"I won't get cold."
"Just bring the jacket along. If you don't get cold that's fine."
"But Mommy, it'll cover up my pin," she said.
Now they finally got to the real reason she didn't want to wear a jacket. Olivia hadn't realized how thrilled Ella would be with something so simple as one of the Bureau issued American flag lapel pins.
Olivia answered the door as Rachel bartered and negotiated with Ella about the pin and where they'd put it if she needed her jacket.
"Hi," Olivia said, surprised but not entirely caught off guard at seeing Phillip Broyles on her doorstep.
"You're going out," he observed, taking in the scene behind him. Picnic basket, blanket, the three of them converged in the living room all obviously ready to go out.
"Yes, the fireworks display."
"Ah, right," he said, glancing at his watch.
"And, yes, we're leaving early," she said. "We have to get good seats. Aren't you going?"
"I hadn't planned on it."
She wondered if he had anyone to go with. Not to say he didn't have friends, but he was divorced and she had no idea what his standing was there. She wondered who those friends were and why he hadn't been included in barbeque or picnic plans.
"Come with us," she said quickly before she could think too hard on it and change her mind.
"Are you sure, Dunham?"
"Yes, it'll be fun. Ella likes you."
He gave a soft snigger. She realized that it sounded as if Ella was the only one who did when that wasn't the case. She just didn't know him particularly well outside of work.
"I'm not sure why, I'm always taking her favorite aunt away from her."
"Well, see, this will be a perfect opportunity for you to show her that you're not always here to take me away."
"I don't know, Dunham, you were obviously doing something with your family. You don't need me tagging along."
"We have wine. I'm sure there's enough for the three of us to share."
"Well, with an invitation like that how could I resist?"
"It was the wine that did it, wasn't it?" she asked with a light laugh.
"Undoubtedly," he said, but she could tell that he wasn't being entirely truthful. Not that it mattered. It would be fun to have someone else along and what was more, she liked Phillip's company. She wasn't sure what that meant.
"What can I help with then?"
"Well, there isn't much. Just the basket and blanket. Ella has a backpack I think."
"Hello, Mr. Broyles," Ella said, joining the conversation.
"Good evening, Ella. Are you excited for the fireworks?"
"Yes, Mommy and Aunt Olivia say that they might be scary but they can't hurt me."
"That's right. They can get loud at times."
"See the pin Aunt Olivia gave me?" she asked, gesturing to the pin she and Rachel had been in heavy discussion about just a few minutes ago.
"I do," he said, glancing at Olivia a little curiously. "Your aunt must think you're special to give you that."
"Oh she does," Ella said.
"It was an extra one, Sir," Olivia offered as explanation.
"I gathered as much, Dunham. And I think Phillip will do just fine for tonight. This isn't business after all."
"I guess I should have asked why you were here," she said cautiously.
"It was nothing important," he said.
"All right," she said, sensing he wasn't being completely honest again. "You ready, Ella? Tell your mom it's time to go."
"You're sure there's nothing going on?" she asked with Ella out of earshot.
"Positive. I wasn't sure if your sister was still staying with you and took the chance you might be free for the evening."
"Oh," she said, eyes widening a little.
"Don't act so shocked."
"Are you sure you don't mind coming with us then?"
He chuckled a little. "Not at all."
"If you're sure."
"I am," he said.
Phillip was sure as he helped Ella get into the car and fasten her seatbelt. Rachel sat in the back with her daughter, leaving Phillip to sit next to Olivia. He hadn't ridden with her often, usually he was the one driving if that was the case. She drove the same as she did most everything, cool and confidently. He watched her, could see her eyes constantly taking in everything around her. She was on the lookout for anything out of the ordinary that might hurt them.
She caught him watching and gave him a smile. A smile he'd come to realize of late she didn't bestow on just anybody nor on everybody around her. She reserved this smile for people she cared for, liked being around and felt comfortable with.
The people she trusted.
And he was one of them.
He'd had the oddest experience earlier in the afternoon, which led to him coming here. He could have chosen to ignore it, dismiss it as craziness. No one would have been the wiser. And if they were? They certainly wouldn't have blamed him for dismissing it. He'd seen and experienced too much working in the Fringe division to do that.
He'd walked into his office after retrieving a fax since he was the only one in the office on a holiday. It hadn't been his office that he'd come into, not the way he knew it anyway. The furnishings were different; the desk was closer to the windows. He was an observer as he - but it wasn't really him - talked with Agent Dunham. He wasn't sure what they were talking about, but it didn't really matter anyway. What he did notice as his agent addressed him was the way he looked at her. And the way she returned that look.
It wasn't the same as the one she'd just given him here in the car, but he recognized it for what it was.
They liked one another.
While he didn't get the impression that Olivia and Phillip had taken steps toward recognizing that fact he did get that they were friendly. And perhaps making steps toward that end. Overhearing the talk of a drink after work had planted the seed to visit his Agent Dunham tonight. It wasn't something he did, not for any particular reason beyond keeping his work and personal lives separate. And tonight, he realized, perhaps he was working too hard toward that end and cutting himself off from something.
What exactly, he didnít know. He hadn't been divorced that long. And after her relationship with John Scott, he couldn't imagine she'd want to embark on another like it. One that would have to be discreet. Then he realized, two people could be seen in public without the whole department jumping to conclusions. And relationship was putting the cart before the horse. He was here as a friend, nothing more.
There was no telling what he saw was even real or just a figment of a tired and overactive imagination. He did recognize when someone softened around a person, though, and he and Dunham did that around one another. Any other agent he would have taken action against long ago for going against his wishes or pushing him as she did almost every day. Yet, he couldn't seem to do that with her.
"Have you been to fireworks before, Ella?" he asked.
"Not since I was little."
He chuckled at that. As if she was so much older now, but more than likely she meant a time she couldn't recall.
"I see. Well, tonight's will be a good memory for you then."
He glanced at Olivia who was looking at her niece in the rearview mirror. She glanced at him, smiling. She clearly took pleasure being in the company of her sister and niece. He wondered how many times it had been difficult for her to go home, not wanting to bring the day's baggage with her. He wondered if they knew about the continued reminders of her past Olivia dealt with.
He doubted it. It wasn't in her to complain or to burden someone she loved with her problems. Rachel clearly had problems of her own right now as well, and he was sure Olivia was busy offering support to her sister.
They arrived in plenty of time. There'd been a time he did this with his family. Made an evening of it as Olivia and her sister were doing. That wouldn't happen any longer. His job had taken its toll on his personal life. Not everyone could be married to someone in his position who saw and dealt with the things he did. He wasn't one to let the baggage go at the end of the day. How could he, seeing and dealing with the types of things he did day after day? His wife couldn't understand that, though. And eventually it had led to his being single once again.
He helped Olivia spread the blanket, impressed with the amount of food they'd brought.
"You weren't really planning on eating all of this were you?"
"No," she said, tucking some hair behind her ear as she found a couple of nearby rocks to put on each corner of the blanket. "What's a picnic without too much food, though?"
"I suppose you have a point there. Where did your sister and niece go?"
"To the bathroom. She went before we left, but she's a kid. I think it's an unwritten rule you have to use a bathroom when you're someplace new."
He chuckled a little as he joined her on the blanket.
"I suppose you could be right. I'm really not dressed for a picnic," he said, observing the others around him and the way they were dressed.
She regarded him then. There was that smile, that look in her eyes he'd seen from that Olivia in his not-really-his office.
"You're here, it doesn't really matter what you're wearing. Besides you look nice, but then you always do so who cares what anyone else thinks. At least you're here. That's better than some people could say about their husband or wife."
More people were starting to arrive, those not out to have plenty of room or optimum seats. They had been early enough that they were able to get a good spot to see unobstructed, which he imagined had been the idea. The sun was setting over the horizon, creating a near-perfect night. Soon the music would start, which he imagined would bore Ella. Perhaps she'd surprise him, though, and enjoy it.
Olivia opened the picnic basket that held the wine, handing him one of the bottles. He was surprised it was cool to the touch. He also wouldn't have known it was wine if she hadn't told him so.
"I put a few of those ice packs in here," she said by way of explanation. "And they confiscate alcoholic beverages," she added, answering his unasked question. He knew that in the back of his mind, it just hadn't registered when she'd mentioned bringing wine. "I'm just lucky that they saw my badge and didn't look at the contents too closely."
"Lucky they saw it, huh?"
She batted her lashes at him. It was a flirtatious gesture, which caught him a little off-guard. He could have been way off the mark and overreacting. "Don't tell my boss. I might get in trouble for abuse of power or something."
He chuckled a little, opening the bottle.
"I was wondering why you needed two baskets."
She gave a soft laugh, holding glasses to him so he could fill them. Rachel's glass was left in the picnic basket.
"You were wondering just how much two women and a small child were going to eat?"
"Something like that. Not that it's any of my business. Neither of you strike me as requiring that much food."
"You've never seen Ella eat then! I don't know where she puts it."
"She'll grow out of it eventually."
She regarded him again, as if she forgot he had knowledge of such things. He certainly didn't talk about it much. His personal life.
"Do you miss them on a day like today?"
He shrugged, taking a sip of his wine before answering her. He supposed it was wrong to be drinking the wine when he knew it was against the rules, but he and Olivia certainly weren't going to hurt anyone.
"I'd be lying if I said no. I always enjoyed days like this when I could spend time with them, but they want to be with their mother. And there's no guarantee I won't be called out on something."
"So that left you alone," she said.
"I'm sure it won't be the last time. And I'll have them for some time this summer."
"Just not tonight."
She took a sip of her wine, gathered her knees to her. "You were at work earlier?"
"I was," he said, not at all surprised that she'd deduced that.
"It must be hard on them, too."
"They'll survive, Olivia. You of all people know there are worse things out there than parents divorcing."
"Yes," she said simply.
"Have you done this before?" he asked, thinking a change of subject was in order. He didn't feel much like talking about his kids and she clearly wouldn't have any desire to talk about her childhood. Even if it shaped her into the agent she was today. It was the reason he'd gone after her despite her past with Sanford Harris. Oddly, he'd come to consider Olivia Dunham his friend and loathe the man he'd once considered that.
"What? Drink contraband wine with my boss?"
He smiled a little.
"That, too, but no, I meant the fireworks."
"No, not like this anyway. Rachel and Ella wanted to, but I've never really had anyone to see them with before. And that probably sounds more pathetic than I meant it to."
"Not at all. Your life has been about the job there hasn't been much time to do things like this. I was a young agent once, too, you know."
"I suspected, though I couldn't be sure."
Eventually, Rachel and Ella joined them. Ella now had a balloon that was supposed to resemble Uncle Sam's top hat but got somewhat distorted when inflated. She peaked in a picnic basket and helped herself to a juice box, handing it to Olivia who promptly took the straw out of its protective wrapper and punched it through the hole in the box.
"Don't squeeze it," Olivia said.
"I know," Ella replied as if she'd heard the same warning a hundred times before. She probably had. Kids tended to need reminding, especially when they were excited as Ella so obviously was just then.
"When will the fireworks start?" she asked at some point during the concert. The question followed a yawn, which she tried to hide. Clearly, she was tired and ready for the excitement of the fireworks. The music was enjoyable, but he could see from someone her age's perspective that it would be boring.
"Soon," Rachel said, taking a bottle of bug spray out of Ella's backpack. She generously doused the young girl with it for the second time since they'd been there. "It's not quite dark enough yet. As soon as the music's finished, remember?"
"Mm hmm," Ella said.
Soon enough they started and Phillip was pretty sure Ella wasn't disappointed that night. She fell asleep on the ride back to Olivia's house. Olivia's sister was quiet. For that matter so was Olivia. Ella was gathered into her mother's arms once at the house, leaving Phillip to help Olivia bring the few things from the car inside.
"Thank you," she said.
"Thank you for inviting me. I had a nice time."
"I'm sure it wasn't what you were expecting from your holiday."
"Not really, but I've learned long ago never to count anything out."
"What would you have done if I hadn't?"
He shrugged. "Gone back to the office, I suppose."
"I'm glad you came by then."
"I am, too."
"I thought for sure you were here to tell me something had happened and I needed to come into work."
She smiled at that. "You could come in for a while if you want."
"It's late. Your niece needs her rest. And I've imposed on you enough for one day."
"It's no imposition, really."
"I appreciate the offer, Olivia, but not tonight."
"Okay," she said, sounding disappointed if he wasn't mistaken.
"I just need some time to myself."
"Oh, right, I guess I hadn't thought of that. I'm sorry that was thoughtless of me. It was probably strange for you."
"It was, and I wouldn't expect you to think of it. I'm just still getting used to this."
"Coming up with things to do on days like this."
"Well," she said with a yawn. "Anytime you need company, you're welcome to come here."
"Dunham, one day you will have a social life."
"Funny, I thought today was pretty social." She laughed lightly and leaned in to kiss him on the cheek. "So will you, Phillip."
"Thank you," he said, touched probably more than she would ever understand by her words.
A marriage ends in divorce, in part because of your work, and you go over it in your mind, wondering what you could have done differently. Could he have worked less? Could he have been more of what his wife needed somehow? He could what-if himself to death.
He returned to the office. There really wasn't anything pressing he was working on, but he wasnít ready to go home to his empty house. Spending time with Olivia and her family while nice, served to remind him what he was missing out on.
Overall, though, he'd had a nice time. Her company had been better than he thought, especially with a child around. He wasn't sure how weird he would be perceived, tagging along with one of his agents to the fireworks. Rachel and Ella treated him as friendly as if he was a regular at their house for Sunday dinner.
He liked that feeling. Acceptance. He couldn't remember when he'd last felt it.
And what was more, he found he could probably get used to it.
With that, he turned out his light seconds after turning it on. He decided to take Olivia up on her offer after all. He just hoped he wasn't too late.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com