Title: Since You Went Away
Authors: i-must-go-first & UbiquitousMixie
Fandom: Brenda/Sharon,The Closer
Rating: PG-13 (Overall M)
Word Count: 4249
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: Sorry for the wait, y'all. Let us know what you think. Comments shorten the wait between chapters!
Chapter Four: Sex and the Single Girl
"If I didn't know better, I'd think you were really offended." Brenda hoisted the bags containing all sorts of kitchen miscellanea and an entire new set of bath towels (crimson, a color choice that had made Sharon warn, "I appreciate that you have a theme going, but you do know you'll have to wash those separately from everything else, right?") and looked at her companion. The captain stood beside the car, balancing the styrofoam containers that held the salads they'd stopped for at a nearby deli. "By that salesgirl thinkin' we were a couple, I mean."
Sharon's lips thinned. "I was offended." Her boots clip-clopped as the two women walked the short distance to Brenda's building.
The blonde looked askance as she entered her code on the keypad just outside the entrance. "Isn't that hypocritical?" When Sharon looked blank she elaborated, "You have a gay son. So do you just dislike lesbians, or -?"
Moss-green eyes rolled toward the overcast sky. "It wouldn't have made any difference if you were a man, Brenda. The assumption was extremely presumptuous."
They crossed the courtyard and trooped up the stairs to Brenda's second-floor entrance as she replied, "I just don't see what the big deal is. Was it because she thought we were married? Your experience soured you on the institution?"
"No. But why should the default assumption be that if two people engage in an activity together, any activity, they must be a couple? Aren't we just allowed to have friends anymore? Friendship used to be considered a sacred bond."
Brenda Leigh smothered a smile as she let them into her apartment, which looked exactly the same as it had the last time Sharon had been there-the only difference being an empty soda can on the table. "We were buyin' furniture," the blonde pointed out. "Not havin' our nails done or goin' to the gym. Furniture-buying is something couples usually do together."
"And if you're not part of a couple," the captain continued, dropping her handbag on the floor and gesturing adamantly, nearly upsetting one of the styrofoam containers, "then there must be something wrong with you. You must be lacking or deficient in some essential way. You couldn't possibly be a mature, well-adjusted adult who enjoys being single. Our culture demonizes anyone over the age of thirty who remains unpartnered - over twenty-five if you're a woman. So what if you have friends and family and a career, and pay your taxes and recycle and never so much as get a speeding ticket? It doesn't matter. Americans don't trust you if you're a single woman. It's like being overweight or not believing in God: a crime against the culture. Can you imagine anyone more stigmatized in our day and age than a single, obese atheist?" Sharon finished, smacking the lunch down on the table with such force that the abandoned Diet Coke can fell over. It rolled off the table and into the floor, and the deputy chief could no longer hold back her giggles.
"Are you sayin' you wouldn't date me?" she tittered. "Why, captain, I'll have you know I'm quite the catch."
Sharon scowled and flounced into the kitchen. "Why should I have to date anybody?" she called back. "Do you have anything to drink?"
"There's iced tea in the fridge." Brenda followed her friend and watched her remove two glasses from the cabinet; she herself grabbed the pitcher from the refrigerator. "Don't you date at all, Sharon?"
"Some," the taller woman replied briefly, adding ice to the glasses. Brenda Leigh didn't need to know that her last foray into the dating world had been at least nine months earlier. As soon as the perfectly nice man had asked about her children, Sharon had realized she just didn't have the heart for any of it.
"I'd think you'd get asked a lot."
The captain's answering look was so comically stunned that Brenda almost laughed again.
"I mean, you're beautiful and smart and always so put-together..."
Sharon smiled tightly. "And so popular at work, which, as you might realize, is where I spend most of my time." She poured the tea as she continued, "But you're right. I suppose there are opportunities; I just choose not to take them."
"Doesn't it ever get lonely though, perched all high up on your pedestal with your single woman's manifesto?"
"See," Sharon said, setting down the pitcher before she upended it on the kitchen floor, "that's exactly what I'm saying. You think I'm being superior because I'm not interested in dating. You've been culturally conditioned to believe that there's something wrong with my personal preference."
"That's not what I'm sayin' at all," Brenda immediately interjected, setting out the two salads. "Look, I'm not judgin' you, because I'm not big on the whole datin' thing myself. I just think...well, don't single women have needs too?"
Sharon raised a finely sculpted eyebrow. "I'm perfectly adept at taking care of my own needs, thank you very much." She took up her glass, leaving Brenda's behind on the counter, and sat down at the table.
"I'm sure you are. But isn't it nice when you've got someone else to do it for you sometimes?" She sat down across from Sharon, brandishing two forks.
"I'm not talking about sex with you, Brenda," Sharon warned, pointing at her with her fork.
"Who said anythin' about sex? I was referrin' to programming the DVR!" The brunette blushed, a sight that thoroughly amused the younger woman. "Sorry. I didn't mean to embarrass you."
"I'm not embarrassed," Sharon lied, her eyes firmly fixed on her salad. She picked out several of the undesirable pieces of lettuce that were brown or too limp for her liking and then reached for the packet of balsamic vinaigrette.
"I miss sex sometimes," Brenda wistfully admitted, rolling a cherry tomato around with her fork.
Sharon stabbed at a cucumber and a few pieces of lettuce, firmly adamant about not picturing Brenda Leigh's sexual needs. She wasn't frigid and she wasn't shy, but there were some things that just did not need to be discussed. Discussing sex would inevitably remind Sharon what she had been missing, and that would only make her horny and grumpy. As she chewed her salad, she caught the expectant look on Brenda's face. She swallowed and sighed. "Maybe you just need a better vibrator."
It was the blonde's turn to blush, and Sharon smirked. "I don't have one," Brenda confessed.
"I am not taking you shopping for one."
Brenda snorted. "Does that mean you have one? I bet you do. I'll just bet you're an expert."
The older woman took a large sip of the refreshingly cold tea. "Any items that I may or may not have are my business, not yours."
The deputy chief pouted. "Don't friends talk about this stuff? I bet you and Dr. Morales talk about it."
Sharon couldn't help snorting as she remembered some of the conversations she and the pathologist had had. "Wouldn't you just like to know."
"I would, actually." Brenda pouted harder, but spoiled the effect by grinning. "But I won't pry. Come on, though - If you were lookin' to date somebody, you'd date me, right?"
Sharon speared a chunk of grilled chicken. "Has your ego always needed this much massaging, Brenda Leigh?"
"I didn't think egos were what we were talkin' about gettin' massaged," the blonde pointed out slyly, and Sharon only rolled her eyes.
"If it's that much of an issue, I could make some recommendations."
The deputy chief strangled on a bite of salad that had been doused with a little too much balsamic, and the other woman smirked. "Of vibrators," she elaborated. "Depending on what type you prefer: traditional, egg, g-spot stimulator..."
Brenda squirmed, and Sharon hid an evil grin behind a club cracker. The more uncomfortable the younger woman became, the more confident the captain felt. "You have used one in the past, haven't you? You never struck me as that much of a choirgirl."
"Yes, I have." Brenda blushed furiously as she defended her pride and... worldliness. "I had the personal massager kind." There was that word again. "You know, the ones you can buy at regular stores. The ones that aren't really... vibrators."
Sharon shot her a pitying look. "Oh, honey. Of course they are. You buy one of those at Wal-Mart, and you think everyone doesn't know exactly what you're going to do with it when you get home?"
Brenda Leigh pushed a cherry tomato around her tray, squeezing out a trail of seeds. "They have lots of other legitimate uses, Sharon. People with bad backs -"
"Sure." Green eyes flashed as Sharon smiled and sipped her tea; she was enjoying herself now. "Horny women with bad backs."
Brenda considered arguing, but she decided hearing buttoned-up Sharon Raydor utter the word "horny" was its own reward, so she just snickered as she poured more dressing on her salad. "I suppose that's a perfectly legitimate use too," she conceded.
"Why wouldn't you date me?"
The captain shoved a huge bite of salad into her mouth and widened her eyes in exasperation. "Why is this so important to you, Brenda? Did that toothbrush wound your self-esteem that badly?"
"Nooo," Brenda drawled, cringing at the reminder of her little episode. "You're just actin' like I've got the plague or somethin'."
Sharon sighed. "I never said I wouldn't date you, Brenda. If I dated women, which I don't."
"Have you got somethin' against women?"
"Jesus," Sharon exclaimed, setting down her fork. "Fine. If it means that much to you, then yes, I would date you. All right? Are you happy now? Can we enjoy our salads in peace?"
Brenda huffed, stabbing a slice of green pepper. "Well now I know that you're just sayin' that to shut me up, so no."
"You know what I think?" Sharon finally said after a moment of careful consideration.
"I think," Sharon began, her voice low and slightly deadly, "that you're so worked up about this because you want to date me."
The blonde gaped. "I do not!"
"See? You don't see me getting all bent out of shape about it."
"I -" Brenda slammed her mouth shut and opened it again. "All right, you win. All you had to say was that I'm not totally unappealin' now in my old age."
"Brenda Leigh," Sharon said levelly, "why does this entirely hypothetical situation matter so much to you?"
The younger woman closed the top of her container over her half-eaten salad. "It's gonna sound silly."
"I think we've passed 'silly' already."
"I need to know that I'm still attractive to people like you."
Sharon knit her brow. "Women?"
"No - people our age who are smart and attractive and goal-oriented and as stubborn as I am. I know you don't care much for the whole companionship thing, but I might eventually get back to that place where I wanna be with someone, and I need a little validation that I'm worth even bein' on the market." She glanced back over Sharon's shoulder, eyeing the open box of ding-dongs on the counter.
"I didn't say that, did I?" Sharon looked genuinely surprised and inquisitive as she took a final bite of her own salad. "I said I enjoy being alone. I didn't say I always want to be alone. Like Garbo, you know." Having followed the other woman's wistful gaze, Sharon got to her feet and walked over to the counter, smiling slightly. Brenda looked blank. "Greta Garbo. After she retired from the screen, she was famously regarded as a recluse. Everyone thinks she said 'I want to be alone.'" Sharon adopted the requisite hint of something that could have passed for a Swedish accent. "But that's a misquote. What she actually said was, 'I want to be left alone.' Vast difference."
"So you just want to be left alone?"
"Something like that," Sharon agreed, fishing a ding-dong from the box and tossing it toward Brenda. It landed on the table with an odd, squishy little thump. "There are parts of my life - parts of me - that would be very hard to explain to anyone else at this point." Her level gaze narrowed and focused on the middle distance, as if she was looking inward. Brenda watched, completely intrigued, until the taller woman visibly shook herself. "Well. Eat your chemically-enriched treat, Brenda Leigh, and then we're getting to work. If you don't unpack those boxes, you won't have room for your scandalous, life-affirming red sofa and matching armchair."
Smiling a little too brightly, Sharon tossed the remains of her salad into the trash can and went into the living room, tea in hand. Brenda's dark eyes followed her. What wasn't Sharon Raydor telling her? The 'parts of her life' she'd referred to could have been her devotion to her job, but that wouldn't explain the look of smothered sadness that had marked her features for that brief moment.
As Brenda peeled back the foil of her snack, she wondered if and when Sharon would ever confide in her those dark details of her life. They had only just become friends and were skirting the margins of what Brenda would have considered close friends, and she decided that she would not jeopardize that just for the sake of satisfying her own curiosity. She got to her feet and sank her teeth into the ding-dong and closed her eyes, humming in pleasure as she blindly shuffled into the living room.
"On second thought, maybe you don't need a vibrator," Sharon observed, latching immediately onto the distraction that Brenda's near-orgasmic indulgence had provided. "No wonder you eat your chocolate in private."
"Not all the time," Brenda replied, dipping her finger into the fluffy cream filling. She sucked it into her mouth. Her eyelashes fluttered. "All right, most of the time."
"And you're comfortable enough with me to flirt with your snacks in front of me. I'm honored."
Brenda crumpled the wrapper and threw it in Sharon's direction. "You should be."
Sharon dodged the foil ball. "I'm not picking that up." She set down her tea on the coffee table and looked at the various stacks of boxes and rubber bins throughout the room, guessing that there were undoubtedly more hidden in the various nooks and crannies of the apartment. "All right, we've established that you don't own any sex toys, which means I shouldn't stumble upon anything embarrassing, right?"
Brenda pursed her lips as if in thought. "Right..."
The captain shook her head in exasperation. "Only you, Brenda."
The blonde beamed as if she'd just received a glowing compliment. "You know you love it."
"Maybe." Sharon reached for the closest box and found it full of miscellaneous bath products, including half-filled bottles of shampoo and wash cloths of assorted colors. She peered back at the other woman who was licking the remnants of chocolate syrup from her fingers. She guessed that, rather than unpack, Brenda had likely just bought all new shampoos and conditioners. "Get a trash bag," she suggested, rolling up her sleeves.
"Why? What're you throwin' away?" Brenda asked, looking over Sharon's shoulder. "All that stuff's still good!"
"You have a whole new set of wash cloths," the brunette countered. "Don't be a pack rat."
Brenda heaved an impatient breath. "Fine."
As Brenda disappeared into the kitchen, Sharon heard the chirp of her cell phone. She fetched it from her purse and frowned to see Daniel's name on the caller ID. She'd called him back several days ago, but he had rushed the call under the guise of needing to study and had hung up on her. Not wanting to begin being a neglectful mother after nearly twenty-five years of careful attentiveness, she answered the phone.
"Hey, Mom. You're not at home, are you?"
She frowned. "No, honey, I'm not. Why? Is everything okay?"
"You need to relax," her son chided. "I know it's tough, but you can't expect disaster every time the phone rings."
"I'm a cop," she pointed out, catching Brenda's eye and rolling her own. "When my phone rings it usually means that a disaster has, in fact, happened." Brenda held up a box of Hefty bags and smiled as if she'd won a door prize.
"Ouch, tough crowd. Not when I call, okay? I've just been ringing the doorbell for five minutes, and before I barged in and found mommy in flagrante with her new special friend, I thought I should place a courtesy call. I need to do laundry. The machine in my building is broken again and I don't have any quarters."
"Fine." The brunette lightly rubbed the bridge of her nose and watched Brenda poke through the contents of another box. Daniel was right; if she didn't find a way to stop expecting the worst every time her phone rang, she'd have a stroke. Maybe she needed to sign up for another yoga class. "There's a load of towels in the washer. Please do those as well."
"Your wish is my command." Sharon heard shuffling and scraping, and pictured Danny holding his phone wedged between his jaw and his shoulder as he let himself into the house. "What are you up to?"
"Oh, I'm helping a friend from work."
"Well, do you have a minute? I wanted to ask you a few questions."
The captain blinked. "Yes, I suppose."
"What qualities do you think are most important in a mate?"
"A mate?" she echoed incredulously. "Spacious but cozy lair, hunting and gathering abilities -"
"Hah-hah. Fine, a partner. Whatever."
"Is this about you and Kai, sweetie? Has something happened?"
"Come on, Mom. Loyalty, intelligence, humor -?"
"All those things are important, but you can't underestimate the little things. Do you like the same kinds of movies? If he's a vegetarian and you're on the carnivorous side, does he freak out when you order a hamburger? Can you just be quiet and be together without annoying the hell out of each other?"
"Yeah... I don't know what box to check for that."
"Box? Daniel, what on earth -?"
"What about things like religion and smoking?"
"Your mileage may vary - But if you dare take up with a smoking, Evangelical Republican, I will disinherit you."
"Oh, yeah, I'd really hate it if your collection of Joni Mitchell albums went to somebody else. And physically? What do you notice first? Eyes, smile, hair -"
Her response from the other end of the line was stunned silence; Brenda, who was half listening to the other woman's end of the conversation while trying to figure out what all the cords in the box she was emptying could possibly be for, guffawed.
"Mom!" Daniel gasped, recovering his ability to speak and breathe.
"I'm trying to think like a twenty-five-year-old guy, babe."
"Please don't. This is not about me. Now, describe your ideal first date."
"Oh, no." At Sharon's low, threatening tone, Brenda Leigh stopped what she was doing and looked up, focusing on her friend's face. "Ooh, no. Tell me this is not what I think it is."
"What's wrong?" Brenda asked anxiously, her voice pitched low. Sharon waved her concern away.
"Jesus suffering Christ, Daniel. If I find myself on one of those dating websites -"
"Jesus knows you need some help, Mom, so don't call on him to intervene. Should I put that you're just interested in men, or men and women? Because I think if you expanded your horizons, you might be surprised by -"
"Sharon?" Brenda queried, moving closer, observing her friend's growing pallor.
"... because you're basically describing a gay man, which wouldn't particularly do you any good in this department, or a woman, and -"
"Sharon, honey, are you sure you're okay?"
Daniel swallowed his words in mid-sentence and interrupted himself: "Who is that?"
"No one," Sharon said, cringing immediately as she realized it was exactly the wrong thing to say to her overly imaginative, presumptuous spawn. "Just a friend."
"A friend?" Daniel's voice rose in disbelief, and Sharon could clearly picture that his eyebrows had gone with it. "Not the same friend you were with the last time I called?"
Sharon cleared her throat, using a hand on Brenda's hip to distance herself from the other woman. "Yes, that's the one."
"Well well, seems my honorable intentions were a bit premature. Who is she? When do I get to meet her? Can I help pick out the flower arrangements for your commitment ceremony?"
"Daniel," Sharon warned, contemplating banging her head against the nearest hard surface which, incidentally, was Brenda's head. She glowered at the hovering woman. "I am not in a relationship."
"Not the same as dating, mother. You're being evasive."
"I am not dating Brenda."
"You see!" Brenda shouted, pointing a wild finger at Sharon. "You've got that tone again! What's so bad about datin' me?"
Daniel snorted. "Don't tell me I'm witnessing the first lovers' quarrel! This is priceless."
"You," Sharon growled, glaring at Brenda, "hush. Go clean something. And as for you, Danny, I am not dating Brenda. Is that clear?"
The blonde curled her lip in distaste. "I wouldn't wanna date someone as horrible as you anyway," she grumbled, pausing to take a sip from Sharon's glass of iced tea before kneeling back on the floor to work through the mass of cords.
"Listen, Mom," Daniel began, his voice taking on a low, serious tone. The hum of the dryer sounded in the background. "You've been to this woman's house twice in one week. You, oh self-anointed hermit extraordinaire, suddenly have a new best friend?"
"Is that so hard to believe?"
"Well, thank you for that," Sharon spat, dejected. She snapped open a trash bag, causing the blonde to jump, and began throwing in the various bath items.
"Are you upset?"
"What do you think?"
"I apologize. I may have been a little too...enthusiastic about the possibility of you seeing someone. Especially a woman."
"You want your mother to be a lesbian, do you?" Sharon willfully ignored the curious glance of the deputy chief.
"I want you to be happy, not a sad old shrew." Knowing he'd pushed his luck, he quickly added, "We'd be a hit at the family reunions. It would be so much nicer not to have to brave them as the only queer in the Raydor clan." He sighed wistfully. "We could have marched in the parade together."
"I've already marched in the parade with you."
"Yeah, but next time I could march in the parade with you. See what I did there?"
"Fold those towels, son; don't just dump them on top of the dryer."
"All right, I'm dismissed. I get it. You have a nice evening with Bren-da. Don't do anything I wouldn't do."
"The mind boggles, Daniel, but I don't need details."
Danny hesitated, breathing into his cell phone, and all of Sharon's maternal instinct went on high alert.
"Why don't you tell me what's really going on?"
"No, really. It's nothing, Mom. We'll talk about it later. Love you. Bye."
Shaking her head, Sharon tossed her phone onto the futon and sighed. For a future mental health professional, she thought it was too bad that her son still had the same disconcerting tendency to go from loquacious to monosyllabic in thirty seconds flat that he'd had since he was six years old. Although, to be fair, over the last nine months they'd both realized that some things were simply better left unsaid.
Brenda chuckled, and the captain welcomed the distraction. "See?" the blonde gloated, a mischievous twinkle in her eyes. "It's a sign, Sharon. You're gonna have to start datin'. The universe won't let you be a nun."
"I'm not a nun," Sharon retorted, pulling the lid off a plastic tub at random and finding herself confronting an assortment of mismatched socks. Furtively, before Brenda could catch sight of what she was doing, she grabbed another trash bag. "Nuns aren't allowed to have ten-speed rotating vibrators."
The younger woman flushed a scalded crimson, bit her lip, and fell silent, diligently sorting through a box of cookware, and Sharon smirked to herself. Finally, after nearly three years, she'd found a foolproof way to shut Brenda Leigh Johnson up.
As Sharon began plucking at socks to toss into the garbage, she knew she'd commended herself too prematurely.
"When I finally meet this son of yours, let's hope he doesn't ask me if I think his mama's ready to peruse ... I'd hate to have to tell him that you're already in a committed relationship with The Rabbit."
Sharon glared. "You wouldn't dare."
The blonde smirked and raised a mischievous eyebrow. "Wouldn't I?"
The captain tossed a balled up sock at the younger woman. "I'll remember that when your mother visits."
Brenda gaped, her mouth forming a perfect ring of abject horror. After a moment's consideration, her mouth relaxed into a devious smirk. "Touche, captain." She pulled free a lime green cord that belonged, she believed, to a phone she had thrown away over two years ago. "It's too bad we're not datin' each other. All our problems would be solved."
"Indeed. Now: stop procrastinating, Brenda Leigh. I'm not going to do all the work for you."
"I perfectly capable of doin' my share of the work. Just you wait an' see, Sharon Raydor. I'll surprise you yet."