Word Count: 3,784
She took a bite of her ice cream, watching the kids play nearby while Mom and Dads took a break much the same they were. Only thing, it was just the two of them. They'd chosen this place because he'd mentioned coffee before leaving for the day. When she saw ice cream, she'd chosen that instead. She was pretty sure she'd made the right choice. Starbuck's was everywhere, real ice cream wasn't.
"Thank you for this," she said sincerely.
"You're welcome. I realize you had to be getting pretty bored. So I came up with the idea as soon as my work schedule cleared."
"Think of coming to the zoo often?"
He chuckled, taking a sip of his coffee. They'd been sitting long enough that it probably wasn't burning hot anymore, but he apparently liked to savor it. Probably because he didn't have anything but basic Folgers at home.
"No, I can't remember the last time I was here. This woman I work with, though, she's got kids and she mentioned bringing them here not too long ago. I don't know anyone who doesn't like zoos. Well, besides animal rights activists, but I took my chances that you weren't one of them."
"No. It was fun. I haven't been to one since I was a kid. Probably that kid's age," she said, pointing to one of the older kids nearby. "I'm just sorry the day is over."
"We can always come back. I'm sure there are things we didn't see as closely as you'd like."
"That'd be nice, but you don't have to be my tour guide either. I can come on my own."
"Where's the fun in that?"
He had a point there.
She'd originally hoped that she wouldn't be here too long. She'd waited for Matt Parkman to whisk in and bring her back home. She'd started college classes now, though, and with that realized she was going to be for a while.
"You finished?" he asked before taking her empty container. He dumped their things in a trashcan before offering her his hand. She took it, knowing he was just being nice. She hadn't lived with him more than a few weeks, but she'd observed enough to know that Detective Lee Scanlon was a nice guy. That was probably why Matt had chosen him.
"It's too bad they close."
She let go of his hand once she'd stood, glancing at one of the little boys who had caught her attention. He was probably four years old and just a bundle of energy. She remembered Lyle at that age and couldn't help but miss her brother immensely just then. Her mother had taken them to a zoo more than once when they were little.
"It probably would be pretty cool here after dark," he agreed, looking around the area.
"What are you thinking?" she asked when it was clear something was on his mind.
"Nothing. Just wondering what it would take to be able to do that."
"Lots of money I imagine. And knowing someone really important."
"Me, too, and unfortunately, I'm an honest cop so I don't have the money. And don't know anyone important at least as far as a zoo is concerned," he said, settling a hand at the small of her back as they made their way toward the exit. He'd done that a lot today and she wasn't sure why, until it dawned on her that he was just keeping her in close proximity. She had been sent here for protection and as a cop, he took that job pretty seriously.
She didn't know Matt Parkman that well, but obviously her father trusted him enough to ensure she was safe. She knew her father wouldn't trust her care with just anyone.
"How do you know Officer Parkman again?"
He gave a soft laugh. "Are you suggesting Matt's not an honest cop?"
"You asked the question after I mentioned I'm an honest cop."
"No, not at all. He is as far as I know. I mean, he is," she said, hoping she hadn't said something wrong.
"Relax. I know you didn't mean anything by it. We met at a seminar. His precinct and mine have a lot of similar issues being this close to the border. We've worked together over the years when cases crossed jurisdiction lines and we needed cooperation. It helps to know someone on the other side."
"I still can't believe you just took me in like that. When he first told me about you I just assumed you'd gone to police academy together or something."
"No, nothing like that, but Matt's not just a good guy but a good cop. He asked me for a favor. It's not like I'm doing anything pressing that I couldn't lend a hand. Illegals go between Arizona and California a lot."
"Well, I really do appreciate your taking me in like you did. My family does, too."
"Talk to me after you’ve been here for a full summer."
"Well, I'm from Texas, remember? I'm used to heat."
"I suppose that's true. And you're welcome. I know Matt wouldn't have asked if it wasn't important."
"How could I say no then?"
"I guess I don't know."
"So, what now?"
"Oh, I don't care. We can go back home."
"No way. I promised you a full day."
She'd been surprised when he'd done that. It was really going above and beyond his role. Before leaving for the zoo that morning, he'd told her he'd gone so far as to sign himself out for the day unless it was an absolute emergency. His phone hadn't gone off more than a handful of times, and two of the calls he didn't answer.
"Well, I've had ice cream. How about pizza?"
"I know of a real good pizza joint not too far from here."
"Then let's do that."
"All right," he said.
He wasn't really thinking about the fact it was Saturday night when he selected Nick's for dinner. It was a hangout for off-duty cops and served the best food in town as far as he was concerned. It wasn't much to look at. The floors had long ago lost their shine. Some of the chairs were wobbly. The tables had stains on them from beer, pizza, and who knew what else. He didn't even want to know what the kitchen area looked like.
All that mattered was the food was good and hot every time he came here.
The place was packed, which he would have expected if he'd thought about the time of night. Cops with the night off as well as those just getting off shift were here since the day before was payday. Men and women with money to burn and nowhere else to spend it chose to come here.
He hadn't told anyone she was living with him. He hadn't really done anything with her in the month she'd been here. She had sort of settled into a routine and he hadn't wanted to interfere with that. He wasn't sure how to explain her presence to anyone either.
She'd pretty much stayed at his condo until this past week when she'd started classes. She was very unobtrusive. There were times if it weren't for the extra set of towels in the bathroom or the extra spoon or glass next to the sink he'd forget someone was living with him. He hadn't lived with a woman since … well, it'd been a long time and he'd almost forgotten what it was like. She wasn't like Elena, though, not even close.
He wasn't sure why Matt Parkman had chosen him, but Lee knew the fellow police officer wouldn't ask him for this kind of help if it wasn't absolutely necessary. He didn't know much about her. Didn't know if she was here because she was in danger, had seen something she wasn't supposed to, or was running away from something or someone. Matt hadn't offered much information and she hadn't really either. He did know, though from the clothes and things she had that she was used to nice things.
Nicer than this place, he realized. And he rethought his decision to bring her here. A hangout for cops who could be a bit crass. To put it nicely.
"Listen, we can find somewhere else," he offered when he looked at this place from an outsider's eyes. "There are nicer places to get pizza."
"Oh come on," she said. "You picked the place."
"Yeah, I just," he said, shoving his hands in his pockets. He wasn't ashamed of his life or anything, but that didn't mean she wanted to eat at a dive.
She placed her hand on his forearm. He glanced at it, noticing she'd changed the shade of her nail polish to something a little more earthy than the fire engine red she'd worn yesterday.
"Don't want your friends to see you out with me?"
"What? No, that's not it at all. Why would you think that?"
"I don't know what you've told them about me."
"Nothing. I mean, there isn't anything to tell. If I just announced a woman started living with me, that would seem odd and out of place. So, I've said nothing."
"Okay then." She shrugged. "So what's the big deal?"
"This probably isn't your type of place."
She scrunched her nose a little, sliding her hand through his arm. "I don't have a type of place, Detective. I mentioned pizza and you brought me here. I assume that means it's because you like their pizza. So, let's eat pizza."
"What's with the detective bit?"
She shrugged. "I don't know, I just like saying it sometimes."
He found them a table for two sort of away from the crowd. At least the people they were sitting near had eating rather than drinking their paycheck away in one night on their minds.
"Anything you don't like?"
"The usual stuff like anchovies."
"All right," he said when the waitress approached their table.
He put in an order without looking at a menu. The waitress came back after a bit with a pitcher of root beer.
"You didn't have to just get pop for my benefit."
"I don't drink much."
"Oh," she said.
"Is that a problem?"
"No, it just makes sense now why there's no beer or anything at your place."
"Were you looking for it?"
She laughed a little.
"No, but my dad always had something. I haven't really spent much time in guys' houses so that's the only thing I have to go by."
"Alcohol wasn't the substance I was addicted to."
"Ah, I see."
"I do have the occasional drink, and usually keep beer on hand. I just haven't picked any up since I drank the last one."
"You rethinking Matt's trust in me?"
"Drug users are not a very trustworthy lot."
"But you're not using anymore."
"Yeah, and NA meetings. Still go to those, though not as often as I probably should."
She shrugged. "Besides. What are you going to do? Steal my makeup?"
He smirked. "Good point."
"If Matt trusts you then all I can do is trust you, too," she said.
She set her hand over his just as their pizza arrived, quickly moving it. They both knew the waitress had seen it, though he wasn't sure why it mattered.
"Besides, nobody's perfect," she said, though he suspected that wasn't what she'd been about to say.
The pizza looked and smelled great. It wasn't a pizza made for anyone on a diet or worried about things like cholesterol. Everything on it was real and there was tons to enjoy. Nick's didn't skimp on ingredients. If you ordered a sausage pizza you could expect to get a piece in every bite, complete with lots of oil. (Don't call it grease or Nick will come after you.)
"This is really good," Claire said midway through the first piece.
"I'm glad you like it."
"So, most everyone here is a cop?"
He glanced around the place, nodding at the people he knew. He knew come Monday he'd be asked questions by more than one here tonight.
"Yeah. A few are wives, husbands, family, friends or dates, but it's all cops or their friends."
"It's too bad other people don't get to eat this pizza."
"It's one of the perks. We need a place to unwind, sometimes you don't want to go right home. Me? It's not a problem so much since I live alone."
"I guess not."
She took another slice of pizza, glancing around the room much the way he had a few minutes ago. Only, she knew no one but him. He kind of wondered what she saw. It was quite a mixed bag here tonight. There were detectives to beat cops to desk jockeys and even a few undercovers who were probably in between assignments or were safely away from wherever their current assignment took them.
"Do any of them know?"
"No," he said simply.
"I wouldn't know what to tell them, and like I said. It sort of defeats the purpose of protecting you if I announce to everyone someone's suddenly living with me."
Lee looked in the direction, cursing his luck. Rudy wasn't a bad guy, he just thought he was everybody's friend. Lee didn't really have friends. It was just the way he operated. Friendships brought with them involvement and Lee tended to shy away from that sort of commitment.
"Hey Rudy," Lee said, offering the other cop his hand.
"I didn't know you were going to be here tonight."
"I didn't either. We decided on pizza, though, so here we are."
"We, huh," he said, turning an assessing gaze to Claire. "Good choice."
Lee wasn't sure if Rudy was talking about coming to Nick's or Claire.
"I'll be right back," Claire said, standing from the table.
"Where are you going?" Lee asked.
She smiled at the tone he used, as if he thought she was going to go for a walk outside or something. Though he'd stood from the table as if prepared to leave with her if that's what she'd intended on doing.
"Just to the ladies room."
"All right," he said, taking his seat again.
Lee watched as Claire walked to the bathroom, aware of the fact more than one guy in the place did the same thing. They stopped watching as soon as they realized Lee was aware of it, probably thinking she was Lee's date. Let them think what they wanted. He doubted Matt had sent her to him to have her take up with most of the guys here. And it would go a long way to explaining things if anyone found out she was living with him.
He vaguely listened to Rudy prattle on about whatever. He was one of those cops that had no life outside of the job. He didn't have hobbies, unless you counted playing on his squad's softball team. Scanlon didn't, though. Hobbies took you away from the job and the people you worked with. Not that Lee had many either, but he didn’t show up at places like Nick's and talk about cases on his off-time either.
"I'll be right back, Rudy."
He had no idea how long he'd listened to Rudy talk, but he realized it had been long enough that Claire should have been back to their table. Not that he was overly worried something had happened to her in a restaurant and bar full of cops. But one never knew exactly.
He spotted her easily enough. She was by the jukebox, which could have explained what had taken her so long on its own. It contained a pretty eclectic group of songs in attempt to appeal to everyone. That wasn't what was keeping her, though. One of the officers, fresh out of the academy by the looks of him, was talking to her.
Coming onto her was more like it. He wasn't quite into full-court press mode, but pretty damned close. Invading her personal space, inching even closer as he could so as not to be obvious.
Lee watched for a minute, curious as to her response. There'd been a time or two he'd thought she was flirting with him. It went beyond the casual touches she gave him. Some people were just touchers, he realized that. He tried not to put much thought on it, she was too young for him and he was doing a friend a favor.
She was watching the kid - which was an ironic thing to call him, because he was probably older than she was and he didn't consider her a kid - intently, nodding politely, but she didn't seem overly interested in extending their conversation past whatever it is that had started them talking.
She was smiling, though, making eye contact, and registering his face. And then she laughed to something the cop had said.
"Someone coming onto your date, Scanlon?"
Lee didn't need to look beside him to know it was Ken Hartman talking. They'd known one another for years now. Ken was a good cop, an observant one which went a long way toward making him the good cop he was.
"I guess so," he said.
"You just going to stand here and let that young buck do that?"
"Let him feel like he's making headway."
"You waiting to see if she takes him up on it?"
"Nah," Lee said, though he wondered what he'd do if she found someone she was interested in. He had no idea how long she was going to be here. It stood to reason she might be here long enough to put down roots. Get a place of her own.
"What's her name?" The question drew him from his thoughts.
"Claire," he said simply.
As if she'd heard him say her name, she looked right at him, finding him easily one would have thought he'd been the only one there instead a crowd of people. And then she directed that smile at him. It was a nice smile. He'd noticed that before, but then everything about her was nice to look at.
"I guess you were right not to be worried."
"How's that?" Lee asked Ken.
"Never mind, you need me to tell you what I just saw you're blind to it anyway. He might just snatch her from you if you're not careful."
Lee grimaced. "Thanks for the tip," he said, pushing away from the bar and walking toward Claire and her new friend.
"You want some more songs? I have some money," the young cop offer.
"Thanks, but I have money. I don't know how long I'm going to be here anyway."
Lee winced, realizing what that statement could be taken as by the young cop.
"Did you get lost?" he asked. He didn't get too close to them. He was well aware of the fact that Ken and a few others were watching.
"No, I'm sorry. I was trying to decide between a couple of songs."
"And you've never heard of just flipping a coin?"
She gave him an odd look.
"Well, I'd already put my money in so I couldn't do that."
"I see. Did you decide?"
Lee eyed the new cop, sizing him up he supposed some would say. Judging by the few people that were watching instead of minding their own business, he wasn't the only one who noticed what he was doing. He spotted a couple of amused looks, but most were just curious to see if something would happen worth talking about on Monday.
Assured by her body language and the fact she was more focused on the jukebox than the other cop, he moved a little closer to her.
"She's with me," he finally said.
"Yeah, sure, Detective, I was just helping her pick out a song."
"I bet you were. Go find another girl to use that line with, preferably not one here with someone."
"She didn't say…"
"Is she a cop?"
"Then she's here with someone, stands to reason."
"Could have been another girl."
"Could have been, but it isn't."
"Lee," Claire said, setting her hand against his forearm. "It's okay, really. He was just helping me find a song."
"Yeah, yeah, I just bet he was," he said as the cop sauntered away seemingly more confident than Lee would have been if the situation was reversed. "I'll help you find a song," he said.
"Okay then," she said, tugging him toward the jukebox. She used her free hand to slide some hair behind her ear as she glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. He took the opportunity to place an arm around her waist.
"Nothing," she said softly. If he didn't know better, he'd say she was blushing. "What do you want to hear?"
"I don't care really."
"Well, see, now you're no more help than my standing here looking was."
He glanced at some of the selections, pointing at one randomly. "This one."
"Okay," she said, punching in the number.
They did that a couple of more times until she'd used up her money.
"Sorry if I worried you," she said finally.
"You didn't. He just needs to know you don't do that."
She turned a little, looking right at him then. "What does it matter exactly?"
"Why do you care if I talk to him? He's a cop so he's not a bad guy."
"And it's not like I was going to go home with him."
"I have a feeling he had a different objective in mind than you then."
She smiled a little. "Oh, I'm not saying he wasn't going to try."
"You mean he hadn't already?"
"He was setting the groundwork, sure."
"And no interest?"
"That's not what I'm here for."
"Doesn't mean you're not interested."
"I'm not. Besides," she said, reaching up to fiddle with one of the buttons on his shirt.
"Yeah," he said.
She stood on her tiptoes and placed her lips right on his. "I'm here with you. I wouldn't do that."
"Well, it's not like…"
"I wouldn't do that," she said again.
"Now can we go finish our pizza?"
"It's probably cold by now," he said.
"Well then," she said, sliding her arm through his. "I guess you'll just have to take me home. I'm tired after such a full day."
"I just bet you are."
He suspected he'd be the fodder for water cooler gossip on Monday even without having started a fight.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com