Word Count: 2,938
Clarice Starling didn't have many friends. She was unlike the other teenagers in her West Virginia orphanage. The others didn’t put much stock into schoolwork or the idea that their dreams could come true.
They all had them, just the same as the kids they went to school with who weren't orphans. Those who had parents and siblings. Real homes. Difficult for most to believe their dreams could come true, believing God had already let them down.
Clarice aspired to be better than that.
She wasn't going to marry the first guy who came along and offered her a better life. A chance for the family and completion that so many lacked. And craved.
Some didn't want to get married at all, they wanted the family – a baby – without those permanent ties. Afraid that they wouldn't be able to build a family having had no example to go by.
Clarice Starling and Janice Behrens vowed to keep their legs shut and remain single for as long as possible.
The two of them stuck out like sore thumbs compared to the others. Janice wasn't as smart as Clarice, but she made up for that by studying hard.
They didn’t drink or party either; another temptation for those who lived as they did to succumb to. Numb yourself to the reality that was your lot in life. Escape. It was easy to resist knowing someone else thought like she did. Someone out there was counting on her to succeed.
So when Janice Behrens didn't come home one night, Clarice worried.
When Clarice woke the next morning from the (very) little sleep she'd gotten to find Janice's bed hadn't been slept in, Clarice called the local police immediately. Instinctive. Her dad had been a good cop, so she wasn't scared of them.
She watched with rabid interest as the investigation unfolded. From searching Janice's bed and the area around her bed that was her space to interviewing the other orphans. An orphan going missing wasn't out of the ordinary. People did run away. Clarice knew Janice wouldn't do that, not at least without saying goodbye.
Clarice's world started to become a little less focused when Janice's body was found. Body. That meant Janice wouldn't be coming back. Ever. Clarice was on her own from that point forward with no one else to count on.
Eventually, her friend's killer was caught. Clarice then got to watch the legal process on the other side of the investigation. Trial. Conviction. She heard some terrible things about her good friend, things Clarice knew weren't true but sadly it was on the record so it's what people would think of her. No one believed the teenaged orphan who had been Janice's friend and confidante. The medical examiner had to know some of the things were false, Clarice imagined, but he wasn't called by the prosecution to rebuttal the witnesses slandering her friend's reputation.
To say she was hooked was an understatement.
Clarice Starling had found her purpose.
She never wanted someone else's friend or loved one to be ignored when they made a report of foul play. Treated as a second-class citizen because of who they were (or weren't) and where they lived. That was how she'd been treated, as if because she was an orphan a real friendship couldn't have been forged.
If anything they were closer because of the fact that they had no one else. No one else at the orphanage had much information to provide the police either so it came down to just Clarice.
Since the day Janice went missing, even before she was found, Clarice knew what she wanted to do.
Had to do.
Clarice Starling had found her direction that day. She only wished her friend hadn't died to give her the insight.
Forget following in her daddy's footsteps. She would do better. She would make him proud and put the Starling name on the map instead of having it mean nothing to anyone but her.
She was relentless from that day on. A high school student, and later college student, on a mission. She had no time for friends or boyfriends. Having nothing to her name she had to ensure that she got the grades to get accepted where she wanted to go.
It was at UVA that her direction took on a clearer, more focused, path. There, listening to Jack Crawford's seminar on criminology, Clarice found her calling in life.
Not just the FBI.
The Behavioral Science Unit.
Putting her Psychology and Criminology degrees to work catching the worst of the worst.
Her drive to succeed increased now that she had an ultimate goal. Women still weren't so welcome in the FBI, let alone the BSU. Fresh out of college and training, she would have to work extra hard to stand out to the likes of Jack Crawford.
She developed a few friendships at UVA, men and women. Mostly people in her majors who took their studying as hard and seriously as she did. Requests for dates were turned down most of the time. Occasionally, she'd take in a movie. Always she was careful not to lead anyone on, to make them think she wanted more than a night out.
One day when she was an agent and her career was on the path toward achieving her goal of a spot on Jack Crawford's team, she would think about more serious entanglements.
Having others to study with was a godsend. Not that she needed the help often, but it was nice to get confirmation she was on the right track, verification that she was correct in her problem solving or case study quotations.
It was during her senior year at UVA that she first met Will Graham. Only she didn’t know who he was at the time. Once she found out, she realized he was almost as impressive to see in person as Jack Crawford. He had single-handedly caught Hannibal Lecter. Clarice knew enough about Jack Crawford's unit to know that no one – perhaps not even Crawford himself – could have caught the Chesapeake Ripper alone.
It had cost him, though, she knew. She'd never read the Tattler, but she'd heard rumors to know the pictures Freddie Lounds had published were not beauty shots.
She met him by accident one night and didn't realize until much later exactly who she had been spending time with.
It was Saturday night at a bar when the cute – if not kind of nerdy – guy three stools away bought her a refill on her tap beer.
She didn't normally strike up conversations with strange men at bars. Let alone accept drinks from them. That just led to ideas and signals she didn't want to give off.
Tonight, though, she was waiting on a friend who was running late. So late that Clarice wasn't entirely sure she'd show up at this point. Sadly, Liz had a tendency of doing that.
So she accepted the drink and by doing so accepted the unspoken invitation for conversation.
He was smart. Real smart. Smart enough she knew he would challenge her. It was that realization that led to her accepting his dinner invitation when it was clear Liz wasn't going to show up for whatever the reason was tonight.
"So what are you planning on doing with dual degrees in Psychology and Criminology?" he asked.
"It'll probably sound unbelievable to you."
He smiled a little at that, and it was a nice smile she noticed. He had little lines next to his eyes that became prevalent when he did it. So by default she noticed he had nice eyes, too. Very nice eyes.
"All right. Don't say I didn't warn you. I want to become an FBI agent."
"And do what?" He didn't appear at all phased by her declaration. That was strange. Men especially seemed to find her aspirations more humorous than sincere.
"I'd like to eventually become part of the Behavioral Sciences Unit."
"Really?" This time he did sound surprised. Not in the usual way, though, of people thinking she wouldn't have the stomach for it.
"And you think you're up for the challenge?"
"I know I am."
"Then, Clarice, I wish you all of the luck in the world. It's not an easy job. Makes for a very difficult life."
"I don't presume it'll be easy."
"You don't know until you've actually lived it. Actually walked through and around in the mind of the worst of the worst."
She took a sip of her beer, regarding him over the rim of the beer stein. Why was he warning her off?
"Listen if this is about my being a woman. I assure you that I can handle myself."
He set his hand over hers lightly. Barely a grazing of his fingertips over the top of her knuckles. She didn't flinch or draw away from it as she usually did. Maybe she'd had one beer too many while waiting for Liz.
"I assure you that's not my implication at all. I apologize if I've offended you."
He settled the palm of his hand over hers, grazing her thumb with his own.
"It's just not all the text books, horror books, and true crime novels make it out to be. You're forever changed from the first glimpse into the mind of a psychopath. No one knows either how it will affect them. Some things don't change that much. Some can leave it at the door when five o'clock rolls around. Some can't do anything but live and breathe it."
"I'm a Special investigator." He lifted his hand away as if that admission brought with it a desire for him to put space between them again.
"And here I am rambling away, sounding like an idiot."
"I wish ninety percent of my students had your enthusiasm."
"Is that a good 'wow' or a bad one?" he asked.
"Rethinking having dinner with you."
"You could potentially be one of my instructors at Quantico in a couple of years."
"We didn't know that when we started having dinner. I doubt I'll be teaching there by then anyway."
"They tend to rotate so the lessons are the most current topics available. My specialty today," he shrugged. "Could be outdated or unnecessary to the process by then."
It was a legitimate sounding reason, but she suspected somehow that there was more to it than that. The way he avoided looking into her eyes as he spoke just now as compared to the rest of the night when he kept good eye contact with her.
"Have you actually caught anyone?"
He smiled at the question, but this smile wasn't as nice as his earlier ones. It didn't reach his eyes this time. In fact, his eyes turned cold. They looked haunted. Deadly. And for the briefest moment, scared.
She wasn't sure whether to comfort him or get up from the table at that moment and leave. Run. Get out while no harm had been done.
Instead she ordered another beer while he avoided answering her question. The subject got changed. She pretended not to notice that they strayed back to day-to-day conversation.
She didn't take guys home with her. She didn't do one-night stands either. It just wasn't her thing. Truth be told, she didn't really get why everyone she knew was so excited to be in college, away from their parents rules, and able to hop into bed with whomever they pleased. Whenever they pleased. Sex just wasn't that great of an experience.
Perhaps that meant she was doing something wrong. Or maybe she'd been with the wrong person. Not that her experience was vast. So, when he invited her back to his place, claiming it was walking distance from the restaurant, for another drink she surprised herself by agreeing.
True, it didn't mean he was expecting sex, but she had to admit the idea wasn't offensive. There was far more to his story and life than he was willing to tell her tonight. Maybe there'd be a next time and she'd get more pieces to the puzzle.
His house was small. Nice, but clearly not made for a family. Maybe one with a child, starting out. Not that she knew about things like families and starter homes.
He mixed them each a drink and they sat on the couch in his living room. He turned on some music, something classical which surprised her. He struck her as more of the classic rock type. It was nice, though. Not intrusive.
There, in the privacy of his home, in the dimly lit room, he told her stories. She knew he was holding back, but she didn't press him. She was listening to someone talk of working with Jack Crawford and the BSU as if it was commonplace.
She touched his knee as he talked. She sensed he, like her, wasn't used to being touched by people. She got that and let him get used to her hand there.
He laced his fingers through hers.
"I'm probably boring you." There was that nice smile again. Not full-on nice, but not the scared one.
"Not at all. Hopefully, in a few years, I can tell you a few stories of my own if I run into you again."
"I'd gladly listen."
"Sure. You have a nice voice."
She chuckled at that. It was a line. She could accept a compliment on her appearance, but her voice was odd.
"Thanks," she said just the same. Alcohol talking or not she enjoyed hearing it.
He leaned in to kiss her then, taking advantage of her being caught off guard by his compliment.
It was a little awkward as she always found kissing to be. She assumed it was her until he drew away a little and chuckled almost sheepishly.
"That always plays out much better in my head."
"Always? You kiss women you just met on your couch often?"
"Oh, every day at least," he said with a nervous laugh. She was glad she wasn't the only one out of her range of normalcy.
"Well, as long as it's not two a day."
"I'm not that good."
She laughed at the implication behind those words, though she was sure that wasn't how he meant them.
She wasn't good at taking things to the next level, so she was very glad she didn't have to. He moved a little, positioning them both on the couch so kissing wasn't quite as awkward this time. They stayed like that for close to two hours. Kissing. Some touching, but clothes stayed on and unmoved. It was the first time she'd ever really felt anything from kissing. Her body reacting as she'd heard other women talk about in locker rooms over the years.
"You don't have to go," he said when they both glanced at the clock on his VCR.
"I know, but I should. I have church in the morning."
He chuckled a little at that.
"You could go from here."
"I don't want to go wearing the same thing I was last night. Not that the pastor would know."
Another twenty minutes and she drew away a little more this time. She really had to get home. Certainly she could blow off church if she wanted to, and he must have thought the same thing, but it was a valid excuse for her not to take things further than she was comfortable with tonight.
Regardless of what he said the likelihood of it happening; their paths could cross again in a couple of years. She didn't want a one-night stand clouding their minds, affecting her grades.
"Can I see you again?"
Her eyes flickered to meet his, surprised. She wasn't expecting that.
"Do you want to set up a date now? Or I could get your number."
"I can give you my number."
They both stood then, he didn't seem all that willing to any more than she did. She rattled off her number when he had a pen and paper. After a minute or two he gave her a piece, too. His number. Now she had no excuse not to see him again, other than she supposed if neither of them called.
They made it to his front door where they spent another few minutes kissing. She was certain her lips were swollen from all the kissing she'd done over the last few hours. It was nice, though, and she didn't mind the butterfly-like feeling she had in her stomach just then either.
He opened the door finally and he walked her back to where her car was.
"Good night, Clarice. It was nice to meet you."
"Would you have stayed if you didn't have church in the morning?"
She shrugged, glancing at her hands. "Probably not."
"Honesty, I like it."
"It's just not my thing."
"Mine either usually," he said.
He opened her door for her, letting her get in.
"Until next time."
"Yes," she said.
She watched in her rearview mirror as she drove away. He stayed there, watching until she couldn't see him in the mirror any longer. She ran her fingertips along her lips, surprised they didn't feel any different. They had to! She'd never been kissed like that before.
It wasn't long before she was home, getting ready for bed. She set her clothes for the morning aside before turning off her light and sliding under the covers. She wasn't thinking much about God when she drifted off to sleep that night.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com