A/N: This story takes place in Season 1. Please leave a review. You have no idea how important they are to a writer. Thank you.
Brenda was in a rotten mood. She had just gotten chewed out by Will for being rude to a TV reporter. "I wasn't rude to him. I just told him to go fuck himself," Well, that's what she had wanted to say. But, no. She had held her temper and just told him that she didn't have time to be interviewed. Of course she had brushed past him, forcing not only him but his cameraman as well, to step back into the gutter overflowing with rain. But was it her fault that they didn't watch where they were stepping? Will seemed to think so. He was more concerned with their wet feet than with the fact that she had just solved a double homicide in under 24 hours. He had shown no appreciation and had completely lost sight of what was important. Again.
She was in such a bad mood that she had forgotten to stop and pick up something for dinner on her way home so she was forced to pull her ice-encrusted emergency TV dinner from the freezer. The fact that the dinner itself was even more ice-encrusted than the box told her that she hadn't had a dinner emergency in quite a while. Either that or she had left the freezer drawer open once again. She decided that this wasn't enough of an emergency to eat that TV dinner so she threw it back in the freezer, once again forgetting to make sure that the drawer was properly closed, and grabbed a package of microwave popcorn from the cupboard.
Just as she was about to toss it into the microwave there was a knock on her door. As she walked to the door she saw that it was Fritz. "Oh, crap Could I look any worse? My hair is a mess and my lipstick is gone. And the house is a shambles," she sighed as she pasted a smile on her face and answered the door.
"Fritz, what are you doin here?"
"It looks like I'm about to save you from a fate worse than death," he said as he entered and looked at the mess.
Offended, she retorted, "Well, I'm so glad that the FBI never has to work eighteen hour days so you have all kinds of time to keep your condo clean."
"Actually, I worked a long day too," Fritz replied, "Which is why I feel like going out for dinner. But I don't feel like going alone."
"Oh, Fritz, not tonight. I'm tired and I'm not dressed to go out."
"We don't have to go any place fancy so you don't have to dress. See, I'm wearing jeans."
"Well, I'd have to shower and change anyway. And, as you so astutely observed, I need to do some cleanin so…"
"So you can't do that on an empty stomach. There's a family type restaurant not too far from here that has a great fish fry on Friday nights. I hear that their hush puppies are better than anything you can find in the south and, since I've never lived in the south, I need your expert judgment on that. So grab your purse and let's go," he grinned at her.
She looked into his twinkling eyes and couldn't help but return his smile. "Well, ok. I guess I can pass judgment on whatever it is that California calls hush puppies. But I'm gonna take a shower first so you'll just have to wait for me."
"Great. I can watch the news on TV while I time you."
While they were waiting for their orders to arrive Fritz said, "I doubt it's the state of your house. So why are you really upset?"
Brenda sighed and then released her frustration. "I worked really hard to solve my case and the only thanks I got was Will chewin me out for bein rude to some TV reporter. And in front of Taylor and Flynn, too. I think I made a big mistake by movin to Los Angeles. I should move back to Atlanta." She looked like she wanted to tear something apart, or more likely, someone.
"Maybe something else was bothering him and he just took it out on you. He'll probably apologize on Monday," Fritz replied taking her hand in both of his.
"Huh. When have you ever known Will Pope to apologize for anythin? No. I need to get my old job back."
Fritz knew she wasn't serious about moving so he tried a distraction instead. "Well, you haven't even seen all the sights in California yet. So I have another suggestion for you." He saw he had her attention and continued, "There is a place called The Cedar Lake Assembly a couple of hours from here. It used to be part of the Chautauqua Institution."
"Never heard of it," Brenda interrupted.
"It's a community where people come to learn, experience the arts, and just relax."
"Is it a resort?"
"Not really. There are lots of cottages that people rent. And performers, artisans, and lecturers come to work there. They present programs and workshops of all kinds all summer long."
"Sounds kinda high brow," she observed.
"Yes and no. They have a mix of everything. Anyway, this weekend they're having a huge bazaar and lots of programs for members and non-members. They do it every year as a fund-raiser." He winked at her, "And they might even have a lecture on anger management techniques."
Fritz ignored her sarcasm. "Even if they don't, I think we'd both enjoy the bazaar."
"A bazaar? I'm not much for shoppin for junk." She shook her head no.
"It's not a flea market, Brenda. There are great art works, jewelry, pottery. All kinds of hand made arts and crafts. Plus there are a lot of really fantastic food concessions there."
"That's good, because I don't need any fleas." The food was the only thing Brenda was interested in. But she saw how enthusiastic he was. "Well, a day away from Los Angeles would feel good," she said tentatively.
"Great. I'll pick you up at 7:00 tomorrow morning," Fritz said happily.
"7:00? Why so early?"
"We've got a two hour drive and we want a good parking place. "
"7:30," she countered, "But you'll have to take me home right after we finish eatin. I need my beauty sleep."
"I'd say you have nothing to worry about in that department," Fritz said admiringly.
Brenda ignored the compliment and changed the subject. "Just so you know, this hush puppy is a crime perpetrated against proper hush puppies everywhere south of the Mason Dixon Line. It's an imposter. No real hush puppy is made with sugar. And it needs onion."
Fritz resisted the urge to make a crack about her sugar fetish. Instead he replied, "See? I did not know that. I actually thought they were pretty good. I knew I needed the benefit of your expertise," he grinned. "And just so I'll know, how was the fish?"
She grinned back at him. "The fish was pretty good. Its only problem is that it's white fish. And hush puppies need to be served with catfish fried in corn meal, not batter," she pontificated.
"Next time we'll look for a restaurant that serves catfish and hush puppies, then," Fritz nodded.
Brenda didn't say anything but turned the words "we'll" and "next time" over in her mind.
The following morning Brenda had difficulty finding something to wear. It was going to be hot so she first put on a tank top. But she didn't know how much shade there would be and she didn't need another bad sunburn. Besides, the color wasn't what she wanted today. Next she tried on a printed tee but decided it didn't look high brow enough for the Cedar Lake Assembly so she finally settled on her favorite blue blouse.
"Just a minute," she called as she grabbed a white short-sleeved shirt, put it on over her blouse and answered the door.
After attending a talk on landscaping for a small home, they walked around the bazaar. "Your description didn't do justice to this place," she marveled.
Brenda saw lots of ideas for ways she could personalize her bungalow. But moving expenses had already strained her budget so she resisted everything in her line of sight until she spotted an unusual suncatcher. She found a gorgeous hand-blown glass fruit bowl that she really wanted but it was expensive so she decided to pass in favor of a great wind chime for the front porch. After she paid for her items she turned around to find Fritz. He was two booths down looking at some handmade patio furniture.
When she walked up to him he turned to her and said, "I think your patio needs this set."
"What for? I already have a patio table."
"I know, but it's not nearly as nice as this set. And it's not level. Your table rocks."
Brenda looked at the colorful cushions. "It is beautiful. But, Fritz, I can't afford it right now."
"Then let me buy it for you." Fritz saw Brenda's expression and knew his offer had been a mistake so he tried to cover. "I'd loan you the money for it and you could pay me back a little each month."
Brenda wasn't buying his explanation. He was moving too fast for her comfort. "I don't need a loan," she hissed, "I can buy it myself."
The dealer, not wanting to miss a sale, chimed in, "I'll sell you the entire set for 40% off."
Brenda ignored the dealer and told Fritz, "We couldn't even get it home. It won't fit in the SUV."
But the dealer was not about to lose the sale, "I brought it here in an SUV. You just have to take the legs off and put the back seat down."
"I can put the back seat down," Fritz was parroting the dealer.
"I'll throw in the cushions and help you load the SUV," the dealer said eagerly.
"The cushions don't come with the set?" Brenda was surprised.
"My wife custom makes them so they're priced separately. But I'll throw them in."
"The cushions make the set," Fritz said with all the confidence of a man knowing he had worn down her sales resistance, so he turned to the dealer. "Do you take Discover?"
"No, Master Card," Brenda said glaring at Fritz.
When they got home, Brenda told Fritz to back the SUV up to the fence surrounding the patio and she went in through the house and unlocked the gate for him. As she turned to walk back into the house he asked, "Aren't you going to help me unload?"
"No. All of this was your idea. I'm gonna hang my suncatcher," and left him standing by the SUV.
After she finished hanging the suncatcher Brenda thought about helping Fritz assemble the patio set but decided not to let him know that she was glad she'd bought it and changed her clothes instead. She was busy washing dishes when he came into the kitchen and said, "Aren't you even going to come out to see how great it looks?"
"I need to finish cleanin up in here," she replied.
"This is the most stubborn woman I've ever met," Fritz thought, but said nothing.
Brenda noticed the silence and regretted that she was making him angry. "Hey, do you want to order a pizza?" she asked. "Now that I'm up to my elbows in dishwater I don't want to go out. And there's nothin here to fix."
"Ok," Fritz replied and picked up the phone, relieved that, given her mood, she wasn't throwing him out. After ordering, he picked up a dish towel and started drying dishes.
As they ate their pizza on the patio, Fritz commented, "This patio set just looks perfect here. Aren't you glad you bought it?"
"What are you? House and Garden? I'll let you know how glad I am when my Master Card bill arrives," she retorted with mock irritation.
Even though he knew she loved the new patio set, the defiance in her eyes made him realize that she was not going to give him the satisfaction of admitting it. And she certainly was not in the mood to let him spend the night again, so after dinner he kissed her goodnight.
"Hey, you can't just walk out of here," Brenda said.
Her tone brought him up short. "Huh? What's wrong?"
"You can't leave that old patio set here. Take it with you."
"Brenda, I don't have a patio."
"I don't care. This whole thang was your idea, and I have no way of gettin rid of the old one. So you figure out how you're gonna deal with it."
Driving home with the old patio set in the back of his SUV Fritz was thinking, "This woman is going to be a whole lot of trouble. Do I really need this kind of aggravation in my life again?"
His answer came in images of Brenda. He remembered her determination the day he met her at Langley. He remembered how crushed her spirit had been when Will Pope had dumped her. He remembered her beautiful smile when she floated into her hotel's bar the first time he saw her in California. He remembered her beautiful, shimmering hair moving over his skin when they first made love. But he also remembered how battered and bruised she was when she called him during the night crying. She had refused to tell him what happened when he patched her up. But he had seen gratitude replace the fear in her eyes so he didn't push her for an explanation. He remembered the defiant flash in her beautiful brown eyes when she argued with him over the patio set. And he concluded that, despite a future he was sure would be filled with Aggravation with a capital A, he definitely wanted Brenda Leigh Johnson in his life.
Despite the long day, Brenda couldn't sleep. She had seen the desire in his eyes and she knew that Fritz was moving way too fast for her. He was pushing her and she had no intention of being pushed. She had been swept off her feet before and had experienced landings which were too hard. Painfully hard. She didn't want another one.
Thoughts of Will Pope entered her mind. Finally she stopped tossing and turning. She turned on the light, got out of bed, and retrieved her box of precious mementos she had kept from their time together. As she fondly studied the contents of the box she remembered how it had felt to fall in love with him. She had been so happy. Her happiness had been so complete that she had been willing to forgive him when he finally had admitted the truth when she'd confronted him with the knowledge that he was married. She had never wanted to be in the position of "the other woman" but she could no more have abandoned the happiness she felt when she was with Will than she could have stopped breathing. So she had willingly continued their affair, choosing to focus only on how she felt when they were together and his promises that they would soon be married. But those promises obviously never meant anything to Will. She hadn't seen her pain mirrored in his eyes when he'd ended their affair, and she had been forced to recognize that he hadn't loved her the way she had loved him. She put the contents back in the box and returned it to her closet, climbed back into bed and turned out the light once more.
"Why did he bring me to Los Angeles?" This was the question she had asked herself a thousand times. And, more importantly, "Why was I so eager to come?" Somehow the answer she always gave to that question, that it was the chance to become a Deputy Chief, seemed to ring hollow. "I'm not gonna get reinvolved with him if that's what he's plannin," she thought, "I'm too smart for that." She didn't want to think about the pain she'd felt when she'd found out that he was cheating on her with Estelle Forsyth. When he had ended his affair with her she had deluded herself into thinking that he had felt the same kind of pain she experienced. And she didn't want to focus on the fact that he hadn't experienced anywhere near the emotional destruction he had perpetrated on her.
"I forgave him so that's all water under the bridge," she'd told herself when she had accepted the position. But was it? Her instincts told her that Will had brought her to LA for more than a job. And even though some of his actions indicated he was still interested in her, he hadn't made a single move. Maybe she was wrong. Maybe their history was as much in the past in his mind as it had been in hers. Maybe he was really happy with Estelle. Could it be that he was happy that he had chosen Estelle over her and had no intentions beyond procuring her crime solving expertise? Her instincts kept answering that question with a no. And even Fritz had smiled knowingly when he'd brought up the subject of her working with Will again.
Fritz… She had known Fritz Howard for years. He had been a great co-worker and a great friend. He had always been a gentleman and incredibly supportive. How many times in DC had he helped her with her cases when he didn't have to? How many times had he set his own work aside in order to help her? She couldn't count the number of times. She'd never considered him as anything except a good friend until he'd been sitting on her couch listening to her explanation of the sexual misconduct charges which had surfaced in the LA Times. And then he'd kissed her…
And what a kiss it had been. Suddenly her internal dam had burst. Years of being used by men, men who eventually betrayed her, had been swept away in the surge of her emotions as had been her resolve not to become romantically involved with anyone. Brenda had suddenly wanted Fritz Howard in the worst way. The gorgeous, sexy Fritz Howard that she had never noticed before suddenly stepped in front of the good old reliable, friendly, and helpful Fritz Howard. And she had devoured him.
"Well," she smiled to herself, "We devoured each other." And they had. It had been a long time since Brenda had taken a man to her bed. Too long.
"That's probably why I went nuts that night." She satisfied herself with that answer. "But that one night didn't satisfy him," she thought with more than a twinge of fear. "No, he's movin way too fast. I don't want to be owned by any man. I've got my own life here now, and I'm not gonna be pressured into a romance. I don't want it and I don't need it. Fritz Howard is a good friend. We can be friends with benefits, but that's all. And he just needs to accept that."
She was satisfied with her solution and closed her eyes once more. But Fritz's smile and his kind eyes were between her and sleep. She felt those eyes penetrating all her defenses.
Once again she felt apprehension settling over her like a cold, damp fog. "This is not what I bargained for," she fretted. Because those eyes were telling her that they would never be just friends again. Benefits? "Yes," she admitted, "I want to sleep with him." But those eyes wanted more. She knew those eyes would be trouble. But she also knew they were good eyes, kind eyes. "I'll just have to deal with all of this tomorrow", she thought as Fritz's eyes smiled at her once again.
A/N: And now, please, please leave your review. Thanks.