "You'd be the one drinking most if not all of another bottle."
He grinned, placing the bottle back on the table. "Tempting as it would be to show off my drunken swagger on the first date, I think I'll save that for another time." He gave her an almost bashful smile and raised a hand to catch their waiter's eye, motioning to the empty bottle. "Could we get just two more glasses of this, please?" At the waiter's nod, he flashed a stunning smile at the waiter's retreating form before directing the spotlight of perfect white teeth back on Jane.
Jane felt her heart bunch up… not pleasantly, she realized. It was as if it was trying to leap, as if it understood that this man seated before her was everything it thought it wanted and was gamely attempting to confirm that, but there was nothing there for her.
A sense of unease inflated at this awareness. Biting back the beginnings of a panic Jane didn't understand, she dragged her eyes over every inch of him she could see, looking for anything, anything at all that could light something inside her. And she saw… nothing.
She suddenly felt like she was on a stage, performing with no love for the sport as the odd feeling in her chest seemed to evolve into a sort of ache. Why am I even here? Yes, this man sitting across from her was… perfect. If Angela had met him, (thank goodness that hadn't happened…) she'd already be drawing up plans for the wedding ceremony and figuring out what to name her eighteen grandchildren. There was nothing about him Jane disliked. There were a lot of things about him she really liked.
But. But this isn't what I want… I… I don't want him. It was the plain and simple truth, and spelling it out to herself made her feel… spoiled. And scared. When would she ever come across another person who was so attuned to her, so understanding? She barely knew him, but she could see how seamlessly and happily they would get along. She blinked, nodding and smiling at some discreet joke he was making about the way a stuffy old man was dressed three tables over. She could spell out all the reasons he was perfect. Perfect for her. But there would always be a 'but.' Even if she couldn't name a single reason to support what she was feeling, she knew, irrefutably, that this thing, this dinner, was wrong.
And if this was wrong, what the hell was right? Who could possibly better this man? Jane vehemently fought the rising tide of panic as she considered the idea that there really was no one out there for her. Her resistance to go on this date… She felt a sobering melancholy settle over her. What wasn't she seeing? What was she missing? What about this man was inadequate? Maybe she wanted to be alone. Maybe that's just how it was supposed to be. Maybe she'd spend her whole life looking for something that wouldn't ever be there.
"So, feel like dessert?"
The severe contrast between Jane's internal dialogue and the nature of his question disoriented her, and the sudden feeling of her phone vibrating in the clutch resting by her hip didn't help. She quickly shrugged noncommittally, her hands gravitating to unclasp her purse beneath the table without alerting her date. "What did you have in mind?" She hoped desperately that it Frost texting about a case, or her mother with a patented Rizzoli emergency, anything to get her away faster. Anything that would validate a sudden departure from this date that Maura had worked so hard to set up.
No matter how sorry she was beginning to feel for herself, the last thing she wanted to do was torpedo her best friend's loyal efforts. She'd be damned if she let that happen.
"Hmm. Let's see…" He glanced over the dessert menu—which Jane could rattle off in her god-awful, fake, somewhat offensive 'French' accent (oh how it endlessly amused and exasperated her dear doctor friend)—and Jane used the opportunity to glance into her lap and check her phone.
An unconscious grin lit her face when she saw a text from Maura, her internal anxiety subsiding a little: "Get the Poire Belle-Hélène."
She shook her head in disbelief. How the hell did she…? Looking up to see that her date was still preoccupied with deciphering the desserts and then glancing around the dining area to make sure Maura hadn't been there the whole time secretly spying on them, she hunched over slightly to send a reply without being too obvious.
"I don't even want to know how you knew we were talking about dessert. Where are you?" She hit send quickly, tucking her phone between her legs so that her dress hid it from sight.
Normally, she would have ordered the mousse. It was her favorite dessert at this restaurant and Maura had never once made a comment about it except for wholeheartedly agreeing that it was delectable. So why would she go through the trouble of making an alternate suggestion—tonight of all nights?
Her phone buzzed again in her lap just as her date snapped the dessert menu shut and placed it on the table between them. "The mousse looks good." His decided tone was innocent.
Jane smiled nervously. "Yeah, the mousse here is out of this world."
She internally groaned, wondering if her brain, or her hormones, or her reproductive organs (which were comatose, at the moment), or any part of her at all was functioning properly. He really was meant for her.
She paused, trying to look as though she were strongly considering his choice, before reaching for the menu. "Let me take a look." The text message that she was knew was waiting to be read on her phone seemed to actively burn a hole into her lap. Stall. Something inside her, her gut instinct, maybe, was demanding that she stall. She opened the menu and pretended to scan the list with scrutiny.
"I thought you'd been to this place before. When your friend recommended it, she said you loved it." The tone in his voice wasn't accusing, just curious.
Her phone buzzed again indicating a second unseen text, the sense of burning escalating as Jane struggled to remain focused and polite. She waved a hand through the air dismissively as her eyes scanned over familiar French words, unseeing. "Yeah, but everything's in French and I always forget the other delicious things they have." Lie. How could Jane ever forget what was on the dessert menu? True, everything was in French but Maura had on multiple occasions painstakingly translated each option and described in colorful detail the ingredients, cooking processes, and final presentation of every dessert (and entree and appetizer AND soup and salad…) and Jane had unwittingly absorbed all of it.
Maura's French was superb and hearing it gave Jane a bit of a thrill, which she always covered up by making a sarcastic comment or giving Maura a hard time. Sometimes on her way home from a French dinner out with Maura, Jane would find herself repeating some of the more prominent French words Maura used in an attempt to emulate the perfect, elegant way the language would slip through Maura's enchanting, magical lips like they were the source of language itself. Jane would always laugh at herself when she caught her eyebrows scrunched in concentration in the rearview mirror.
Once again she was startled out of her thoughts when she realized she had missed the two glasses of wine arriving at the table and the beginning of her date's entertaining story involving a dessert disaster at a friend's wedding. She smiled over the menu as he animatedly described the bits of flying frosting and wedding cake and the unhappy fate of the groom's toupee. When he revealed the punch line—a flambe fire that had reduced one of the wedding musician's cellos to the size of a violin, resulting in a second cousin's kazoo band filling in to play the Wedding March—Jane was clutching her sides in a fit of giggles. Her first thought was, I'll have to tell Maura this story. She could already picture the shocked look on the medical examiner's face upon learning that such a jumbled, chaotic ceremony could actually pass for a wedding.
When her laughter finally died down, she noticed a new glint in his eye as he studied her… and she quickly snatched up the dessert menu, suddenly wishing she hadn't found the story quite so funny. "Alllllright," she drawled out, "I'm going to make a dessert decision now, for real, I promise."
He rolled his eyes. "Sure." He glanced at his watch in faux impatience. "Any day, now." His grin showed he was kidding. "No, actually, take all the time you need. I know these kinds of life-threatening decisions require careful deliberation." Jane smiled her response, and he pushed away from the table. "Seriously, pick anything you want. I'm easy." Another dazzling grin as he stood. "I'm going to the restroom. Go ahead and order if the waiter comes by before I get back."
And then his long legs were gliding him swiftly across the room and before Jane even lost sight of him, she had her phone out on the table, reading through Maura's texts. "Home. How is your date?" followed by, "Sorry, I don't mean to disturb you. Enjoy your date."
Shaking her head at her friend's tendency to assume she was somehow bothering her or disrupting her life, Jane typed out a careful response that she hoped would encourage the doctor: "It's going great. He's perfect. You aren't disturbing me. What are you doing?"
Message sent, Jane was left to glance agitatedly around the room as she waited for a response, hoping that her date would take his time. Jane knew if she let her thoughts wander, she would be forced to think about her lack of prospects, so instead she settled on people watching. Maura's next text arrived just as he was returning from the bathroom and she glanced down at her phone hurriedly before she would lose her opportunity.
Her heart dropped as she read the text: "I told you so. I am enjoying a bottle of delectable Moratto Zinfandel and a quiet evening. Quite content. Think you're taking home a special meal tonight? ;)"
The detective's mind glossed right over the insinuation at the end of the text that would have normally bugged her. Zinfandel. The word rang out into Jane's head, recalling some painful memories.
Jane knew Maura so well. When the doctor felt unhappy emotions, she felt them keenly. If she was particularly upset, she would fall into the same set of habits, all of which Jane didn't like but none of which were particularly surprising: eating minimal amounts of food, getting lost in thought, zoning out mid-conversation, frowning more often than smiling, declining evenings out or skipping out on their usual movie nights… the list went on. The intensity of her reaction varied depending on what had happened—Ian had been an exceptionally harsh blow, for instance, resulting in nearly three weeks of a mopey, distracted Maura. It had taken her a while to get over each and every Paddy Doyle incident. And it had taken at least a week for Maura to perk up to her normal self after Garrett's arrest.
Regardless, none of this was curious. When shit happens to people, it's normal to react to it. What was curious was the fact that whenever Maura was in one of these mopey, contemplative, depressed moods, she would almost always drink the same kind of wine: Zinfandel. The origins varied, the price of the bottle varied, but "Zinfandel" was always somewhere on the label. Jane had filed away this interesting bit of information upon noticing it, not thinking much of it since it was usually obvious when Maura was upset. More often than not, the doctor would outright tell Jane how she was feeling or it would be extremely obvious. Less often, Jane would easily be able to pick up on her mood, but she might have to prod the details out of her.
This, however, was new. If Maura was upset, something must have happened after Jane had last seen her; there hadn't even been a mood for Jane to pick up on.
She considered this, staring at her phone in a state of increasing concern. Was it just a coincidence? No, how could it be? Maura never chose to have Zinfandel when she was feeling okay. She preferred wines with more impossible-to-pronounce names.
So something was definitely up. Could it be Maura was upset and trying to hide it from Jane? There was nothing in the text that suggested this. And yet… the Zinfandel…
There was definitely something wrong.
Coming to this conclusion instantly ignited a blinding need to protect. Trusting instinct without even considering alternatives, Jane's mind was already made up as her date settled back into his chair. If Maura was indeed upset, Jane needed her to be there with her, not here on this ridiculous sham of a date. There was no question.
Tucking her phone back into her clutch, Jane found dark, curious, utterly attractive eyes staring back at her. "You look upset… did something happen? Are they out of the mousse?" He grinned, and what would have melted any other woman in the room went unnoticed by Jane.
"My friend… I'm sorry, but I think my friend's in trouble and I should really go check on her…"
He didn't do too great of a job masking his disappointment as his expression fell. "Oh. Is he, or she, all right?"
"I don't know—" Jane paused her perhaps irrationally racing thoughts for a moment to appreciate his obvious dismay and gave him her best appeasing smile. "I'm so sorry. I enjoyed tonight, really." She stood, collecting her things, and he was at her side in an instant to help her with her jacket.
"It's okay," he said halfheartedly. "I had a great time too. Will I…" He paused as she shrugged her light jacket into place, waiting for a chance to look her in the eye. "Can I call you? Tonight was fantastic, and I know it's being cut short, but I'd really like to do this again. You're a remarkable person, and by far the most interesting woman I've ever met."
Jane bit her lip as she locked eyes with him, feeling ill at the prospect of hurting him. He really liked her. Fighting its way through the tide of concern for Maura was a little of that I'm never going to find someone panic which didn't make things any easier. But Jane knew, she was sure, that he would never make her happy the way she wanted to be.
She took a deep breath, hoping her sincerity came across. "You're wonderful, you're… you're funny and smart and incredibly good-looking." He grinned at that briefly before his smile fell at her next words. "I like you, I think you're an interesting person, and I want to like you more, but…"
He sighed, looking down briefly before finding her eyes again. "Don't apologize for something you can't control. If I don't do it for you, you need to find someone who does."
Jane, still itching to leave, gave him a half smile. "That applies to you, too."
"You do it for me," he said quickly, a light blush coloring his chiseled features. "But this is a two way street." He glanced down at the purse she was holding tightly in her hands. "Is this the same friend you were texting before?"
Jane flushed, so sure that he hadn't noticed, and answered honestly. "Um, yes. The one who set this up, actually."
Two dark brows rose in surprise before a knowing look flashed in his eyes, and he stepped away. "It was a very nice thing for her to do."
Jane blinked, caught off guard by the sudden change in his demeanor. "Yeah it… it was."
He stepped back towards his chair with a friendly smile. "I won't keep you."
Jane licked her lips, somehow feeling like she owed him something. "Let me pay for dinner, please, as a way of—"
He shook his head. "No way. I don't consider the evening a loss. You definitely aren't someone I'm going to forget, Jane. Besides, I'm going to stick around and get the mousse."
That made Jane laugh, though the whispers of worry and concern in her head sobered her quickly. "Thank you. And I'm sorry."
"Have a good one, Jane."
And without looking back, Jane moved as fast as her heels would let her through the dining area, past the curious maître d' and out onto the street where she easily hailed a cab. By the time the cabbie pulled up in front of Maura's home, she had already run through a list of everything that could be wrong, mentally preparing herself to give Maura whatever she needed.
Pleased to find the door locked, Jane fished in her clutch for the right key. She gave it an urgent twist, all too eager to find Maura and see that she was okay. She shut the door and locked it behind her, easily spotting Maura on the couch. Maura, with red eyes and a tearstained face. Maura with rumpled work clothes and mussed hair.
The blonde woman's eyes widened in what Jane assumed to be surprise as the brunette swept closer. She stopped in front of her, further assessing her friend's status. Her fears were quickly confirmed. Jane took in flushed cheeks, bloodshot eyes, fists clenched in her lap as if she were waiting for some kind of blow. Moving slowly in an attempt to ease whatever it was that was making Maura so tense, Jane settled cautiously beside her, pausing a moment to see how Maura reacted. Then, with no movement from the doctor, Jane let her hand gravitate to Maura's shoulder. This way, she felt anchored and connected to her best friend.
Still with no reaction from the doctor, Jane was prompted to speak. "Maur… what's wrong?"
The doctor drew back just an inch, blinking repeatedly and sniffing and scrunching her brow humorously as if trying to see if Jane was really there. "Um… you're supposed to be on a date," she said, an off beat in her words. "Weren't you going home with—"
Jane smelled the heavy aroma of the Zinfandel on her breath. "Are you drunk?" Now Jane knew it was serious. Maura Isles, of all people, was never one to get drunk alone. After a moment, Maura's question finally sank in. "And no, I wasn't going to take him home."
The doctor looked… severely confused. "But you said he's… he's perrr-fect."
Jane rarely saw Maura this inebriated. What the hell happened? "Maura, you're scaring me. Why did you drink so much?"
"It didn't seem like much." The doctor didn't sound concerned.
Tearing her eyes away from the tearstained face, Jane looked for more evidence. There was nothing out of the ordinary in the house… nothing to betray the reason why Maura was so upset. Everything was neat and prim and proper… normal. Jane did, however, quickly notice the nearly empty bottle of Zinfandel on the coffee table. Her mouth dropped open in surprise. "Mmm, okay. Not that much." She rolled her eyes, hoping Maura detected the sarcasm dripping off her words in her drunken state. Jane refocused her concerned gaze on her best friend's saddened eyes. "Maura, sweetie, what's wrong?" She needed to know. She needed to make it better. Why was Maura dodging?
The doctor swayed a bit and Jane applied more pressure on Maura's shoulder to keep her steady. Maura seemed to struggle with her words. "I'm not… Why'd you come? I told you I was quite… quite… quite, mm…"
It took Jane a second to realize she was referring to her latest text. "Content, I know."
"So?" Maura was adamant on receiving an answer. "It's like… it's like you knew something was wrong."
Jane felt her heart melt at the intense appreciation she detected behind the doctor's curiosity and she felt her lips soften into a smile. "Because, Maur. You told me you were drinking Zinfandel. You only ever drink that stuff when something's really bothering you. And when you mentioned the whole bottle, I…" Jane trailed off when Maura's expression shifted suddenly. Jane could see tears ready to pour out, but somehow the doctor managed to hold it together.
"What happened to Mr. Perfect?"
Jane raised an eyebrow at the use of the word she herself had ascribed to him all night. "Oh, is that what we're calling him now?" She scratched her head nervously. "Well, I may have royally screwed things over. I sort of rushed out of there before we ordered dessert so I could come check on you." …and might have also mentioned that it would never work between us. Maura's expression shifted to one of bewilderment and Jane shrugged. "Besides, I think Mr. Perfect was a little too perfect." She was really scrambling for tangible reasons to dislike him. "It's like someone tailored him to be just right for me and that sort of freaked me out. We didn't disagree on anything." She shrugged again, hoping her words were convincing. "It was weird."
Maura was silent for a long moment, big brain working overtime, before she whispered, "I can't believe it."
Jane waited patiently for Maura to elaborate, but when she didn't, Jane decided to alleviate the tension with a bit of well-placed humor. "Well I can't believe how much of this bottle you put away." She dropped her hand to Maura's wrist as she reached for the bottle with her free hand and took a sip straight from it. "MM!" It was vile. Too potent. She yanked the offending bottle away fast and barely managed to swallow. She much preferred the bottle of red she'd shared with Mr. Perfect tonight. "Yuck! Maura, what are you doing, punishing yourself for something? Where're your thousand dollar bottles of eu de la fancy wine? This stuff is crap!"
Jane was busy scrunching her face in distaste and setting the bottle back on the table when she felt Maura's arm shift. Cool fingers slid their way into Jane's warm hand. Jane studied the woman before her, watching the slight smile on her lips fade as her thoughts took her somewhere distant. The detective gently squeezed the hand in hers, knowing the only way to coax the answer she wanted out of the doctor was by being persistent. "Okay, Maura, seriously. Are you going to tell me what's wrong?"
The doctor swayed a little where she sat like she had suddenly been struck by exhaustion. "I don't think I'll be setting you up… on any more dates."
The words startled Jane. Is that what this is about? Jane needed to hear more. "Okay…? Why is that?" When Maura didn't answer, Jane tried again. "Is that what was bothering you? Me being on a date?"
The smile that blossomed on Maura's face was demure. "Maybe."
Jane felt her frustration building, somehow excited at what Maura might be implying, but unable to embrace the excitement without being sure. "Maura, I don't understand. Be straight with me!"
"I don't think that's possible," Maura responded, giggling like it was the funniest thing. She leaned forward until her face was just in front of Jane's, her expression suddenly very serious. "You're the only thing that makes it noisy around here."
Noise… Maura often mentioned how quiet her home could be sometimes. Jane stared into Maura's very close, very dark eyes, seeing a puzzle there and feeling a flutter of confusion, and something else, in her chest. Why was Maura talking in riddles? And the reason she was upset, or at least what she was implying—Jane's absence… was that true? "Is that… a good thing?" she tried.
"Yes." The word was urgent as it left Maura's mouth. "Please. Don't ever go." She paused, searching Jane's eyes blearily. "Promise you'll stay."
Jane's chest tightened at the invitation to spend the night, even though she did it all the time. It somehow seemed different this time. "Yeah, Maur, I'll stay," she husked, her concern lingering in her tone.
Maura drifted forward, causing Jane's heart to leap before she saw that Maura was just coming in for a warm hug, and Jane welcomed her, wrapping her arms tightly around her drunk, confusing, complex friend and rubbing what she hoped were soothing patterns on her back.
"Sleep with me."
Jane froze at the request. Her brain exploded in confusion, too many thoughts jamming up the thin roadways, and the only word that came out was, "Um…?"
She felt Maura smile against her skin. "In my bed," the doctor clarified into Jane's neck, and Jane had to resist the shiver that went up her spine. It felt so… good to feel Maura's breath there. "You're the only thing that keeps it away."
Jane focused on those last words, turning her mouth into Maura's hair. "Keep what away, Maur?" Her hair was so soft, and Jane felt herself falter at the feeling of it against her lips.
"The loneliness," the doctor admitted with a broken murmur.
Jane closed her eyes, understanding immediately. The reference to noise, and now loneliness… Maura had needed Jane here tonight. She almost laughed, realizing that neither of them wanted anything to do with that stupid date. She held her vulnerable, selfless friend just a little tighter against her. She felt Maura take in a short breath, and Jane's heart clenched in confusion. She didn't know what was going on, not really, but she was beginning to get an idea…
"Jane, you're the only one…"
"The only one who what?" Jane asked softly, a mysterious thrill building in her chest.
Maura just shook her head against Jane's neck, as if she couldn't finish the sentence. Or, Jane realized, maybe that was the sentence. Jane tightened her hold on this woman she loved and rocked the doctor soothingly back and forth as she pondered her best friend's words.
The only one.
Why had she been pestering Maura about not having a date? It's like the fact by itself had bothered her, but Jane had been and still was completely content with the track of her life. Especially right now. She would have much rather been at that French restaurant with Maura than Mr. Perfect.
Yes, she would have had a much better time with Maura seated across from her. They would have ordered the mousse and shared it like they always did, spoons dueling for the last delicious scoop and the victor, more often than not Jane, would carefully dissect the chocolaty dollop into two and slip just half of the remnants into her mouth, eyes rolling back with a groan of appreciation at the last taste before handing the almost mousse-free spoon off. Jane loved watching Maura eat the last drop, always licking the spoon clean before pointing it in mock anger at Jane. "I should've had the entire last spoonful and you know it."
Jane felt herself grin into Maura's hair, imagining that that very scenario had taken place tonight, and she dropped a soft kiss against honey waves. Mr. Perfect's stories had been fun, but dinners with Maura were far more entertaining. "Next time, Maur," she whispered, wondering if the doctor had fallen asleep in her arms. "Next time, I'll go with you."
She felt a light chuckle tickle her neck and the doctor nuzzled even closer to her, her confirmation that Maura was awake, and had heard her, and approved.
Jane still didn't completely understand this. But it seemed to make sense. And it felt right. Dinner with Maura would have felt right. So right.
Unlike dinner with Mr. Perfect. Mister…
She blinked, realizing with a start that she didn't even remember his name.