Gail Peck gave herself a single minute of stunned silence.
She'd expected to have a good time, drink a little, dance a little, and forget about all the other crap that was going on in her life. Somehow, that expectation had evolved to sitting in the coat room wearing somebody else's coat, and trying to figure out that the hell had just happened.
Her lips were sticky, but still kind of dry. She pressed them together, frowning.
Gail had no idea how she was supposed to respond. Her relationships had always been complicated, but this was a different kind of complication.
Tipsy, but not overly drunk, she stood. The fur coat was starting to piss her off a little, so she dumped it back on its hanger.
Outside the coat room, it was a little cooler, but Gail was flushed from both the alcohol and the kiss. Joining the rest of the reception party, she found Steve leaning against the wall, eating what she assumed was a giant lollipop.
'Where's your girlfriend?' he asked, casually. Gail started. Steve knew her, probably better than anyone else, but he couldn't know something that she didn't know herself.
'Where's your friend? She works down in the morgue, right? Polly, or something?'
'Holly,' Gail said. 'She had to go, so now I'm stuck back out here with all the boring people.' Steve grinned.
'They're only boring because you let them be boring,' he told her. 'Me, on the other hand – I like to enjoy life. Take this cake lollipop for example—'
'Yeah, Steve, you've reached peak velocity boring now, so I'm gonna leave.'
'You know that doesn't work on me, kid, so don't even try it.'
Gail rolled her eyes. '"Kid?"' she repeated. 'Really? I'm twenty-six, Steve.'
'You're still a rookie, so you're still a kid. That's the rules.'
Gail snorted. 'Yeah, right.' She left Steve to the food table, knowing that she wouldn't be missed if she went home now. The last thing she needed was for Collins and McNally to show up and make things weirder than they already were.
Outside, the air was fresh. Her coat (the one she'd brought with her, not the faux fur thing that she'd borrowed from the coat room) wasn't quite warm enough to keep out the chill.
On anticipation of being too drunk to drive home, Gail had caught a cab to the wedding. She hadn't had enough champagne to even consider herself tipsy, so she decided to walk for a while. She needed to clear her head, and figure out what the hell had happened in there (and more importantly, how she felt about it).
After everything that had happened, there was definitely still a part of her that loved Nick. Even though he'd left her twice, even though she'd cheated on him, he'd been the first person she'd ever really loved.
If he hadn't fallen for McNally, she figured they would have been able to work things out. But then, given that the only reason she'd cheated in the first place was because he'd fallen for McNally, it was a moot point. She was pissed, and she hated herself, but she liked Holly, even if she was still sort of caught up in "Nick" feelings. It was a complete clusterfuck of emotion that she, quite frankly, didn't have time for.
God. The way things went, sometimes she forgot they had a job to do on top of everything else.
The night of the break-up, she'd walked for hours, alternating between being angry at him, and being angry at herself. It hadn't helped, of course, that she still had Perik on her mind. The shadow of his touch against her skin, the voice that still gave her nightmares every other night. He had torn her life apart, in more ways than one.
Tonight was different.
Tonight, she walked for a little over three hours, heels in one hand, clutch purse stowed in an inside pocket. By chance, or because her brain was wired to always make her way back there, she found herself a few blocks away from the station. Generally, she tried to avoid coming in to work off shift. It was late (Early?) and she had some trainers in her locker for when she wanted to hit the gym after everyone else had gone home. Gail shoved her heels in the locker, and pulled on the trainers. It would be a hell of a lot more comfortable than walking home barefoot.
When she reached a crossroads, she thought for a few moments, and then turned left. The morgue was a little over a mile away from the station; far enough that they usually used a courier to transport paperwork, rather than have things walked over.
The guy at the desk buzzed her in without question, which probably said something about the number of times she'd come over to visit Holly in the last couple of weeks.
'Are you always here so early?' Holly looked up from the autopsy table when Gail entered the room. Gail was pretty sure she was looking at somebody's lungs.
'Well, I was still a little pumped after dancing, so I came back here.' Underneath the lab coat, she was wearing the same outfit she'd had on at the wedding.
'You haven't been home yet.' It was a statement, not a question. It was a little after four a.m. Holly apparently didn't feel then need to point out that Gail hadn't been home either.
'I had some stuff I wanted to work on. The bodies don't go anywhere, but I don't like it when we have to start double-stacking.'
Gail stared at her. If Holly was going to brush off her bitchiness, then Gail was sure as hell going to leave her…weirdness alone.
'Do you want to get a drink?' she said, before she even knew what she was doing. Holly raised an eyebrow.
'A drink, or a drink?'
Gail had no idea what she was doing.
No. She did know what she was doing. She was forcefully dragging the ball back into her court. She wasn't going to let Holly continue to dictate the course of their…whatever it was. If this was going to turn into something complicated, then Gail was sure as hell going to be the person to take it there.
'A drink,' Gail said, careful that her intonation was different from either of the options Holly had provided. The truth was, she had no idea, but she wanted – she needed – to figure out where the hell her head was at. She needed to figure out what Holly wanted.
More importantly, Gail needed to figure out what she wanted.
'When you asked if I wanted to get a drink, I didn't realise you meant "milkshakes."' The diner was a few blocks away from 15, which meant that there wasn't likely to be anyone she knew coming in to buy food. It wasn't that she was ashamed, or embarrassed (and maybe that fact alone said something about how she felt). It was more that she didn't want anyone butting their nose in where it didn't belong.
'I can't get doughnuts at a bar,' Gail said, taking a bite of the pastry in her hand.
Holly did that thing she always seemed to do, and smiled without saying anything. Gail might have found it disconcerting, but she liked Holly's smile. It made her feel good inside. Maybe it was because she wasn't rolling her eyes, or shaking her head, or giving the "Really, Gail?" look that so many other people did.
When the silence started to get awkward, she asked the question that had been weighing on her since the previous night. It was the question that she should have asked straight away, but had never quite gotten around to. 'Why did you kiss me?'
'Well it seemed like a good idea at the time.'
'That's not an answer.'
'Do you really need an answer?' Holly asked, and Gail found herself suddenly infuriated. Holly might have been one of those people that lived life in the moment, and didn't need reasons for going out dancing all night on a whim, but Gail wasn't, so yeah, she really did need an answer.
'I kissed you because I'd been drinking, and because you look sexy as hell in that dress. Even if I'd never wear it myself.'
Gail had no idea how to respond to that. It was though she'd been expecting some vastly complicated answer; that it couldn't have just been a simple case of alcohol-fueled lust.
'So you don't…you aren't?' Gail struggled to find the words.
'I'm not head over heels in love with you?' Holly took a sip of her coffee. 'Give me a few months. We'll see.' This, she followed up with a raise of the eyebrow that was blatantly suggestive.
That, Gail was even less sure how to respond to. You knew she liked women when you asked her to a wedding. You don't think that sends some kind of signal?
It wasn't that she didn't find women attractive. It was just that there was a difference between finding people attractive, and dating them, and Gail did not have a single clue how to date a woman. If Holly's earlier comments were any indication, apparently it was pretty much exactly the same, but with more breasts.
'I need…I don't know. Things are really kind of weird right now, and I don't know what I want,' Gail admitted. It was about half a step above freaking out, screwing everything up and running like a bat out of hell. She was almost proud of herself.
'Gail, this can be whatever you want it to be. Like I said, I'm trying new things. If that means hanging out at a diner at four thirty in the morning eating a hot dog, then I'm okay with that.'
'Okay.' Gail nodded. 'Okay.' She paused. 'I just want to see…' She leaned over and pressed a long, slow kiss to Holly's lips.
This time, she was able to appreciate it properly. Holly's lips were soft, but a little dry. She needed to reapply her lip gloss. Her breath tasted and smelled like minty coffee. Chris' kisses had either been too passive, or too over-eager, whereas Nick's kisses had been overly self-assured. Holly's were confident, but also flexible. She didn't take charge of the kiss, but neither was she an inactive participant.
'You taste nice,' Gail murmured, when she finally pulled away. Her heart was thumping, and she had no idea whether or not she'd made a huge mistake.
But then, given everything else that had happened this month, maybe trying new things wasn't such a bad idea.