Title: Since You Went Away
Authors: i-must-go-first & UbiquitousMixie
Fandom: Brenda/Sharon, The Closer
Rating: PG (Overall M)
Chapter Word Count: 11,596
Disclaimer: Not ours. Please don't sue.
Summary: A late-night craving and a coincidental meeting lead a certain deputy chief to discover that there's much more to the inimitable Captain Raydor than meets the eye, and to realize that her mama was right: sometimes all a single woman really needs is a good girlfriend.
Authors' Note: This story has been in the works for the past nine months and we're really, really excited to share it with the fandom. It's been a labor of love for us. Comments and feedback would be greatly appreciated.
Chapter One: To Have and Have Not
Brenda Leigh heaped a generous spoonful of butter into the pot of mashed potatoes and proceeded to mix it into the fluffy white mixture, pausing to dip a finger in for a taste. She smacked her lips appreciatively and, checking again to make sure the burner was turned off (not a mistake she was eager to repeat after an angry phone call from her landlord), heaved herself onto the counter and stuck in her spoon.
The sound of her heels thudding against the cabinet and the scrape of her spoon against the pot punctuated the silence, reminding Brenda that she was completely, gloriously alone. She could sit unapologetically on the counter in her underwear, perched beside a dirty bowl that had been there for a day or two and the can of butter spray that she'd forgotten to put away when she made brownies the week before. She could eat as much of the mashed potatoes as she wanted without having to worry about saving another portion and eat directly from the bowl without being chastised. She could hum off-key without being compared to a drowning cat. She could do what she wanted however she wanted because she was Brenda Leigh Johnson: a free woman.
Marriage hadn't exactly been a prison sentence, but there had been something incredibly freeing about the moment when she and Fritz had agreed that it simply wasn't working anymore. It had been two months since she moved out and it was still a novelty to her.
The vibrating of her cell phone was a welcome distraction to the train of thought that she had been ardently avoiding, and so it was with little hesitation that she glanced at the screen and hit the button to accept the call. "Hello, Mama."
"Oh my goodness, you actually answered the phone!" Willie Rae exclaimed, the twang of her accent warming Brenda like her favorite childhood blanket. "What's wrong?"
"What? Nothin's wrong."
"It's not nice to lie to your mama, Brenda Leigh."
"I'm not lyin'! I'm just home early is all…"
"You get home a lot earlier now that you're livin' on your own," Willie Rae observed.
Brenda sighed and filled her mouth with potatoes to avoid being baited by her mother. When her mother's steady breath blew against the phone, the blonde rolled her eyes and swallowed. "I'm sure that's just a coincidence. I work just as much as I've always worked."
"How is Fritz doin'?"
This time, Brenda dumped her spoon in the pot and scooted off the edge of the counter. When her bare feet hit the linoleum, she padded over to the open bottle of Merlot and poured herself a glass. "I don't know. We don't exactly check in with each other every day."
Willie Rae hummed disapprovingly. "I heard he's lookin' to transfer back east."
"Where'd you hear—Mama, are you talkin' to Fritzi?" She took a large gulp of wine and cocked her hip against the counter.
"He called to wish your father a happy birthday last week," her mother explained. "He sounds good, Brenda Leigh. Much better than you do."
"What're you talkin' about? I sound just fine."
"Mmmhmm…I'll just bet that you haven't even finished unpackin'."
Brenda glanced into the living room, eyeing the precarious pyramid of boxes. "Yes, I have."
"You can fool a fool, Brenda Leigh, but you can't fool me."
Retrieving the pot of potatoes, she strolled into the next room and paused. The deputy chief looked around the barren living area and poked at the rapidly cooling mashed potatoes, irritated by the pang of guilt she felt. She swallowed another mouthful of Merlot for good measure. For heaven's sake, if she was content to live out of boxes and sit on her IKEA futon to watch TV, what should it matter to anybody else? She could do exactly as she pleased. Wasn't that the chief benefit of being newly single?
Still, she heard herself say, "It's not that bad, Mama. I've just been busy, is all."
"So you say, but you're home now," Willie Rae pointed out.
Confronted with this irrefutable logic, Brenda remained silent. She'd just realized that her voice echoed off the naked walls and wooden floors when she spoke, which must have been what had tipped her mother off to her sad lack of interior decorating skills in the first place - unless, of course, it was just that the elder Johnson woman knew her daughter a bit better than Brenda cared to admit.
Once she realized she wasn't going to receive a verbal response, Willie Rae sighed. "I never icould/i get you to put your toys away without a battle," she recalled. "Honey, why don't you ask some of your nice friends to come and help you? That's what friends are for, after all. And afterwards, you can make them - that is, take them out for dinner as a thank-you."
Brenda rolled her eyes. "I can't really see Lieutenant Provenza signin' up for that, Mama. Or Detective Sanchez. Or -"
"All right, maybe not them. I bet your new apartment could use a feminine touch anyway."
Now Brenda frowned. "I have a feminine touch," she protested, and it was her mother's turn to remain silent. Well, fine, the chief considered, brooding. She hardly saw how the possession of two X chromosomes could be beneficial when it came to unpacking boxes and putting books on a shelf.
She was suddenly assaulted by a memory of sitting on the hideous gold carpet of her first post-college apartment, moaning about the faithlessness of some guy whose name she couldn't quite remember - Steve, maybe? No, she'd still been at Georgetown when she'd gone out with him - and sharing tears, laughter, and a large pepperoni pizza with her best friend, Christine. Maybe the unpacking wasn't really the point.
Christine and Brenda Leigh had lost touch long ago, their lives drifting in different directions. When Brenda had last received a Christmas card from her old friend, featuring a family photo of Christine with her blonde husband and their equally blonde two (or was it three?) children, Christine had mentioned that she owned an insurance agency in Baltimore. Brenda was fairly certain the two of them had nothing in common now but their memories, so it wasn't Christine she suddenly missed, but rather the idea of that sort of female companionship.
Brenda sighed into her cell phone. "I don't have any female friends," she admitted. "All my friends are people I work with; you know that."
"What about Sharon?"
Brenda Leigh choked on a mouthful of mashed potatoes as she imagined Captain Sharon Raydor standing in the middle of this room, distastefully flicking motes of dust from the sleeve of her designer blazer and checking items off in her ever-present notebook as she fastidiously oversaw the arrangement of whatever the heck it was that Brenda had crammed into all these boxes in the first place. The incongruous vision was almost enough to make the deputy chief laugh out loud.
Willie Rae persisted. "You did tell your father and me that you were friends."
Brenda shuddered at the challenging tone of her mother's voice, much in the way she had when she was a child and had been caught trying to pass the blame of the broken VCR to Clay Jr. "Uh, we are. But Sharon's got her own thing goin' on. She doesn't have time to play house with me." Not that she knew what Sharon Raydor did when she was off the clock; Brenda had always assumed that the captain was always working - that, or she simply crawled back into her pod.
What did Sharon do with her free time?
"Now you're just makin' excuses. If you won't get your behind in gear, maybe I should make a trip out and lend a hand."
It wasn't a threat, exactly, but Brenda positively cringed at the mental image of her apartment done over in mismatched, hideous floral prints. She washed away the thought with a sip of her wine. No-this apartment was her home, the first since Atlanta that she could decorate as she pleased. She would do it...even if it meant having to do it alone.
Which she was completely fine with.
"I'm gonna do it. Really, Mama. I'll send pictures."
Willie Rae chuckled, and the chief could picture her standing in her vast Georgia kitchen, pursing her lips and raising her eyebrow. "Can you honestly tell me you know where your camera is?"
"Course I do!" Brenda yelped defensively. "I know exactly where it is." She glanced over at a stack of boxes that served as the place where she dumped her mail. One of the boxes was labelled "electronic stuff" - the camera had to be in there.
The old woman gave a helpless sigh. "I'm worried about you, sweetheart."
There it was: the real reason for her mother's phone call. Brenda frowned and used her spoon to create a mountain of mashed potatoes in the pot, which she then caved in. "I'm doin' just fine. Really. Things are great."
"Are you tryin' to convince me or you?"
Brenda rolled her eyes. "Mama."
"All right, all right..."
Feeling suddenly a little edgy, Brenda set down the pot. "Listen, I'm gettin' another call. It's probably work," she lied, twirling the stem of her wine glass in her fingers. "I'll call you in a few days, okay? Tell daddy I love him."
"Try not to work too hard! And please try to remember what I said, Brenda Leigh. A grown woman livin' on her own needs a girlfriend."
"All right. Love you! Bye now." Brenda quickly ended the call before Willie Rae could chime in again and tossed her phone on the other end of the futon. She exhaled a heavy breath, feeling as though she had just evaded her own interrogative techniques.
Honestly, she wasn't a little girl anymore. She didn't need a man or her parents or anyone else to take care of her. She was doing perfectly fine on her own.
Swirling the pinot noir in her stemless wine glass with one hand, Sharon wielded a spatula with the other, using it to move the handful of shallots around the frying pan so they'd gradually turn an even golden color rather than browning. Under her breath she vaguely hummed some snatch of a melody, something she must've heard on the radio today on a station that had actually played a song amid the interminable stream of commercials. It wasn't so much that Sharon felt like humming as it was that she remembered she had once hummed contentedly in moments like this, alone with her thoughts and the fragrant smells of a good meal in the cozy warmth of her kitchen.
When her cell phone began to ring she welcomed the distraction.
"Ooh, answering on the third ring - slow night at the cop shop?"
"I am at home, for your information."
"Everybody in the LAPD decided to play nicely today?"
"Oh, yes, sweetheart. We all traded our glocks in for wreaths of flowers and sang 'Kumbaya,' and as a result Mommy is home early."
"I find that hard to believe."
"I'm even cooking."
"Harder to believe."
"Hah-hah. Was there something?"
"What, I can't just call to check in on my beloved Aged P? Make sure you haven't fallen and found yourself unable to get up?"
"You're so easy, Mom. You remain a stone fox, as ever."
Sharon sipped her wine. "That's more like it, baby."
"Wanna meet me for dinner tomorrow night? We could go to that place with the crazy hot salsa."
"Tomorrow is Friday."
"And you've got a mind like a steel trap. You're just the complete package."
"I mean, shouldn't you have something more exciting to do on a Friday night than go to dinner with your mother?"
"Oh, let me check my calendar. Let's see: no."
"You can't just sit home and mope the whole time Kai is in Korea, Daniel. He's going to be there for nine months. Not only is it a waste of time that does no one any favors, but it makes you a middlebrow cliche."
"I'm not moping; I'm inviting my mother to dinner."
"You're inviting me to pay for dinner."
"Jesus, Mom, I can afford tacos, okay? Is that a yes?"
Sharon's shallots were browning. She quickly shoved at them with the spatula and added the mixture of minced chicken and basil with Thai chilis that had been chilling in her refrigerator.
"We all know you don't have a hot date," Daniel added.
The captain scowled and placed her wine on the counter so she had a free hand to flip her long hair over her shoulder. "Pot, kettle," she pointed out.
"Minor difference: I have a boyfriend. When was the last time you even went out?"
"This may be hard for you to grasp at the advanced age of twenty-four, honey, but by my stage of life, the thrill of dating has palled. I am perfectly fine the way I am. I enjoy being single."
"I know, Mom." There was a crinkling sound; Sharon pictured her son sprawled on his sofa, the fabric of which was now an indeterminate color that might once have been tan, and scarfing down an entire bag of barbecue potato chips. Oh, to be that young.
Sharon took another sip of her wine and crinkled her nose as she thought of herself at twenty-four. Scratch that. No way would she want to be that young again. She'd take the chips, though, and cheerfully give up the mild arthritis in her knees in return.
"But are you sure you want to be... so single?"
She snorted. Dating advice from her son; Christ, she was the cliche, not Danny.
"You and Dad have been divorced for nearly fifteen years," he continued. "You used to go out, at least, but when have you had a real relationship?"
"My dinner is ready, Daniel."
"There's not anybody at work? I mean, I've seen the statistics. All those men..."
"Danny," Sharon said sharply, aware that she didn't need to say anything else.
"You could try the internet. Some of those sites are really reputa-"
"Good night, son."
"I'll see you tomorrow, Mom."
Sharon rolled her eyes heavenward and disconnected the call, placing the phone down on the countertop. She swirled the wine around her glass and inhaled its earthy, heady fragrance before savoring another small sip, allowing herself the brief moment to simply enjoy the quiet. There weren't many nights like this where she could soak in the solitude and relax, so she made a point to enjoy them, even if the motions were somewhat habitually forced rather than natural.
Daniel's persistence about her love life wasn't completely for nought; the idea of companionship was something she wouldn't necessarily decline if given an enticing enough offer, but there was something soothing about these peaceful evenings at home. She'd be remiss to give them up for the chaos of dating or, if hell were to suddenly experience an unexpected cold front, an actual relationship.
An actual relationship, complete with dinner-and-a-movie dates and pet names and sex and morning breath and public displays of affection-the very idea of it was nearly laughable. Sharon hardly considered herself washed up or itoo old/i for that sort of thing, but she could not deny the possibility that she had become a little too settled in the routine of her life to crave that sort of companionable spontaneity.
It occurred to her, as she heaped the single serving of chicken and rice onto her red dinner plate, that Daniel, at his woefully young age, could not fully appreciate the concept of a solitary lifestyle. She had done her time with her husband and had raised two children and had, in some small way, served as the surrogate mother to her entire division. She had earned this and she was damn well going to enjoy it.
Danny, bless him, was concerned about her. Of her two children, his disposition was the most like her own. He was her male mirror image at times and, to her chagrin, self-awareness begot self-awareness, and he could read her better than almost anyone. As she turned off the stove and put the pan into the sink to soak, she made a mental note to prepare for his typical assault of overly-personal questions and helpful meddling at dinner.
Sharon collected her dinner plate and glass and seated herself at the table, pausing for a moment to listen to the silence that surrounded her. She had always enjoyed the quiet, the silence. She liked to be able to withdraw into it, wrap it around herself like a favorite sweater and snuggle deeply into it, just burying herself. That was actually one of the things she enjoyed about being in FID. Oh, her office wasn't silent, of course, but compared to the hustle and bustle of divisions like Robbery/Homicide or Vice and the barely controlled chaos of crime scenes, it might as well have been. Captain Raydor liked to close her door and be alone with her pens and papers and forms, accompanied only by the near-noiseless hum of her computer.
Silence had a certain quality when you were alone in it, a purity that was like the transparency of crystal-clear, cold spring-water; you could penetrate all the way to the depths of it without really even having to look or wonder. Sharon relished having her house to herself after having shared it for most of her adult life. In her mind she again heard the barking of Jericho, the family's long-deceased mutt, and the slamming of the back door followed by the pounding of two pairs of sneaker-clad feet as Daniel immediately trotted upstairs to begin his homework and Vivien tore through the downstairs rooms howling for a snack or her misplaced soccer cleats or the sheet music she needed to memorize.
Sharon felt her lips curl into a smile, but after only a split second the smile froze and then melted away. Her fork scraped against her plate as she heaped chicken and rice together, the sound unnervingly loud in the silent kitchen.
Maybe, she considered, looking down at the dinner she no longer particularly wanted to eat, the house was a little too silent tonight.
A few seconds later Sharon's bare feet padded across the Spanish tile, the sound following her into the living room as she arranged her plate and glass on the coffee table and pointed the remote control at the flat-screen television. It flared to life and a newscaster's stern but sonorous voice filled the living room, intoning words of environmental woe, economic catastrophe, and political upheaval.
Sharon sighed with unabashed relief. Then she spread her napkin over her lap, picked up her fork, and resumed eating her stir-fry.
Wandering aimlessly in the supermarket was not how Brenda had hoped to spend her Friday night. She'd been fully prepared to work into the weekend, but her suspect had confessed earlier than expected, giving up the names of his accomplices and leaving her with a neatly closed case once they had all been rounded up. Under normal circumstances, she'd have been undeniably pleased with her efforts but she was oddly disappointed to now have the prospect of Friday Night looming ahead of her.
Fritz had been big on having date nights every Friday, whether they went to the movies or watched documentaries while they ate takeout or made love until the early hours of the morning. It wasn't something Brenda ever particularly needed, but it had been important to him and so she had made the effort as all good wives did. Toward the end of their marriage, date night had been taken over by stale conversation over leftovers and going to bed early with their backs to each other.
It was a relief to Brenda that those awkward nights were over. Fritz was no doubt spending date night with someone else who probably really wanted it (Brenda never asked if he was seeing someone new and he never volunteered the information, which meant that he probably was), and she was forced to admit that her cozy little apartment had been just a little too quiet to handle without restocking her Merlot supply.
She had originally planned on unpacking but, after opening a box and peering inside to find a mishmash of cords and a broken toaster, she decided to clean out the fridge instead. As it had turned out, there wasn't much to clean: most of the leftovers needed to be tossed, which left her with a few cans of diet soda, a bottle of ketchup, and a carton of eggs.
It wasn't her near-empty fridge that had motivated her to go grocery shopping so much as it had been her desire to be around people. She didn't necessarily want to interact with anyone. She simply, albeit begrudgingly, was forced to admit to herself that she needed to feel like she wasn't entirely alone. She needed to know that there were other perfectly normal, happy people who went shopping for groceries on a Friday night instead of stupidly buying into that ridiculous date night business.
As she maneuvered her shopping cart around the supermarket, bypassing the fresh produce in favor of the bag of dried banana chips that hung nearby, she caught a glance of the store's small corner of flowers. Brown eyes scanned the vibrant hues of orchid petals and wilting carnations, pausing momentarily on a sad, droopy little fern.
Maybe Brenda Leigh needed a fern.
As soon as the thought flickered through her mind, she rolled her eyes at herself and propelled her cart forward, away from the plants and toward the aisle that housed the toothpaste. She absently reached for something in a blue box and dumped it into the cart, wondering if it would be inappropriate to open the bag of banana chips to munch on while she shopped. She decided against it, having always judged others for doing the same thing. What if they'd forgotten their debit card and only realized it once they reached the cash register and had already downed their cola? Just to be safe, Brenda peered inside the large black purse that was nestled in the basket and made sure that her wallet was there.
She grabbed a bottle of cucumber melon Suave shampoo and idly hummed along to the song that played overhead, passing by random shoppers as she weaved her way through the aisles. She'd bypassed many of the grocery essentials, like milk and cheese and bread, and had instead loaded up on the Brenda Leigh Johnson essentials: two bottles of Merlot, three boxes of ding dongs (buy two, get one free), honey (the kind in the bear-shaped bottle, not the boring one that Fritz always used to buy), Cheetos, Special K cereal, Drain-o, and rubber gloves (for cleaning...when she cleaned).
As Brenda pondered her loot, she tried to remember what else she absolutely needed before she left. She knew she really should get the rest of her groceries, especially since she wasn't particularly in a rush to get back to her quiet little apartment. A night of unpacking and cleaning and watching Food Network wasn't entirely appealing, especially now that she was dressed and in public.
She also knew that she couldn't stay there forever, and so she decided that she would bake a cake. Yes -a triple chocolate layer cake with dark chocolate shavings. Brenda nearly licked her lips at the thought. Suddenly the night didn't seem so glum.
Steering her cart back toward the candy aisle, Brenda put a little extra spring in her step at the prospect of baking one of the very few recipes that she had successfully mastered. She was beginning to feel downright giddy -
- until she rounded the corner of the aisle and found herself nearly colliding with Sharon Raydor.
Sharon had learned the hard way never to go grocery shopping when she was hungry. Those who knew Sharon well, really knew her, were privy to a bit of information no one at the LAPD would have even suspected: impulse control was not Captain Raydor's strong suit. She had learned to be very, very good at it, but it had taken a hell of a lot of work, and she was quietly proud of the accomplishment. It wasn't natural, not innate. There had to be rules, methods, little tactics that built up an entire way of life. One of those simple little rules was for Sharon not to go grocery shopping when she was hungry unless she wanted to end up with a kitchen stocked with cheese, crackers, potato chips, hummus and frozen pizza.
Tonight she wasn't hungry, she was just pissed off.
Sharon seized a jar of popcorn, the old-fashioned kind you pop on the stove-top with salt and oil and love because it's just iso much better/i than the microwavable kind, and placed it in her basket, where it was flanked by squash, zucchini, a bag of frozen shrimp and, yes, a block of extra-sharp cheddar. Placing the basket on the floor between her moccasin-shod feet, she consulted her shopping list, crossing off the items she'd already picked up and planning the remainder of her route through the massive store. She didn't need much, really, and had intended to defer this little outing until Saturday night (although spending Saturday night at the supermarket was even sadder than spending Friday night there, and seemed to suggest that maybe Daniel actually had a valid point about her social life, which annoyed Sharon so severely that she considered tossing a tub of yogurt-covered pretzels into the basket, but she refrained). After sharing two orders of chicken verde tacos and a few beers with her son, though, she'd felt too agitated to go straight home.
Which was ridiculous. Her meddling little bastard of an offspring meant well, and she knew it. Plus he had paid for dinner. It had been a while since anyone had taken Sharon out for dinner. And the salsa was just as scorching and delicious as she had remembered.
Skim milk and light cream cheese joined the other items in her basket. Quinoa, aluminum foil, paper towels, the extra-strength anti-frizz hairspray - She checked the last four things off of her admittedly idiosyncratic list, slipped the slightly crumpled piece of paper into the pocket of the casual navy blazer she wore over the jeans and t-shirt she'd changed into after work, and set off for the checkout at a brisk clip.
As if she had no control over her feet, the captain felt herself veering toward the candy aisle - the gourmet candy aisle, to be precise. Her tongue still tingling from the habaneros that had graced her tacos, Sharon found herself craving something rich and decadent for dessert, and she was pretty sure all she had at home was hot cocoa mix. She didn't relish the thought of eating the grainy powder with a spoon.
… not that she'd ever done that before.
Generally Sharon preferred salty, savory snacks to sweet, but occasionally there was an exception, and one such exception was the special chocolate. That was how she thought of it, an entity so pure, dark, and sinful that it belonged in its own category. 87% pure organic cacao enfolded in a dark crimson wrapper, it would be the perfect accompaniment to Rachel Maddow's words of wisdom and the rest of that bottle of pinot she'd opened last night.
Which was a perfectly legitimate way for an interesting, attractive, highly intelligent 54-year-old woman to spend an evening, damn it.
Sharon was well known for the intensity of her focus, and she was intensely focused on that crimson wrapper - ye gods and little fishes, the last one on the shelf! - so that was probably how she failed to notice the red-sweatered blonde tornado hurtling toward her until a shopping cart collided painfully with her right hip. She spun to challenge the custodian of the cart, who was also the owner of the slender hand reaching for that last precious chocolate bar.
She felt her lips press together into a grim line as she met the startled gaze of Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson, who smiled and stammered, "Ca - Capt'n."
Sharon frowned and said the only thing she could think of: "I saw it first."
The blonde recovered from her momentary lapse of composure and pursed her lips. "Nice to see you too," she quipped, arching an eyebrow challengingly.
Sharon rolled her eyes. "Hello, Chief. Lovely weather we're having. Kindly let go of my chocolate bar."
"It's not yours. You haven't paid for it."
"Nor have you."
Why was it that whenever Brenda Leigh Johnson was concerned, Sharon felt instantly transported to the sandbox days, when Judy Lincoln would pull her hair and steal her shovel and insist that she had never really wanted to use it in the first place? Foregoing the urge to tug on those golden curls, Sharon stiffened and eyed the bar of chocolate in the chief's hand. It was still odd to see the woman without her wedding ring, but she decided she would ruminate on that later. Now, green eyes darted over the mass of items in the younger woman's shopping cart and she scowled.
"You have three boxes of ding dongs, Chief. Clearly your palate doesn't require such refined chocolate."
Brown eyes narrowed. "I'm gonna bake a cake."
Sharon was tired and irritated; she thought maybe she'd forgotten to set the DVR to record Rachel Maddow, and she'd had two Presidentes with her tacos. None of these factors improved her disposition or strengthened her self-control. She guffawed.
"A cake. You're planning to defile this chocolate by using it to make a cake?"
Without further deliberation, Sharon snatched the chocolate bar from Brenda's unsuspecting grasp and held it to her chest with a protective, proprietary air. The deputy chief's eyes widened.
Of all the nerve! "It's a very good cake. An excellent cake. I use an Ina Garten recipe."
The captain, who was holding herself in a more loose-limbed fashion than usual, arched an eyebrow. "You bake," she clarified in a tone of flat amazement. "And it is necessary that you use this particular chocolate in order to bake this 'excellent' cake?"
Brenda cocked her head and contemplated the items in the older woman's shopping basket. Healthy stuff, mostly - like the things on the grocery list Brenda Leigh had left at home magnetized to the refrigerator. She glanced down at the essentials in her own cart, and then looked askance at the captain's basket. There were no surprises there. (Except, wait, was that extra-strength anti-frizz hairspray? Brenda's eyes slid back up to the long, sleek brown locks tumbling over Sharon's left shoulder, and she felt a flicker of smug triumph at the knowledge that the FID captain didn't just emerge fully and perfectly formed each morning from her chrysalis - or the coffin she probably slept in.) The older woman certainly wasn't buying any junk food, unless you counted popcorn, which the chief definitely didn't.
But Sharon wanted that chocolate bar.
Something odd was happening to the blonde: her annoyance was ebbing away to be replaced by mild amusement. Sharon Raydor might taunt her for her ding dong proclivities, but her craving for this chocolate was just a higher-brow version of the very same impulse. Somehow it leveled the playing field.
"No," Brenda conceded, smiling slightly, "I suppose I don't. So you just keep that one." A dimple appeared in her left cheek as she pondered her own magnanimity. Being the bigger person caused a lovely, lofty glow to spread through her; it was almost as good as eating that 87% pure-cacao dark chocolate.
Sharon watched those brown eyes narrow as they scrutinized her response. Judy Lincoln, too, had had her rare impulses of generosity. ("Here, Sharon, you can play with the shovel if it really matters that much to you.") Judy, like Brenda Leigh, had expected Sharon to toss the hard-won prize aside, its value at last negated by the brunette's ability to possess it.
Sharon never had given back that shovel, and the chocolate did matter that much. Her lips twisted into a smirk as she tossed the crimson-wrapped treat into her basket. "Thanks, chief."
The obvious surprise on Brenda's face made the smirk turn into a bona fide grin.
Brenda matched the look with a smirk of her own. "Looks like you need it more than me."
"I don't need it. I want it. There's a difference."
The blonde had difficulty wrapping her mind around this newly acquired information. Sharon "I-must-go-first-I-must-I-must-I-must" Raydor actually wanted things? In all the time that Brenda had known the older woman, everything she had asked for (or, really, demanded) had been from a place of necessity. Was this captain, this woman, actually capable of wanting, coveting, and craving?
Perhaps she was human after all.
"No wonder you want it so bad," Brenda replied, peeking again into the bland assortment of goods in Sharon's basket, "with all that."
"You are judging my groceries?" Sharon balked, issuing a snort. "You're hardly planning a five-course meal."
"Who said anythin' about a meal?"
"Oh that's right: you're baking a cake."
"Scoff all you want. My cake's gonna be delicious."
The corner of Sharon's mouth tugged upward into a smirk. "I'm sure."
The blonde bristled at the underwhelming vote of confidence. "Why is it that you think I'm incapable of performing the simplest of tasks? I just bet I'd surprise you, given the chance."
It was impossible for Sharon to miss how defensive the blonde was becoming and, after the irritation that had been building since dinner with her son, she decided to let this one go (purely for the sake of her own nerves). "On the contrary, chief, you surprise me often."
"Good," Brenda preened. "I think." She grabbed a lesser-quality bar of dark chocolate from the shelf and tossed it into her cart.
They stood together in awkward silence, each woman looking anywhere but at the other, neither wanting to be the first to admit that they wanted to run away from the other's company. It was a refreshing change of pace for Brenda to be in a state of constant check with the stubborn woman, as opposed to Fritzi's never-ending willingness to submit to her will. Outside of the office, Sharon and Brenda were both simply women who had nothing better to do on a Friday night than raid the supermarket. Without that workplace animosity in the way, Brenda found herself actually -not enjoying the random accidental interaction, but appreciating how intrigued and curious she had become.
Sharon cocked her chin, her mysterious grin softening, and the deputy chief fleetingly wondered whether the captain's thoughts might be flowing in a similar vein. "Well," the older woman drawled, "good night, chief. Enjoy your cake. Oh, and perhaps once you've finished baking it, you could also finish that incident commander statement I need before I can file my report on Officer Gloria Raymond's discharge of her service weapon." She shifted her basket to her right hand and checked her watch. "Seventy-four hours and counting."
Brenda applauded herself for waiting until the captain had turned her back to roll her eyes. Still, she couldn't help mentally reviewing the conversation she'd had the previous evening with her mother. Maybe the idea of trying to make friends with Sharon Raydor wasn't so crazy after all, even if the hyper-organized woman probably divided her leisure time up into precise fifteen-minute increments. Brenda's options were limited, and bickering with Sharon would beat the heck out of trolling for nubile females with Provenza, playing Halo with Buzz and Tao, or going to church to sing hymns with choirboy Gabriel. That chocolate bar hinted at untold possibilities.
Brenda rearranged her limbs, seeking a more comfortable position on the futon, which, admittedly, was a smidge too narrow even for her small frame, and removed her reading glasses so she could rub at her dry eyes. She glanced over at the TV and curled her lip in distaste. There was absolutely nothing interesting on unless you were into golf, which Brenda Leigh was not. She'd finally settled on a flashy Spanish-language soap opera in the vague hope of picking up a few phrases, since Julio perpetually and politely ridiculed her for her inability even to pronounce many of the city's street names correctly, but she definitely needed an interpreter - unless the guy with the mustache really had just asked for a dog, a shot of tequila, and a blue dress, which seemed unlikely. She pointed the remote at the screen, turned the TV off, and made a mental note to find and unpack her DVDs.
The clock on her cell phone informed her that it was 6:53, twelve minutes since she'd last checked. She'd just dotted her last i and crossed her last t, so she no longer had the distraction of the paperwork she'd brought home to keep herself company, but at least it was a respectable dinner time. She looked over her shoulder at the kitchen, whose surfaces were liberally sprinkled with flour and sugar, and sternly told herself she couldn't just eat cake.
But it was a delicious cake; even smug Sharon would have to admit that much.
She eyed the cake in question, which was proudly displayed on a cake plate in the middle of her table. She'd had the presence of mind to fish it out of the box labeled "kitcheny things" while the cake was in the oven, not wanting her own laziness and lackadaisical attitude about unpacking to ruin a perfectly decadent cake.
And it was decadent, if the three-quarters that remained had anything to say about it.
Brenda dampened a sponge and quickly wiped off the counters, wondering if she should go ahead and start boiling a pot of water, but quickly dismissed the idea. Even she was getting sick of clam linguine. She wasn't even that hungry, though she could certainly work up an appetite in the time it took for the Chinese place near her apartment to deliver. She reached for her phone and then hesitated.
Alone on a Saturday night with Chinese takeout was about as bad as Friday night in a grocery store.
Tossing the sponge back into the sink, Brenda wiped her hands on the dish towel draped along the handle of the stove. She peered back into the living room, surmising her options, and once again caught sight of the plain manila folder.
Captain Raydor was on a deadline, and an impromptu visit would shake things up a little.
Brenda grinned wickedly. It would also give her a chance to show off her delicious cake.
It was surprisingly easy to find Sharon's address. By the time she'd carved out a large slice of cake, stuck it in the last clean tupperware container in the cupboard, and headed out the door, Brenda was nearly teeming with giddiness at the thought of just how ruffled Sharon would be when she showed up at her doorstep.
Sharon, as it turned out, lived only eighteen minutes away from Brenda's new apartment, fifteen minutes closer than the house she'd shared with Fritz. She wasn't sure why she was so pleased to know this, but the possibility that she might have a potential friend within a respectable distance was certainly something her mother would love.
When she parked her car in front of the captain's house, she briefly considered the idea that, while Brenda had no plans on a Saturday night, Sharon just might. She made note of the car in the driveway and the light that illuminated the captain's porch and decided that she liked her chances.
If Sharon was as much of a homebody as Brenda suspected, she may just be in business.
She rang the doorbell and held her breath.
She nearly laughed when Sharon answered the door, clad in gray yoga pants and an off-the-shoulder red sweater. "Chief?" Emerald eyes narrowed as she gave the blonde a quick once-over. "What are you doing here? I hope someone's been shot."
"I thought I'd bring by that report you wanted." Brenda made no move to reach into her purse for the file, hoping that Sharon would take the hint and invite her inside.
"On a Saturday?"
Brenda shrugged, peering over the captain's bare shoulder to sneak a peek inside the elusive woman's house. She caught hues of brown and gold and itched to see what else was inside, feeling like an impatient child with her face pressed against the outdoor window of Toys R' Us. "I know you think I don't care about paperwork and deadlines, but I do," she said virtuously, drawing herself up to her full height and casting her most sincere, wide-eyed gaze at the older woman.
"Yes, on Saturday night." Before Sharon could become righteously indignant, Brenda's lips twitched into a small smile and she relented. She nodded toward the unmistakable hunk of Tupperware in the deputy chief's other hand. "I assume that isn't evidence."
When Brenda Leigh batted her eyelashes like that, Sharon thought, she looked like Bambi. The older woman found the thought surprisingly amusing. "Why, it's a generous slice of my delicious homemade triple chocolate cake just for you, capt'n," the blonde gushed in a tone that would've done the Junior League proud.
"In that case," Sharon replied seriously, but she couldn't keep the sparkle from her clear green eyes, "maybe you'd like to come in, chief."
The captain had seen that triumphant glint in the other woman's eyes on more than one occasion, and she knew exactly what it meant. Free and easy newly-single Deputy Chief Johnson had been bored, and maybe lonely, at home by her lonesome on Saturday night, so she'd decided to 'investigate' Sharon. She'd meant it when she'd said that she felt sure Brenda was perfectly capable of surprising her; she could also be utterly predictable.
Gesturing for the blonde to precede her into the snug little slate-shingled house, Sharon shrugged philosophically. Why not invite the chief to partake in her evening ritual of red wine and Rachel? As long as this southern belle wasn't a Republican (and Sharon truly didn't think that badly of her), it could be mildly entertaining. Besides, the woman had brought cake.
Brenda peered around keenly as the captain shooed her toward the kitchen, peeking into a small home office lined floor to ceiling with books and a darkened living room as they went. She was unembarrassed by the sensation of Sharon's eyes trained on her back, observing her as she observed each minute quirk and detail of the other woman's home, because she was content in the knowledge that the captain would do the same if their roles were reversed.
The open-plan kitchen, with its sand-colored walls and glossy burnt-brick tile flooring, was pleasantly warm. A pot of water seethed on the stove's back burner, nearing the boiling point, while a medley of yellow squash and zucchini, surely the ones Brenda had noticed in Sharon's basket last night, waited on the worktop beside a half-chopped onion; and a large knife rested beside the most essential of cook's tools, a half-full glass of red wine. An open laptop sat on the glass-topped dining table.
"I interrupted your dinner," the blonde observed brightly. "What're you makin'?"
"Just pasta." Sharon quirked an eyebrow as she spoke her obligatory line. "Have you eaten, chief?"
Brenda looked so pleased that Sharon couldn't even be irritated by the woman's bald-faced insinuation of herself into her evening plans and personal space. "No, I haven't."
"Since you've dropped by with this highly important document -" and the cake - "you can stay, if you'd like." She easily picked up the knife and used it to gesture, a move that made her companion slightly nervous. "I'm doing whole-wheat fusili with squash, zucchini, a little onion, and pesto." Expectant eyes fixated on Brenda, awaiting her response.
Brenda Leigh dimpled. "That sounds great, Sharon, and I don't really have anything at home to cook."
Sharon smirked as she sliced the squash. "I know, Brenda. There's another chopping knife in that block right behind you. Feel free to do your worst with the zucchini."
A look of pure delight crossed over Brenda's face as she set down her purse and rolled up her sleeves. "I'm surprised you're trustin' me with such a vital task."
Sharon smirked. "Not even you can screw up zucchini."
Brenda pursed her lips as she reached for the chopping knife. "I don't know where you got this idea that I'm some sort of klutz," she began, holding onto the vegetable as she sliced off the top. "Do you really think I'm that incompetent?" Her tone was light, almost teasing, but Brenda couldn't deny the older woman's uncanny ability to play into every self-conscious thought buried in the recesses of her mind.
Sharon merely flashed her that barely-there smirk and continued dicing her squash into perfectly equal-sized chunks.
The blonde rolled her eyes, something she seemed to habitually do in the captain's presence. "You just love messin' with me, don't you?"
"I can't help it, chief. You're just so easy."
Brenda scoffed. "I'm not as easy as you think," she replied. When she registered the double entendre, she nearly sliced off the top of her finger. Thankfully for her, Sharon didn't seem to notice. "Y'know," she added, not wanting to give the other woman the time to ponder her sexual habits (or lack thereof), "I wasn't sure if you'd want the cake. I'm a little surprised you did."
"You certainly took a gamble, then, driving all the way here to give me a slice," Sharon replied, watching as the chief deftly sliced the zucchini into uneven shapes. They were, at least, proportional to the size of the squash. "Why were you surprised?" she finally asked, her curiosity getting the better of her.
"I thought you might be one of those health nuts. I sort of imagined you as the type to count calories in a little notebook or somethin'."
Sharon wanted to ask when exactly the chief had pondered her eating habits, but decided against it. "Just because I eat healthy doesn't mean I don't appreciate dessert."
"Good," Brenda said, setting down her knife and leaning against the counter, her arms folded across her chest. "I don't trust women who don't like dessert. They're...unnatural."
The brunette snorted into her wine glass. "Lucky me. Would you like a glass?"
"Sure. What is it?"
"Pinot noir," Sharon answered, pouring a second glass.
"I prefer Merlot."
"I hadn't noticed."
Brenda pursed her lips at the other woman's obviously feigned nonchalance and accepted the wine. Like the deputy chief, the captain let no detail, no matter how small, pass her by. She even paid attention to those pesky little matters of rules and regulations that Brenda preferred to ignore. "At least you eat dessert," Brenda reiterated.
"I'd think that by this point I've proven my trustworthiness in other ways, but all right." Sharon spoke lightly, pausing to wipe her hands on the dish towel that hung on a rack beside the sink, but the blonde recognized the note of underlying sincerity; it perfectly matched the one that had sounded in her own voice just a moment earlier when she'd asked if Sharon thought she was incompetent. "I'll eat the cake, if that's what the situation requires."
Brenda grinned. "You always struck me as the type of woman who'd be a martyr to a really good cause."
"And that good cause is your approbation?" Sharon returned, looking over her shoulder with a slight smile.
"No, captain. It's dessert. - Can I do anything else?"
"If the water's boiling, you can go ahead and add the pasta."
Brenda moved around, dumping the contents of the Barrilla box into the large pot and taking the opportunity of her proximity to the stainless-steel refrigerator to examine the smattering of magnets and photos on its doors. There were several postcards - from Istanbul, Seoul, and Bangkok, for starters - a reminder about a dental appointment, and multiple snapshots of a dark-haired toddler. A younger Sharon posed with two dark-haired preteens, a silver-haired couple drank champagne from crystal flutes, and, in black and white, a slender girl with extremely long, extremely straight hair stood with a shorter, curvy, dark-skinned girl in front of some sort of bonfire, both captured with their mouths open, apparently shouting. Brenda scrunched her nose up, squinting to see better, and wished she had her reading glasses within arm's reach. "Is this you, Sharon?"
The older woman murmured affirmatively as she swirled a modest amount of olive oil in a non-stick pan, although, upon closer inspection of the photo, Brenda Leigh didn't need the confirmation. She recognized the familiar bone structure, the unmistakable shape of the open mouth. The chief did a double take. "Oh, my Lord. Is this -? Sharon, you're burnin' your bra!"
Clear eyes met Brenda's as Sharon offered a lofty expression and the barest quirk of her lips. "Yep," she agreed. "We were at a NOW rally." The younger woman laughed, and Sharon pointed out, "It was 1975, Brenda. Bra-burning was pretty blase by then, really, but we were young and 'developing our political consciousness.'"
"You 'bout eighteen here?"
The captain nodded as she added the onion to the hot oil. Before Brenda could complete her mental math Sharon said, "I'm fifty-four."
"Oh, I wasn't -"
"Sure you were." Sharon was smiling, though.
"I didn't know for sure if you'd be home. I thought you might have plans on a Saturday night."
"I might have, but I don't - not unless someone on the force discharges a weapon, anyway." After moving the onions around, Sharon deposited her spatula on the spoon rest and moved to a cabinet above the dish drainer, from which she removed two bright red pasta bowls. "I haven't left the house today," she confided with a conspiratorial lifting of her brow. "Sometimes I like to be a hermit when I have that rare luxury."
Brenda nodded and sipped her wine, hopping up to one of the stools at the counter now that her part of dinner prep seemed to be over. "I know what you mean. I'd almost forgotten how nice it can be just to be by yourself sometimes."
Sharon eyed the other woman as if considering carefully before murmuring, "Yes. Although returning to living alone after having lived with other people for a while can be a big adjustment."
Not so long ago Brenda would have been surprised to learn that Sharon Raydor possessed that much unobtrusive tact, but not now. They'd never spoken about Brenda's separation and divorce (which should be final any day now), but of course everyone at work knew, especially once it became common knowledge that Agent Howard had put in for a transfer whenever something became available on the East Coast. "Yeah," she agreed. "It's nice to be able to do whatever you want with your own space, though, and not have to answer to anybody."
The fine skin around Sharon's eyes crinkled when she smiled. "Is that your way of saying you leave your laundry on the floor, your dishes in the sink, and don't have to make the bed?"
"I am not a slob," Brenda protested defensively. Sharon responded with a level gaze. "Well," the chief qualified, "I'm not the greatest housekeeper, but I'm not terrible. Just because I don't make the bed the second I get out of it or wash the dishes as soon as I finish eating, that doesn't mean I won't do it eventually." She looked speculatively around the tidy kitchen, craning her neck to peer again into the adjoining living area. "You're probably a neat freak."
"No," Sharon replied honestly, adding the zucchini and yellow squash to the frying pan with the now-translucent onions. "Try living with kids and pets. That will make anyone less fussy about a little dust and dirt."
Brenda shivered with comic exaggeration. "No, thank you," she said decidedly, swigging the pinot noir. "Although, I confess to missin' my cat. I don't even know if my building allows pets. Fritzi kept her. Maybe he'll even take her when he finally moves." She sighed wistfully.
"What's her name?"
"Joel." Sharon arched an eyebrow and Brenda laughed. "Sorry. He. I'm a terrible pet owner, really. They just sort of happen to me by accident. I miss havin' another livin' thing at home though...now I just find I'm talkin' to myself more than is probably healthy."
"I'm not sure how healthy it is to be talking to cats," Sharon replied, moving between stirring the pasta and the vegetables. "As long as you don't expect a response..."
"Ha ha," Brenda quipped dryly. She sipped her wine, which really wasn't that bad, and watched as Sharon moved around her kitchen with practiced ease. She looked incredibly comfortable, as if she belonged in such a casual, domesticated role. It occurred to her that she really only knew a tiny sliver of who Sharon Raydor really was. There was the head of FID and then there was a single (was she single? dating?) woman who lived alone and clearly enjoyed her solitude. This Sharon, the one who cooked in her bare feet (her toenails were painted a deep burgundy color) and wore yoga pants instead of Armani, was softer, more human. She was a mother, a bra-burning feminist, and probably an amazing cook (if the pleasant aromas had anything to say about it).
It wasn't until she acknowledged this other side of her co-worker that Brenda realized just how relaxed she was in her presence.
"You're staring," Sharon remarked, and Brenda realized that she was.
"Not starin' - just observin'."
"Are you sizing me up like one of your suspects, Chief Johnson? Trying to figure me out?"
Brenda grinned. "Maybe."
Sharon was surprised by just how annoyed she wasn't. "And? What observations have you made?"
The blonde leaned in, bubbly with excitement at the prospect of piecing together one Sharon Raydor. Sharon typically hated games, but she found herself unspeakably curious about whether or not she'd fit the blueprint the chief had devised in her pretty little head.
"All right. Let's see. You do yoga?" she guessed, deciding to start out small on the slim chance that she was wrong.
"Almost every day," Sharon confirmed.
Brenda's eyebrows climbed her forehead. "Really?" She tried to imagine the captain in one of those obscenely flexible, bendy poses and merely chuckled at the prospect.
"Is that so hard to believe?"
"Well, forgive me for sayin', you seem a little too... tense..."
Sharon laughed. "Which is exactly why I do it. You'd be amazed at how therapeutic yoga can be." She pursed her lips, giving the willowy blonde a once-over. "You should try it. I think you of all people could benefit from it."
The blonde scrunched her nose. "I dunno if I have the patience for all that stretchin' and bendin'... besides, I'm not that tense."
Sharon snorted. "Right." She met Brenda's challenging stare and decided to revisit the topic later, perhaps when the deputy chief was loose-limbed following her wine. "What else have you surmised about me?"
"Mmm...you and your kids clearly won the genetic lottery," Brenda stated, nodding to the photograph on the fridge.
Something Brenda didn't yet know this woman well enough to identify flickered through the depths of Sharon's eyes and for an instant she stiffened. Brenda was able to watch as the captain actually forced herself to relax, maybe by doing some of that yoga-style deep breathing. "Thank you," she said politely.
"You're a good cook," Brenda continued, and Sharon snorted.
"I don't starve, but my kids would tell you I'm no gourmet."
The blonde shrugged. "This looks close enough to me. You know what's funny? I love to watch all those cookin' shows, but I just hate to cook."
"It can be difficult to cook for one. It took me a while to figure it out after the kids left home; I kept having to throw away spoiled food. I usually prepare enough for two meals and just eat the leftovers later."
Brenda Leigh bit her lip. "I just order delivery."
Sharon smiled. "Oh, I do my fair share of that too. It's one of the benefits of living alone. But it's nice to cook sometimes. Use it or lose it, you know." So saying, she stepped lightly over to the stove and took up the pasta, which she drained quickly before dumping it back into the pot. "No fancy serving dishes tonight," she added by way of explanation. Brenda watched her add the vegetables and remove a jar of what appeared to be homemade pesto from the refrigerator. Her long, elegant fingers - they were bony, really, but somehow on the dark-haired captain that made them no less elegant - seized a spoon from a drawer and she scooped a generous amount from the jar, but then hesitated, glancing at Brenda. "Do you mind if I go ahead and add the sauce?"
"Oh, no." The chief smiled. "I have no dietary, religious, or philosophical objections to pesto."
"Good. I don't trust women who don't eat pesto," Sharon mimicked, and Brenda realized with a not-unpleasant jolt of surprise that her erstwhile hostess was teasing her.
"Well, it's nice to know what you value in life, Captain Raydor."
"Likewise, Chief Johnson." Sharon lifted her wineglass and rather jauntily clinked it against Brenda's, and Brenda felt her small smile widen because that casual toast was the kind of thing a friend did, and the more time she spent in Sharon's kitchen, the more she liked the idea of being her friend.
"Here - go ahead and fix your plate, and there's parmesan if you want it." Sharon reached back into the fridge and Brenda expected to see the familiar green-and-yellow Kraft shaker emerge, but the older woman instead produced a hunk of real cheese and a grater. Brenda obediently scooped pasta into one of the bowls, but refrained from adding cheese. Part of her still suspected that the captain was a closet calorie-counter who would judge her harshly for such an indulgence.
"More wine?" Sharon asked, following in Brenda's wake. "That was left from last night, but we can open another bottle. It's right there." She directed the blonde toward the appropriate cabinet.
"Which one?" Brenda leaned down and gazed at the assortment of bottles. Here was another reason she thought she and Sharon might be able to become real friends: the woman had a well-stocked liquor cabinet, heavy on the red wine.
"I bought them all, so you pick. Do you mind opening it?"
"Oh, no. That's something I'm actually good at."
Sharon handed her the corkscrew, and after Brenda had made short work of the cork in the bottle of pinot noir she'd chosen (there were Merlots too, but she figured it was a safer bet to stick with what Sharon had selected for herself), she looked back to see Sharon re-wrapping the hunk of parmesan. A generous heap of its shavings now adorned the captain's pasta, and Brenda Leigh realized she'd missed an opportunity.
Ever-watchful green eyes caught the mournful look on the younger woman's face and Sharon nearly laughed. She brandished the cheese and the grater. "Don't hold back on my account."
Brenda sheepishly bit her lip as she accepted the cheese.
"You don't mind my knowing that you eat your weight in confectionery junk, but you're shy about cheese?" Sharon smirked mirthfully. "Why Brenda Leigh, do I make you nervous?"
Brenda wrapped up the cheese and, noticing an errant shaving on the counter, caught it with her finger and brought it to her lips. "Not nervous. Just...aware. I'm not used to spendin' time with people outside of work who don't know me all that well."
Sharon found herself taken aback by the other woman's blunt honesty. Taking up her bowl and wine glass, she gestured to the table. Though there were two bar stools, Sharon wasn't quite sure that she was ready to bump knees with Brenda while they shared a companionable meal. She did, however, fold herself into her chair at the end of the table, curling one leg beneath her in an effort to maintain the relaxed atmosphere. It was so much different to eating on her own. "I like to think I know you fairly well, Brenda."
Brenda sat down on the chair to Sharon's left, accidentally brushing her knee against Sharon's bare foot when she crossed her legs. She set down her bowl. "I thought I knew you too, but then..." She gestured around her, from the orchid in the corner (was that her favorite flower, or was it merely decorative?) to the candle on the counter (what scent?). "There's so much I don't know."
"Yet." Sharon tapped her finger on the stem of her glass. "And you hate not knowing things, don't you?"
"D'you have to ask?" Brenda asked with a breathless laugh. She held up her glass of wine. "Here's to gettin' to know each other better."
Sharon paused for a moment, observing the openly hopeful gleam in Brenda's eyes. She considered what this might mean - were they going to be friends now? Did they have to get along at work? Was her comfortable existence as a hermit about to be disrupted? She took up her glass and clinked it against Brenda's, deciding then and there that maybe her life icould/i use a little disruption. "I can drink to that. Now: eat your dinner. I promise that healthy food doesn't bite."
"If you say so." Swallowing her sip of wine, Brenda eyed her bowl of food with skepticism. "I sure hope I was right about you knowin' how to cook."
Sharon narrowed her eyes. "And we have yet to see if you know how to bake."
Brenda gaped. "All right, fine. I won't pre-judge your cookin' if you don't pre-judge my cake."
They both took a bite of their food, chewing in unison, before Brenda burst out: "This is good!"
"You don't have to sound so surprised, chief."
The blonde shrugged unapologetically. She'd show the captain what surprised really looked like, or, more accurately, the captain would show her. "Whatever," she replied, her tone breezy, as she forked a couple of chunks of squash and a bit of the curly pasta. "You just wait 'til you try my cake."
Perhaps inevitably, or perhaps because this rather obvious getting-to-know-you conversation was certain to become stilted if it was allowed to go on too long, they transitioned to desultory chatter about work. Both women avoided broaching any serious or inflammatory issues while they steadily emptied their bowls, sticking instead to anecdotes of the milder variety, and finally Brenda said, "I'll do the dishes."
Sharon rose seamlessly - maybe there was something to that yoga business after all - and carted both bowls over to the sink. "No, not this time," she replied, running her fingers through her hair and tumbling the long layers. This time implied a next time, and that made Brenda Leigh smile. "You're a guest," Sharon added, and the deputy chief couldn't help wondering if the captain's mama had been anything like Willie Rae.
Brenda looked around the kitchen, feeling a little awkward as she sat there leisurely finishing her wine while Sharon bustled around, quickly cleaning up the small, contained mess. Good manners dictated that it was time for her to go, and yet -
"Are you gonna eat your cake?"
Sharon shot her a derisive glance as she quickly but precisely wiped the counters. "Of course I'm going to eat it."
"Right." Brenda tipped her glass up and let the last tiny droplets of pinot noir slide down her throat. "But I meant now."
The taller woman tossed the dishcloth across the edge of the sink and folded her arms over her chest as she turned back to smirk at her companion. "You want to see me open my present, is that it?"
The blonde pursed her lips, refusing to give in to embarrassment. "I could order you."
Sharon snorted out an undignified laugh. "To eat cake?"
Brenda grinned and nodded emphatically, her curls bouncing and swaying over her sloping shoulders. "Yes, captain. As your superior officer, I could, at my discretion and for the greater good, hereby order you to eat that cake right now."
The captain's cheeks hollowed as she folded her lips together with suspicion. "Wait. I find your eagerness a bit disconcerting, chief. You didn't poison the cake, by any chance?"
Brenda made a harumphing sound in her throat. "Did you poison the pasta?" she retorted.
"I was also eating the pasta," Sharon pointed out, and then her folded arms went slack. "Wait. Is this an elaborate ploy to get me to share with you?"
The deputy chief bit her lip.
"Honestly, Brenda," the older woman continued, sounding disgusted, "don't you have the rest of the damn thing at home?"
"That's not it," Brenda Leigh protested a little too hotly. "I just wanna see you enjoy it. What's wrong with that?"
Dark hair shimmered as Sharon shook her head. "Absolutely not a thing, Lady Bountiful." She opened the drawer that Brenda had already marked as the silverware drawer and fished around for half a second, and then snagged the Tupperware container with her left hand. Returning to the table, she plopped the cake down between their empty wine glasses and then held up two forks.
Brenda grinned with delight, and Sharon grinned right back. "More wine?" the hostess offered.
"Well, maybe just a drop."
Sharon lifted the bottle and poured for both of them, and then removed the lid from the Tupperware container. Brenda watched her expectantly. Sharon sank her fork into the moist layers and came away with a modestly-sized morsel of chocolate and more chocolate. Brenda's studious gaze never left her face as she brought the fork toward her lips, but before it made contact, Sharon paused.
"Thank you for bringing dessert - and for the report," she added as an afterthought. She realized that she had enjoyed Brenda Leigh's company enough that she'd forgotten all about the purported impetus for this little impromptu dinner party.
Brenda nodded and flushed slightly. "Thank you for dinner. Maybe, um - maybe we could do it again? At my apartment? You could be my first company."
"Sure," the brunette agreed, and then darted a quick look at her loaded fork. "As long as the cake isn't poisoned."
With an exasperated eye-roll, Brenda seized her own fork, stabbed at the cake, and shoved a huge bite into her mouth. "There," she said, the word distorted, ignoring forty-plus years of her mother's insistence that she not talk with her mouth full, "satisfied?"
Smirking, Sharon closed her lips around her own fork and carefully sucked every last trace of the decadent chocolate from its prongs. "It's delicious," she admitted after she had chewed and swallowed (showing off her own superior table manners, the chief thought), going for a second, more generous, bite.
"I know," Brenda Leigh replied smugly. "Imagine how much better it coulda been if I'd had the right kind of chocolate. So, when d'you wanna come over for dinner?"
Sharon scanned her mental datebook, remembering that it had promised to be a particularly light work week (assuming none of the boys and girls of the LAPD went trigger happy). She had nothing planned for her Sunday aside from her plans to clean the bathrooms, but it seemed presumptuous somehow to suggest that they spend three evenings in a row in each other's company. "How does your Tuesday look?"
Brenda wiped her finger along the dollop of frosting that had stuck to the top of the container and proceeded to lick it off. "Sounds great."
"This time I'll bring dessert. You better cook me something decent."
The blonde paused and tried not to panic at the thought of learning a whole new recipe before Tuesday (she had over-indulged in the mashed potatoes and would not be inclined to make them again for the foreseeable future, nor would she serve Sharon something as plain as clam linguine). Still, she had nothing to do on Sunday, so she had the whole day to shop for food and practice a thing or two before Tuesday. "You better not bring me a fruit salad," Brenda countered.
Sharon chuckled and shook her head. "I wouldn't dream of it."
The two women finished off the the cake, playfully fighting over who would get the prized corner bite that was heavy on the frosting, each surprised to find herself looking forward to Tuesday.