Author's Notes: Sorry this has been so angsty. I can tell by the reviews (or lack thereof) that the last chapter was one angstchunk too many. This chapter is much nicer, and the story has a happy ending. I hope you enjoy this chapter and it redeems the story.

Again...thanks for reading and for the feedback. Y'all rock my world.

February 14, 2013

Los Angeles, CA

Brenda never felt so pleased with herself, and that was saying something. She almost felt like giggling, except that she never giggled. Ever.

Brenda turned the car into her neighborhood and glanced at the dashboard clock. Perfect. For once she was on time. When she shut down her computer and told her secretary, Mary Jo, that she was leaving for the day, Mary Jo looked like she was going to have a heart attack. Although she don't know why she felt compelled to do so, Brenda quietly explained her early departure had to do with a Valentine's Day surprise for her husband. Mary Jo instantly lit up and clapped her hands together.

"Ohh, that man deserves it," she cooed. "You have the best-looking husband in all of LA, Chief Johnson, and the nicest one too. He deserves whatever you have in store for him." Mary Jo winked at her.

Brenda rolled her eyes. Mary Jo really could use a few more boundaries. Brenda would be jealous about her constant fawning over Fritz and his good looks if it wasn't that Mary Jo was in her early 60's and had children close to Brenda's age.

Brenda had to admit she was embarrassed, a woman her age, making a fuss over such a silly holiday. Whenever she thought of Valentine's Day, it brought mind those horrible Necco wafer candy hearts with the cheesy phrases embossed on them. It also reminded her of grade school, when her teacher had the kids make boxes covered with construction paper and decorated with hearts, glitter, flowers, and all manner of tacky things. These boxes were used to receive the Valentine's Day cards handed out by other kids, the cheap ones Willie Rae insisted Brenda give to every did in the class, even the ones she didn't like. She thought it was a waste of time then, and she thought it was a waste of time now. That's where Valentine's Day belongs, she mused. With little kids who like glitter and candy hearts.

But she was trying, she was really trying, to be a different person, to see things from a perspective different than her own. Several months earlier Brenda had, not what she would call an epiphany, but rather a moment of terrifying clarity, that changed how she saw a lot of things. When Philip Stroh was on top of her, she knew, without a doubt, that he intended to kill her, and her body went into the automatic survival mode of fight or flight. But her mind...her mind produced only one thought. Fritz will never know how much I love him. The profound regret she felt, as she struggled to save her life on her kitchen floor, permeated every cell of her body and poured into her soul and was so intense that, unlike other feelings of regret that she shook off as soon as life returned to its normal pace, it changed her. In the months since, she had reviewed the times when she had been selfish and inconsiderate, and she had ignored Fritz's needs or outright used him to get hers met. She was exhausted by this evaluation, and each day, new memories of past abuses surfaced, and she found more to atone for. Like the horrible Valentine's Day six years prior, when her thoughtlessness had ruined Fritz's careful planning.

He was so angry after that failed evening that he didn't talk to Brenda for a week. She apologized every time she saw him, words tumbling over one other, coming out in a salad of excuses and regret. Each time she tried to say she was sorry, though, Fritz just seemed to get angrier, and after a few days she gave up. Finally he thawed and they both pretended Valentine's Day had ever happened.

They had never really celebrated it since, at least, not with any flair. Fritz refused to take her out to dinner, and that was fine with Brenda, because she feared a repeat disaster. If she were home for the evening Fritz cooked an extra nice dinner, and he always brought her chocolates and flowers. She usually remembered to get him a card. It was always up to him to do something nice because she couldn't be bothered, and he was very reserved about Valentine' niceness after That Year.

...

A few weeks ago, Brenda finally worked up the courage to ask him about it. They had just finished watching a movie and were lying in bed late on a Friday night. They were sleepy and relaxed, and Brenda thought this was a good time to bring up a sore topic.

"Fritzy, I been meanin' to ask you somethin.'' She rapped her knuckled lightly on his head, which was resting on her shoulder.

"Hmm?" he answered sleepily. He pulled himself up to face her. "What's up?"

"I wanted to ask you about that Valentine's Day in 2007. That really awful one where I didn't show up at the restaurant."

"Oh I remember," he said, his voice tight. Oh my, he still sounds mad.

"Well, I certainly understand why you were so upset with me and all, since you went to all that trouble," Brenda started, feeling suddenly nervous. It was stupid to beat your breast over something that happened a long time ago, she knew, but she couldn't help feeling bad all over again when she looked at Fritz's face.

She continued. "But what I don't understand, and didn't get at the time either, was why it was so important to you, to have a big fancy Valentine's Day. Most guys don't care, and you know I don't. So why did it mean so much to you?" Brenda chewed her lower lip, waiting for his response.

Fritz threw his head back and closed his eyes in what Brenda called his "lord give me strength to deal with this woman" pose. "Brenda, how can you be so insightful in your professional life and so dense when it comes to your personal life? Why do you think it was so important?"

"Fritz, if I had any idea I wouldn't be askin' you." She exhaled in an impatient huff.

He raised his head up and looked at her, then shook it. "I love you, Brenda, but you are really dense sometimes."

She crinkled up her face, insulted. He reached over and caressed her cheeks. "Sorry, honey, that wasn't very nice. I'm just amazed you haven't figured this out yet."

"Well, I haven't," she said, in the petulant tone of a six-year-old. "Please enlighten me."

He crossed his legs on the bed and took her hand. "Brenda, do you know how many horrible Valentine's Days we spent together?"

Brenda thought. "Oh. You came to visit me in Atlanta. That's when I told you I was...oh." Her voice trailed off.

"Yes. That's when you told me you were married. And had been for an entire year. And I was heartbroken." Fritz's voice took on a steely edge.

"I was suck a jerk for doin' that to you, and I'm so sorry. I was just so embarrassed about my marriage..."

He squeezed her hand. "Brenda, you've explained this. You don't need to apologize again, and I didn't mean to make you think I was expecting an apology. But yea, that wasn't only a horrible Valentine's Day, but one of the worst days of my life. And that's saying something."

"Oh Fritz," she breathed.

"But that wasn't the only terrible Valentine's Day we had together."

Brenda thought. What other February 14 were they have? She raked her memory but came up empty-handed.

"Don't you remember? You found out about Will and Estelle on Valentine's Day," he said softly.

Brenda jerked her hand out of his and raised it to her face. Unbidden memories of a dark time floated to the surface of her consciousness, and she fought to sink them again, back to the depths, where they belong.

"I, I don't remember, exactly," she faltered. "That whole time in my life is hazy. All I remember is that you were there, bein' a real good friend to me. But in terms of what happened when, well, that is sort of all mixed up." A familiar pain hit her, the ache that still came whenever she thought about her poor choices and the price she paid for them. But the pain had dulled over the years, and Fritz's love has taught her to forgive herself and move on. But it wasn't easy; there are some wounds that fester and never quite fully heal, and Will Pope was one of them.

"So what does that have to do with what happened six years ago?" Brenda asked, pulled back from her reverie.

"See, Brenda, we had these awful Valentine's Days together, and that was the first year we were living together, we were really established as a couple. And I thought about all the years we had known each other and I had this huge thing for you and we never seemed to connect, and then suddenly here you are in LA. It was a miracle to me. I tell you, when we started dating, I wanted to shout it from the rooftops, as corny as that sounds, because it was a very, very long time in coming."

She smiled at him. "It was pretty amazin', wasn't it? Mama always believed in fate, and she used to say it was fate that brought us together. I don't know about that, but maybe someone looked down us and said, let's give those two a break."

"And the next thing you know, we're making out on the couch while you are wearing a wire while Provenza or Flynn were probably listening in," he said. They both laughed.

"But seriously, I felt like I was walking on air, and I wanted a really great Valentine's Day to make up for crappy ones we spent together. I also wanted a fancy evening when I showered the woman in my life with nice things because I wanted to, not because she demanded I do so. The evening was going to be nice for the both of us, Brenda. A celebration of us, and that we could finally have a nice romantic holiday."

"Except I messed it up, and it became another bad one," she said, her voice dripping with regret.

"Yea," he said softly, and pulled her close to him, rubbing her lower back. "But I forgave you, Brenda. Let it go."

You first, she thought.

...

Brenda pulled into her driveway and saw a beat-up Toyota parked in front of the duplex. Perfect timing, she thought. She grabbed her black bag and the packages next to it and got out of her car.

A young woman met her in the driveway. "Theresa," said Brenda, extending her hand.

Theresa had to set down a grocery bag to take it. "Hello, Chief Johnson. I'm Theresa Tao. Well, I guess you already figured that out. I know we've been introduced before, but it's really nice to see you again. And I'm really excited about tonight!"

Yes you are, and it's so cute, Brenda thought. And there's no way you are excited as me.

"Let's go in through the back door," Brenda said. "Can I carry anythin'?"

Theresa smiled gratefully and placed her bags at Brenda's feet, and then jogged back to her car to unload more. Brenda tottered to the back door with her load and managed to unlock it without dropping anything.

"Okay," the young woman started, appraising the kitchen as she followed Brenda in and placed more grocery bags on the table. "First thing we need to do go over the menu and make sure I bought everything. And then we need to set up where you are going to eat. We want atmosphere, since it's Valentine's Day and this is special." Theresa ducked out of the kitchen to get a good look at the rest of the duplex.

Brenda wanted to laugh at the dedicated 21-year-old. She reminded Brenda of herself at that age, where everything is possible. Brenda felt another wave of anticipation, feeling like her advanced planning and dedication were going to pay off.

Brenda had gotten the idea working around the rich and entitled in Priority Homicide. Must be nice to have a chef come in and cook you dinner, she had thought to herself. Wouldn't I love to do that for Fritzy, but we could never afford it. She had put the thought out of her mind, until Lieutenant Tao threw a small dinner party last December. Tao introduced his niece, Theresa, who was student at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, and said that Theresa had cooked all the food for the party, since Theresa's goal was to become a caterer when she graduated. The food was delicious, and Brenda raved so much about the chocolate cheesecake that Kathy Tao sent her home with three slices. So when Brenda was thinking of ways to surprise Fritz for Valentine's day, a light went off. She called Lt. Tao and asked him if Theresa might be willing to cook dinner for her and Fritz for a reasonable price. Lt. Tao thought that Theresa would be thrilled; she was always looking for any catering-related activities. He promised to call her and get back to Brenda. 30 minutes later, Tao called back, reporting that he had talked to Theresa, and she would consider it an honor to cook a romantic dinner for Fritz and Brenda. Tao gave Brenda Theresa's contact information and wished her good luck.

Theresa was wonderful. She threw herself into the task with the enthusiasm only a young person at the cusp of their career can do. She e-mailed Brenda many sample recipes and food suggestions, and after several exchanges, they finally settled on a menu. They arranged for Theresa to do the shopping and then come to Brenda's house to get set up in the afternoon, so she had plenty of time to prepare dinner and serve Brenda and Fritz at a leisurely pace. All this for a price that was initially so low that Brenda insisted on doubling it. Theresa protested, writing back that what she needed was referrals if Brenda or Fritz knew anyone in need of catering, but Brenda insisted on paying her more for all of her work. She was not about to take advantage of this girl's eagerness and apparent awe of her.

Brenda was sorting through the groceries when Theresa returned to the kitchen. "Oh Chief, don't worry about that, I'll handle those," she said.

Brenda smiled at her. "Call me Brenda, not Chief. You don't even work for me!"

"Oh, sorry. I'm just used to hearing Uncle Mike talk about you, and he always just called you 'Chief.' He always tells the best stories about you." She suppressed a laugh.

Brenda arched an eyebrow. "So what has Uncle Mike been tellin' you about me?" she asked, curious. What indeed?

Theresa looked like she was going to get in trouble. "Oh, you know, things about your cases. A lot of really sad things, but some funny ones, too. Like you trapping a suspect in an elevator to get a confession. And the time a dead body was mailed to your department and you guys pretended to mail it back. Oh, and there was the cop who had the sex change operation who had the big crush on you. And..."

Joel wandered into the kitchen, clearly hoping to score an early dinner since Brenda was home.

"Oh! Theresa exclaimed. "Did you really used to bring a bunch of kittens into work with you?"

Brenda laughed. "Oh my, yes, yes I did. I'm so glad my legacy in Major Crimes has to do with cats."

Theresa turned serious and changed the topic of conversation. "Okay, I've looked at your apartment and this is what I think. You and your husband are going to want to have some privacy as you eat, and not hear me banging around in the kitchen, so your dining room is a little close. So I think you should eat in your living room. There is a round end table out there that is big enough to eat on. How does that sound?"

Brenda nodded. "Lead the way."

After a few minutes, the small round table was now in the center of the living room and had a white table cloth draped over it. Brenda found two dark red napkins and put them where the silverware will be placed. Theresa regarded their setup with pursed lips.

"Hmm, needs something more. Do you have any dried flowers?"

"No, but come to think of it, Fritz almost always brings me flowers for Valentine's Day. I can put those on the table."

Perfect! And do you have any special china to use?"

Brenda thought. "Well, I do have my Grandma's china, but I've never used it before. It's in the hutch over there." She gestured to the dining room. "I don't know if I want to bring it out. It's just for special occasions."

"And what is tonight?" Theresa asked. "You have someone at your house to cook a romantic dinner for two on Valentine's Day, that seems pretty special to me. My mother always said that good china is meant to be used, to kept locked up for special occasions that never happen."

Brenda thought about it. Her Mama had hauled the china out to her a few Christmases ago, and she had never used it, not once.

"Your mother is right. Let me get out a couple settings, plus some serving bowls and platters for you to use." Mama would be so happy to see me using Grandma Anna's china, Brenda thought. Especially for a night when I was spoiling Fritz. She loved him so much. A familiar ache pressed against her heart and she felt tears sting her eyes, but she blinked them back. No crying tonight, she scolded herself.

After 20 minutes she had extracted the pieces of China she wanted from their careful wrapping and brought them back to the kitchen to be rinsed off. She left the serving pieces with Theresa, who was busy chopping vegetables. Brenda set the table, hoping she remembered the correct order of the knives and spoons, and stepped back to admire her handiwork. The table looked elegant with the vintage china, and Brenda was glad Theresa urged her to use it. Wait until I light the candles, it will be breathtaking, she thought, as she went back to check on Theresa.

"All set," she sad, as she caught a whiff of smelled like garlic and onions in a pan. "If you predict your husband is coming home around 7, than we are doing great on time."

"I've got nothin' to do. Can I help you chop?"

Theresa looked hesitant. "I know that is going to sound snobby, but chefs don't like novices to prep anything they are going to cook. Things have to be diced just right or they won't sauté evenly. Sorry If I've offended you."

"Oh no, not at all. I just wanted to help you out is all."

"Well, you could always work on the dishes."

Brenda hesitated. "I think I'm gonna take a shower."


An hour later, Brenda had freshened up and put on her new dress bought for the occasion. It was a bright red fitted dress with a deep vee that showed a little cleavage, which she knew Fritz would love. She got the bedroom prepared for the romantic evening and wrapped Fritz's small gift. She then turned her attention to the living room, pulling out several scented candles from her shopping bag and strategically placing them around the room. She found some jazz music and, after listening to it and deeming it appropriate background dinner music, paused it on the stereo. She looked around, pleased with her efforts. She looked at her watch: 5:30. Before showering she sent Fritz a quick text asking him to send her a message when he was leaving the office so she could meet him at home; of course, it was to know exactly when he was going to arrive. Brenda wanted everything ready and waiting for him. She wanted everything to be perfect.

The entire house had filled up with the smells of delicious foods cooking. Theresa was whisking something on the stove, something that, to Brenda, looked suspiciously chocolate. "So what do you have there?" Brenda asked as she wandered over.

"Your dessert," Theresa answered. "Well, part of it. You look really nice, Chief, I mean, Brenda."

"Thanks, Theresa. I imagine Fritz will be home in about an hour, but he's gonna text me when he's leavin' the office, so we'll have a 30 minutes heads up. Everything goin' okay?"

"Yes!" she answered, as she whisked. "The steaks are marinating, the potatoes are ready to boil, the soup is warming, the salad is made, dessert is cooking, I'll put the hors d'oeuvres in the oven when your husband arrives, and, um, I think that's it."

Brenda looked around at her kitchen. There was hardly a dish in sight. Where was the mess that came along with cooking a meal? Brenda was mystified.

"Theresa, were in the world are all the dirty dishes? How did you manage to cook all that and clean up at the same time?"

Theresa laughed. "Are you one of those people who cooks and then spend an hour doing the dishes because their kitchen looks like a bomb exploded?" Brenda nodded. "You have to learn to do the dishes as you go along, Ch-Brenda. It makes you life so much easier."

"Theresa, after tonight's dinner and hearin' what you just said, I'm in big danger of losin' you to Fritz!"

Theresa smiled and shook her head. "Not the way you look tonight."

Once again finding herself with nothing to do, Brenda poured a glass of Merlot and sat down in the living room. She had just swallowed her first sip when her phone beeped: "Leaving office now. Will you be my Valentine? xxoo." Brenda felt herself grow warm reading his message-when did you become so sappy?-and answered him in kind: "I've always been your Valentine. See you at home. Love u 2." She turned and yelled to Theresa that Fritz would be home in 30 minutes, and then settled back into the cushions and took another deep drink. Joel jumped up next to her and begged for some pets, which she was happy to supply. "Just don't shed on my new dress, okay, Joel?' she said.

Brenda had just settled on an appropriate volume for the background music when she heard Fritz's keys jingling at the front door. She stood up and went over to the entry to greet him. The confusion on his handsome face was apparent when he walked into the candlelit living room that, with the addition to the small table set for dinner for two, looked more like a restaurant than his home. He jumped a bit when he saw Brenda standing there in the semi-darkness and nearly dropped the roses he was carrying.

"Whoa, Brenda, hi, what's going on? Wow, you look hot!" Fritz was an incredibly sexy mixture of confused, excited and, once he saw Brenda, a little turned on. He looked around the room and then his eyes returned to her, and he put his arm around her and pulled her close. "Did I tell you look hot?"

She laughed and kissed him. "I do all this and the only thing you notice is me?" She teased.

"Honey, you are usually the only thing I notice. But I am kind of curious why there's a table in our living room." He leaned down and kissed her. "New dress?" He eyed her appreciatively.

"New dress," she said. "I wanted to look extra nice tonight, because tonight we celebrate Valentine's day in style. We are havin' a lovely, romantic Valentine's Day dinner for two."

Fritz handed her the roses. "Oh, did you cook?"

"No, and don't think I didn't hear the disappointment in your voice, Fritz."

"I didn't-"

"Never mind that," she waved her hand in the air. "No clam linguini tonight. We are havin' dinner prepared by our own private chef," she said proudly.

Fritz looked a little stunned. "Really?"

"Really." She took his hand. "Now come and meet somebody."

Brenda led him into the kitchen, grabbing a vase from the breakfront along the way. Theresa had put on a white chef's jacket and chef's hat since Brenda had last seen her. She was slicing up a lime but stopped when they entered the kitchen. Hi Fritz!" she said, coming over to them. "I'm Theresa Tao, we kind of met at my Uncle Michael's house a couple of months ago." She extended her hand.

"Ah yes, I remember," Fritz said. "You made that amazing dinner. And you are cooking for us tonight?"

"Yes I am. Brenda asked me to come and prepare a romantic dinner for two for your Valentine's day, and we've been working hard at picking out the perfect menu for the past few weeks." She looked over at Brenda. "You have a great wife, Fritz. She wanted to make this a wonderful Valentine's Day for you. I hope you really enjoy everything we planned."

Both Fritz and Theresa were looking at her, so Brenda busied herself with arranging the roses in the vase. Fritz came up behind her and pulled he toward him, leaning down and kissing her, and said, "I know I have a great wife, Theresa. The best."

Brenda couldn't take it any more. She was not one for public displays of affection. They were just too painful. "Will you stop, you two? You are about embarrassin' me to death!"

"Sorry, Brenda. Well, now that you are here, Fritz, we can start the evening." Theresa's tone had taken on an older, more professional tone. "If you want to get settled in an change, I will be bringing in drinks and in hors d'oeuvres to the living room in ten minutes. You two can relax and talk for awhile and enjoy your cocktails, and dinner will be in a half an hour."

"Perfect, thanks Theresa," Fritz said, and Brenda followed him out of the kitchen. She went back to the living room and placed the roses on the table. They looked beautiful. She turned around and Fritz was staring at her. "I can't believe you arranged all of this, Brenda. Who are you and what did you do with my wife?"

"Ha ha," she said, sticking out her lower lip. "I'm tryin' to turn over a new leaf an concentrate on the livin', and maybe right some wrongs while I'm at it. I thought maybe givin' you, and us, a nice Valentine's Day might be a nice place to start."

He looked at her, his soft brown eyes so full of love that Brenda could have drowned in them. "Thank you," he said softly, again pulling her toward him.

"Hey, none of that now," she playfully swatted him. "Why don't you go take a quick shower and change." She lowered her voice. "There is a small present for you on the bed. I highly suggest opening it before you get dressed." Fritz raised his eyebrows at her, but she just playfully smacked his butt and said, "shoo, shoo!" until he finally retreated into the bedroom.

Theresa came out, holding a small object in her hand, which she placed on the table. "Oh yes, the roses look great," she said. "I brought this with me, " she pointed to a small gold bell. "You can ring this when you are ready for your next course, or if you need a refill of your drink, or anything else from me. That way, I won't have to interrupt you and Fritz unnecessarily. Oh, and what I plan to do is serve you dessert and coffee and then leave right after that. The kitchen will be all cleaned up, you will just need to wash the dessert plates. That way you can have the rest of the evening, er, to yourselves." Brenda felt her cheeks grow warm. I can't believe I'm blushin' like a teenager, she thought. Theresa stood next to her and stared at the general direction of the bedroom. "Um, Brenda, I hope you don't mind me saying, but your husband is really hot."

Oh lord, not you too, Brenda thought. Why are people always drooling after my husband? Instead she said, "why yes he is, Theresa, yes he is."

Fritz came out of the bedroom a short while later to find a seltzer with lime awaiting him, along with crab cakes, spring rolls, an antipasto plate, and a spread of cheeses. Sat down on the couch next to Brenda, who had already started to fill her plate with appetizers.

"Eclectic selection we have here," Fritz said, reaching out and grabbing a crab cake.

"Well, yea. I went back and forth with Theresa about what were gonna serve. Maybe things don't fit together perfectly, but I wanted to have your favorites. It isn't every day we get our own private chef."

He finished the crab cake and took a drink of his seltzer. He scooted closer to Brenda and put his arm around her, pulling her close. He bent down and whispered in her ear.

"My, the bedroom certainly looked...inviting. Black satin sheets, Brenda?" He smirked in amusement. "I don't think I've ever seen those in the linen closet before."

"Oh no, like I said, I did some shoppin' to get ready for tonight."

"You certainly did." He pulled her against him and kissed her. "And honey, I loved my present. I take it you wanted me to wear those silk boxers now." He looked at her suggestively.

"Oh yes," he breathed, suddenly wishing Theresa was not in their kitchen preparing dinner but was very, very far away. "I wanted them to be on you for when I undress you later." He groaned in response.

"Uh, not to sound ungrateful at all, but how long is our private chef going to be here? I have my own Valentine's Day presents to give you, and they don't come wrapped."

She laughed and smacked his arm. "Oh Fritz, that is just terrible, really!" She threaded her fingers through his thick hair. "Theresa was just tellin' me that as soon as she serves us dessert, she's takin' off."

He smiled. "Good. Because I'm hoping, really, really hoping, that since you were shopping for silk boxers for me, you might have stopped and picked yourself up something like that too." He looked at her, expectantly.

She pushed him away and leaned over the coffee table, filling a plate with spring rolls crab cakes, and cheeses. "You will just have to find out now, won't you?" she said, passing the plate to Fritz with a saucy grin. Just you wait, Fritz, just you wait.

A few minutes later Theresa stuck her head out and made a ringing motion with her hand, indicating through sign language that Brenda should use the bell when she and Fritz were ready to start dinner. As delicious as the appetizers were, Brenda forced herself to stop eating, knowing all the other food that Theresa was busy preparing, and not wanting to be too full to miss out on a bite of it. Fritz reluctantly put down his crab cakes and joined her at the table. He frowned at the roses he had brought her, and stood up and switched them for a couple of candles Brenda had burning on the mantle.

"What did you do that for?" Brenda frowned.

"I couldn't see your beautiful face over the flowers," he said. "That's much better." He relaxed into the chair.

Brenda rung the bell, and Theresa emerged from the kitchen carrying their salads, and came back a minute later with a basket of bread. "A friend of mine in the Pastry program made these special for you guys. Theresa regarded the oddly-shaped rolls. "I think Mimi was going for heart-shaped, but that didn't work out too well. But she's a fab baker so I know they'll taste great!" She disappeared again into the kitchen.

She was right, they were delicious. After Brenda had eaten on and was reaching for a second, Fritz put his hand on hers. "I think this place gives doggy bags," he said. "The salad's great. Thanks for remembering I love pears in my salad."

"It's what you always order," she said, happy she had gotten this detail right.

He put down his fork and looked at her. "Brenda, this is all so special. I think this is the nicest thing you have ever done for me. And now tell me why you have gone to all this trouble for a holiday you hate." He sat back and looked at her expectantly.

"I don't hate Valentine's Day!" she protested. I just think it's-"

"Silly. I know. So why do this for a holiday you think is 'silly?'"

She sat down her roll. How to explain it to him? She always had a terrible time translating things in her heart into words. She usually ended up babbling and either sounded like an idiot or defensive or a little of both.

"Let me see if I can say this so it makes sense. Cuz even though I've been workin' on bein' more honest with my feelin's every since Mama died, it's still hard to talk about them." Fritz nodded his encouragement.

"I realize how many awful things I've done to you over our years together, and I feel awful. and the thing is, Fritz, I felt awful at the time too, but I didn't now how to really tell you how bad I felt, and when I tried, I would tell you that I would make it up to you. But you know, I never did make things up to you, did I?"

Fritz started to interrupt her, and Brenda held up a hand. "I know what you are gonna say, Fritz, and I appreciate it. You are gonna say that all you've ever wanted was to spend more time with me, and for me to be out of harm's way so you don't have to worry about me any more. And you have that now I'm at the DA's office, and I know you are so much happier havin' me home in the evenins, and cuz I don't get called out in the middle of the night anymore. And I'm happier too, and our marriage is stronger. I'm so glad I could give that to you, to us. But there is still that feelin' that I want to make things up to you somehow. And that's why I asked about that horrible Valentine's Day six years ago, when you were fit to be tied. That has been a sore spot between us for years. I'm glad I finally got up the courage to ask you, cuz when you explained it to me, it made so much sense. You were tryin' to have a great Valentine's Day together, a really romantic night just for us, to make up for the truly horrible ones we happened to have spent together in the past, even though they were before we were datin'. And then it occurred to me that this is an opportunity where I can make somethin' up to you, something concrete and specific. We finally get our great, romantic Valentine's Day together as a couple, and I don't think any time I get to spend a lovely evening with you is silly."

Fritz had the look on his face that Brenda loved, that gobsmacked, I-adore-you-beyond-belief look. "What can I say? Except I love you so much, Brenda. And yes, this definitely makes up for that...other night we shall no longer mention, okay?"

Brenda raised her glass and Fritz mimicked her. "Cheers!" they said in unison.

After a few more rounds of bell-wringing and courses being delivered, Fritz looked up from his steak au poivre and said, "you know Brenda, not all our Valentine's Days were bad."

"Hmmm?" Brenda was blissing out on the gorgonzola cheese mashed potatoes. Man that Theresa can cook. I wonder if she gives lessons. Fritz is looking pretty happy.

"I said, and I hate to take you away from your carbo loading, and why don't you try some spinach, but not all of the Valentine's days we spent together were bad."

"First of all, Fritz, I did taste the spinach and plan to eat the rest on my plate. It's creamed spinach, so whatever nutritional value there is has been far outweighed by fat and calories. There is not one healthy thing in this meal, trust me, I made sure of that, and that's why it's so good." She grinned wickedly. "And I know we had several nice Valentine's Days layin' low, eatin' dinner at home or orderin' a pizza, which suited me just fine. All you need to do is bring me chocolate and I'm happy as a clam." She put down her fork ad looked around. "Speaking of..."

"My lord woman, do you have a one track mind or what! Yes, I got you chocolate. I hid it in the bedroom." He leaned over to her. "I thought it would be kind of fun to see just how turned on I could make you, feeding you chocolate while I did...other things." He wagged his eyebrows at her.

Okay, what's with the blushing? I've got to stop this, for heaven's sake, I am way too old to act like this. She tried to shake it off. "Hmmm, chocolate at the same time as 'other things.' Fritz, my head might explode. Good luck explainin' that to the police."

Once he stopped laughing, he took another bite of his steak and chewed. "Hey, you got me off track. No, I wasn't talking about those really hot evenings where we celebrated the most romantic night of the year by ordering Romano's pizza while you wore your favorite hot-pink sweatpants, I meant that we met on Valentine's Day, did you remember that?"

She was indignant. "What's wrong with my pink sweatpants? You said my ass looked-"

"Brenda!" She stopped talking. "I was just teasing. Did you hear what I asked. Did you remember we met on Valentine's Day, back in 1997?"

She wrinkled her nose up in concentration. "Impossible," she said finally, taking a bite of the spinach. Theresa even makes vegetables taste yummy. I love this woman. "I started at the DC police in March 1997."

"No you didn't. You started in February. I clearly remember meeting on February 14."

"You are wrong, Fritz. I started in March, Fritz. I'm positive I started in March."

He crossed his arms and stared at her. "'And I'm positive I met you in February. On the 14th. On the elevator. I tried to be friendly completely rebuffed me." He stared at he intently. "You thought I was hitting on you."

She took her mind back to that time. Starting at the DCPD, first week... She slapped her hand down on the table. "That's right!" she said. "I remember now! I did start in February. I remember all the guys in Metro were askin' me out for Valentine's Day." Her eyes narrowed. "Includin' you." She stuck a finger out at him.

"I was not!" He was offended. "I was on my way to take Cindy out to dinner and I saw you on the elevator and I simply introduced myself. You just assumed I was coming on to you and gave me the 'Brenda Johnson Treatment.'"

"The 'Brenda Johnson Treatment?" She raised crossed her arms, mimicking his position.

"You chewed me up and spit me out," he admitted, trying not to smile. He unfolded his arms and resumed eating. Brenda did the same. "Truth be told, Brenda, I saw you in the hall and I was so taken by you I just wanted to meet you. I thought you were the most beautiful women in the world. But I had more respect for you than to hit on you like the other clods at Metro."

"Oh Fritzy, you are so respectful," Brenda said, biting back a smile. "I, on the other hand, might not remember meetin' you on Valentine's day, but I do remember thinkin' one thing the first time I met you."

"And what was that?"

"Nice ass."

Their plates were empty, and Brenda was eager for dessert. Brenda was pretty much always eager for dessert. She reached for the bell and rung it with gusto.

"I hope you don't get too used to that," Fritz said. "I don't want you ringing a bell and expect me to coming running with your dinner."

She batted her eyelashes. "And why not?"

Fritz was getting ready to answer when Theresa approached carrying a tray. She placed two teacups with coffee in front of them, with a creamer full of milk. Brenda admired how elegant her Grandma's china looked in the candlelight. She was quickly distracted by the plate put in front of her. "Oh my" she breathed, "I think this is the most beautiful thing I've ever seen in my entire life." She looked up at the young chef. "You did a an incredible job with this, Theresa!"

"It's good having friends with talent," she said, smiling. "My buddy Jake is the chocolate whisperer. I asked for a chocolate box, and he gave me a heart-shaped box. And unlike my friend Mimi, he knows how to make food into shapes." The fist-shaped chocolate confection was filled with chocolate mousse and was topped with chocolate sprinkles. It was a work of art.

"I'm speechless," Fritz said, smiling at Theresa. "This entire meal was heavenly. I promise to tell everyone in my office that they should hire you for their next party. You have a way with food."

The young woman positively glowed. "Thank you so much, Fritz. It's been a lot of fun making dinner for you two, it really has been. Now, the kitchen is clean and there are some leftovers in the fridge. I'm going to grab my things and slip out the backdoor. I really hope the two of you enjoy the rest of your evening."

There was a flurry of goodbyes, and Brenda noticed that Theresa got nervous and flubbed her words when Fritz gave her a brief hug. When the door had closed the door behind her, Fritz grabbed Brenda and pulled her against him.

"You know, dessert tastes better when eaten sitting on the lap of someone you love," he said, sitting down and guiding her down on top of him.

"Is that true?" she asked, picking up Fritz's dessert. She took the last spoon on the table and scooped up a generous helping of the mouse and put it her mouth. "Oh my," she said, eyes closed. "This is incredible. That girl really knows how to cook." She scooped another spoonful to eat, but Fritz playfully grabbed her wrist and guided it to his mouth.

"Wow, that's good. Really, really, good. And you know. woman, you are eating my dessert, don't you?"

"Well," she said, breaking off a small piece of chocolate and taking a bite, "I thought we could eat one of the chocolate boxes now, and another later, for extra energy, after, well, you know." She gave him The Look, the one she knew stopped him in his tracks. "Oh wait, we have that box of chocolates in the bedroom." She leaned closer to him and ran her hands down his chest. "I think I'm gonna need a really good workout to burn off all of these calories." She pressed her forehead against his and caressed his face. He traced his finger from her collarbone along the vee of her neckline to where it ended between her breasts and then back up again. His finger caught on the thin gold chain she wore, and he pulled back to look at it.

Brenda was wearing the necklace he had bought her the first Christmas they lived together, a beautiful diamond and gold solitaire. from Tiffany. Brenda couldn't believe someone gave her such an extravagant gift! She remembered staring at the blue box, mesmerized, not wanting to break the spell of it all. The moment was perfect, so perfect, sitting in her living room in LA with her incredibly handsome boyfriend who bought her Tiffany for Christmas. A part of her, that cynical voice deep inside her who never shuts up, told her it was all too good to be true, she didn't deserve any of it. The box is empty, it whispered blackly to her. But it wasn't empty, it held a stunning piece of jewelry, the first of several pieces Fritz bought for her from Tiffany. "Because you deserve it," he told her.

Fritz had a funny look on his face as he regarded the necklace around Brenda's neck. He ran his hand over the diamond nestled in the notch between Brenda's collarbones. Brenda's shuttered at his touch. "I love this necklace, Fritz," she said. "I always have. It makes me feel special every time I wear it."

"It looks perfect on you," he said. "It's just missing one thing." She scooted the chair back and then put his hands on Brenda's hips and guided her off his lap. "What are you...hey, what are you doin'?" she asked, confused when he stood up too. He put his finger to his lips indicating that she should hush, and he disappeared into the bedroom. Brenda's attention was quickly recaptured by the dessert. She broke off another side of the chocolate box and was eating it when Fritz returned, one hand behind his back.

"I have something for you," he said, gesturing for her to sit down. She was curious. "Fritz, all this fuss for chocolates? I thought you were savin' those for later," she smiled.

"Okay, I have something else for you," and he pulled his hand out from behind his back. Brenda's response was Pavlovian. "Tiffany," she breathed. She couldn't pull her eyes away from the box. "For me?"

"Yes, for you. Open it."

Brenda's hand shook in anticipation. I may be shallow, but something about this blue box. she thought. It gets my juices flowing, just like sex and chocolate. And tonight I get all three! She pulled out the velvet box and opened it. "Oh my," she exclaimed when she saw the earrings. "Fritz, these are beautiful!" She dragged her eyes away from the box to Fritz. "They match the necklace, oh honey, you shouldn't have! I love them! But Fritz, why such an extravagant gift this year? As far as you knew, you were gonna be spendin' the night with me in those pink sweatpants you hate so much."

"Well, actually," she started slowly, "I bought them for Valentine's day 2007. I wanted something special for you to mark the occasion of our first Valentine of us living together. But that evening got so messed up that I decided to hold on to them for another time. And the right time never came around. Until now."

"What about all the Christmases, birthdays, wedding anniversaries..." Brenda was confused.

He sighed. "It seems really weird, I wasn't withholding these to punish you. I've gotten you a lot of nice pieces of Tiffany since then, haven't I?" She nodded. "I guess, with these, well, I think I was waiting for a perfect Valentine's Day to give them to you. Like the one I had planned for that night." He looked abashed and stared at his feet. "That's a little stupid, isn't it?"

Brenda's heart squeezed. There were times when Fritz could be so sentimental, so romantic, so wanting of love that he reminded her of those kids in grade school who decorated their Valentine's Day boxes with pictures of Cupid, huge hearts, flowers, and every shade of glitter they could find. Their boxes simply begged for cards, and usually were stuffed with them by the end of the day. Love me, they seemed to say. It's worth it.

It's so very worth it, she thought, as tears welled up in her eyes. She wiped them away. "I'm tired of cryin' on our Valentine's, Fritz," she said, standing and embracing him. "Cuz nothin' is gonna ruin this perfect evenin'. And it means the world to me that you think this is perfect. I feel like I have finally made amends for somethin.''

He held her out and looked at her. "It's taken us 16 years to finally get Valentine's Day right, you know. That's a long time. That's probably a record."

"And a lot of crappy February 14th's," she said, pulling his shirt of out his jeans and dipping her fingers below his waistband until she found the tops of his silk boxers. Her mouth covered his and she melted her tongue in the rich taste of chocolate and Fritz. His hands slipped to her lower back and his strong arms pulled her flush against him. She pulled away from his lips and moved to his neck. "If you ask me," she whispered hotly in his ear, "Cupid could use some target practice."


February 15, 2013

Los Angels, California

Fritz ran his hand from between Brenda's naked shoulders, slowly down her back. over the curve he loves so much, and up the slope to her ass, and back down again. Over and over. Brenda was asleep on her stomach, and his caresses didn't seem to disturb her one bit.

He should go to sleep too. It was 2am and he had to work tomorrow. Or today, really. They had spent the evening making love, fueling themselves with chocolate between rounds. Well, Brenda ate most of the chocolate, first their desserts and then she started on the large box he had bought her. He had his fair share, though, most of it eaten slightly melted off of Brenda's aroused skin. It tasted so much better that way.

They had been married for four years now and together for eight, and yet there were nights when he woke up and just watched her sleep, amazed she was in his bed, amazed she was his, still in shock that fate had brought them to this point. He had left Atlanta as low as he had ever been, and his drinking had increased to self-medicate his growing depression. It wasn't until the two DUI's that things finally began to change. He started rehab, and then he got into therapy, and all kinds of black nasties crawled out of him and finally saw the light of day. When he got a chance to take a position in LA he jumped at it, seeing a fresh start as a good thing, a way to finally leave Cindy, and DC, and all the painful memories associated with it, far behind. He loved LA the second he touched down, but despite dating a lot of women, he never found anyone to get serious with. He never forgot Brenda, and he thought that maybe that was part of the problem. Once you have loved Brenda Leigh Johnson, everyone else just kind of pales in comparison, he mused as he stroked her back.

He wished he remembered the exact day in June he overheard two other agents talking about the new head of Priority Homicide at the LAPD. When he heard the name "Johnson" and "she" his heart lurched. There is no way, it can't be. Then again, Will Pope ended up at the LAPD, didn't he? Fritz got on the phone with the FBI/LAPD liaison, Agent Kendrick. She confirmed that the new Priority Homicide leader was indeed Brenda Leigh Johnson, and after much wheedling on Fritz's part, agreed to allow him to hand-deliver the reports coming from FBI headquarters. In order to secure the name of the hotel she was staying in, Fritz had to promise to take Agent Kendrick out to lunch.

Buying a meal for Agent Kendrick, it turned out, was a very small price to pay. Brenda walked down the stairs in the hotel and time melted away. Fritz was right back in that place where he was smitten with her and her large brain, and again, he felt that energy of hers snake into his own body and shock his heart alive, like a defibulator. This time, I am not going to let her slip away, said to himself, determined. Broken dates be damned, he saw though her defense tactics and held on tight. He pushed her, though, when she broke three dates in a row, a veiled threat to vacate her life forced her hand, and he will never forget the feeling of her mouth on his, hot and eager, and he wanted more more more. After all, eight years of foreplay was a long time. Two nights later they went to bed together and it was beyond anything he could have imagined, and he had spent a lot of time fantasizing about being in bed with Brenda. And oh, the sex keeps getting better and better, he thought, and he felt his sated body stir at the thought.

Being with her, though, was a roller coaster, full of ups and downs based on Brenda's cases and twists and turns brought on by her mercurial moods. But her loved her, oh he loved her. Jerry told him he was a fool and could do better, other friends told him he was whipped. He ignored them all. Only Fritz knew the incredibly complicated, beautiful woman that was Brenda. So brilliant in her work and yet so lost when it came to her own life. Tough as nails in a murder room but deeply wounded and vulnerable underneath her shell. And she loved him, loved him hard, with a protective fierceness of a mother lion. Others never saw that side of her, only him.

And others haven't seen her struggle to change in the aftermath of bone-stripping horrors in her life. The lawsuit was the least of them, although Will Pope screwing her over-again-wore away a thin membrane of trust Brenda had been able to grow back despite his previous abuse of her. She almost got shot, twice. Her father's cancer and resulting abusive behavior, Willie Rae's death (why did she have to die in our guest room?) and Philip Stroh. Oh, if he were in that house, Philip Stroh would be rotting in hell for laying a hand on Brenda. Fritz felt his pulse rise at the memory of it all, of receiving Captain Raydor's phone call in the middle of the night in DC, telling him what happened and assuring him that Brenda would be safe at her house until he could get a flight home. I came so close to losing her, the thought making him want to cry. And in the face of all of this, and because of this, Brenda looked at her life and decided she needed to work and become a better person. To focus on the living. To focus on him.

It's been slow going. It was hard for Brenda to transition to a job where she could leave at 6 o'clock, and if she wasn't done with her work, she could bring it home. She was always looking for more to do, was driving the staff hard and treating every small issue as if it were a major crime. Finally the DA himself had to meet with her and rein her in. Once that happened, a very embarrassed Brenda asked Fritz to tell her when she was pushing too hard, and he did, happily. Slowly they developed a routine where they alternated who cooked dinner and actually ate together most evenings around 8PM. He was thrilled to see her every night and to know she was safe. Brenda began to let go of some of her anger at the LAPD and her grief about her mother's death, and, with spending more time together and talking, really talking, she became more open. They were growing closer with each day, more connected, entwined. She was still a conundrum, his complicated, impossible girl, but at least she paid attention to him now.

And tonight...he was blown away. The old Brenda would never have bothered to have done something so elaborate just for him. Hell, in the past he's pretty sure Brenda didn't feel all that bad about what happened that long-ago Valentine's Day. In her mind, any and all sacrifices were worth it for a case. But now she had the ability and introspection to see what bothered her, the sensitivity to see what bothered him, and the consideration to do something about it.

You've come a long way, baby.

He reached over and fingered her earlobe. The earrings looked great on her, large enough to be noticed but not ostentatious. Brenda groaned at his touch and flicked at her ear. He pulled his hand away lest he wake her. I'm so glad I gave her the earrings, he thought. And I'm glad I held onto them. I had faith there would be a good Valentine's in our future.

He lay down next to her on his side and draped his arm over her back. His sister Claire was a big believer in fate, that everything happened for a reason, and the people in our lives are there for a purpose. He never knew what he thought about that until the day he found out Brenda had moved to LA. Then he started to wonder. He yawned and buried his face in her hair. Maybe Cupid doesn't need to work on his aim, he thought, his mind growing heavy and slow with sleep. Maybe we needed to go through a lot together as friends before we were ready to fall in love. I needed to sober up and Brenda, well, maybe Brenda, for whatever reason, had to go through a few jerks before she could really appreciate me.

Just maybe, crossed his brain as it fell asleep, Cupid knew just what he was doing all along.

END

Did I use enough Angst-B-Gone in this chapter to redeem myself? If so, take a second to review. The longer a story is, the more work went into it. The more work that went into a story, the more feedback is needed. Thanks for hanging in there.