The beer in her hand was nearly empty, which wasn't far from how Rosa felt as she scanned the bar through narrowed eyes.
Now that the whirlwind relationship with Adrian Pimento was out of her life, Rosa felt empty. She felt like she was starting from the beginning all over again. After being faced with a guy who was compatible with her sexually and even emotionally, who was apparently willing to learn Spanish to impress her family, how could Rosa be throwing it all away?
And if she were to be honest with herself, not a lot of people could get on board with Rosa's rough edges. She was an acquired taste and she knew it.
She was hot as hell, that was a fact Rosa wasn't going to deny. Men and women both were invested in her based on her appearance alone. And a few would be willing enough to proceed to the dating stage. (and in two cases already, were willing to think about the whole marriage thing).
But a lot weren't willing to stay once they got to know her personality.
Which was why Rosa couldn't help but order another drink and question her decisions. When things didn't tend to work out because of incompatibilities, why was it that when she was faced with someone actually compatible with her, she ran away?
Taking a long swig of her sixth beer tonight, Rosa reminded herself that with Marcus, he was a good guy and definitely a catch, but she wasn't ready. She got scared and bailed. With Adrian… things just changed.
After… after prison it just hadn't been the same.
Maybe they were just too alike. The excitement and the fantasy of it faded away and Rosa honestly felt like she needed someone more stable and emotionally-aware. Talking about… about prison was hard. And in theory, it should have been easy to talk to Adrian about it given the insane shit she had to deal with while he was undercover. Out of anyone, he would be the one most likely to understand what it was like to be trapped and scared, with no escape.
Yet it wasn't. Adrian, disconnected as he was, tended to derail the conversation, going on tangents and unintentionally making Rosa feel like her own struggle paled in comparison.
Not that he meant to. He was just trying to relate.
But that was it. He was just as bad at relating to emotions as Rosa was.
Rosa's thumb hovered over Marcus's number.
…Maybe she needed someone more like him. Someone who was in tune with the sappy emotional stuff and could maybe help Rosa sort herself out.
Or he might just burst into tears hearing about what she went through. The guy was sensitive and probably wouldn't be able to take the hard experiences Rosa wanted to talk about. Begrudgingly, Rosa put away her phone, deciding that calling Marcus tonight would be a terrible idea.
Also, beer just wasn't cutting it.
Rosa caught the bartender's attention and asked for two shots.
"Is the second one also for you, or for whoever decides to sit next to you?" The voice was low and teasing, unfamiliar but intriguing.
Rosa turned to see a woman with dark eyes and a smirk. "More like whoever I decide is allowed to sit with me." The response was in Rosa's usual grumble, but she felt a smile pulling at the corners of her lips.
Grabbing the shot and downing it helped wipe off the smile.
"Fair enough." The woman leaned against the bar, allowing the position to accentuate her hips. "Is there anything a girl can do to earn the privilege of sitting with you?"
Rosa raised an eyebrow. "Who's asking?"
The shot had burned her throat and the alcohol she'd already consumed was giving her a light buzz, but not quite enough for her to consider the night to be satisfying.
"Whoever you want her to be."
The response got a guffaw out of Rosa before she could stop herself. "That totally didn't sound like something out of a porno."
The woman's cheeks reddened and she looked away.
And that made Rosa feel just a little bit shitty.
"Fine." She might regret this. She also might need another three shots for this. "Sit with me."
"Okay, I'll be honest with you." The woman sat on the barstool next to Rosa but didn't reach for the shot. "Things didn't work out between me and my ex and I kind of just wanted to…" She shrugged, her smile sheepish. "…to just forget for a bit, y'know?"
Rosa had to hand it to the girl, the way she bit her lip was pretty cute.
"How 'bout this." Rosa ordered another shot for herself and pushed one towards her new seatmate. "Let's both avoid feelings tonight and let's both avoid the personal stuff. Sound good?"
"Fair enough." The woman raised her glass and clinked it against Rosa's. "No real names. No jobs. No past stuff." She pursed her lips. "Let's pretend my name is Tiffany."
"Okay, let's pretend mine is Amy." Downing her shot and feeling the buzz in her head take up more of her skull, Rosa nodded. "Now tell me what you were hoping to get out of me other than a free drink."
Tiffany's brow furrowed and she shook her head. "Oh, don't worry about that. I can pay for my own stuff."
"So why were you asking for one?"
"I…" She bit her lip again, and for one wild moment, Rosa felt like kissing her. "I just thought you were really attractive and that maybe we could… hang out."
Rosa felt herself smirk at the compliment. Now it was her turn to lean forward, making sure just enough of the tank under her leather jacket hung down for a little peek. "Really? And what kind of hang out were you picturing?"
The woman's lip twitched and her eyes darted from Rosa's tanktop to back up to her face.
"My place isn't far from here." Rosa moved closer, "If you want to hang out there."
As if unable to restrain herself, Tiffany closed the distance between them with a kiss that surprised Rosa with its spark and energy. It almost had the fire that came with making out with Adrian. Hands were in her hair while her own had wrapped around the woman's waist.
A few wolf whistles were enough to get Rosa to break away, admittedly breathless.
From there, things were a blur. Rosa couldn't resist getting them another shot each before they made their way to her latest apartment. They were barely through the door when Tiffany was all over her again. Rosa found herself pinned against the wall while lips and teeth worked their way all over her neck and collarbones.
This was electric and exciting and this was the answer to what she needed. This was the escape she hoped for. This was how she could stop thinking about Adrian and prison and all of that shit.
… wasn't what she needed.
On her bed, stripped of her jacket and tanktop, a woman's head kissing a path down to her pelvis, Rosa felt her mood just drop.
"Stop." Rosa whispered, softly at first. Questioning herself and wondering why she couldn't just do this. It wasn't the first time she brought a nameless stranger to her bed. Why was it such a big deal now?
Clearing her throat, Rosa spoke louder this time, and braced herself in case the woman decided not to cooperate. "Stop."
Thankfully, Tiffany sat up and looked at her. "What?"
"I… I don't think I can do this." Rosa untangled herself from Tiffany and sat by the edge of the bed. "I can't do this right now."
The accelerated heartbeat she thought was from excitement and arousal wasn't going away. If anything, it seemed to be picking up instead. The buzz from the alcohol was now replaced by a lightheaded feeling that made her nauseous.
It was hard to breathe.
On unsteady legs, Rosa tried to stand up, only for her knees to buckle as the room swam around her.
"Hey, it's okay." Tiffany caught Rosa before she fell, helping her up and allowing her to lean on someone who was shorter but surprisingly capable of shouldering Rosa's weight. "I'm here."
It was getting hard to breathe.
With a flare of anger, Rosa glared down at the woman, "Did you drug me?"
"What? No!" Tiffany looked taken aback and genuinely offended.
The room was spinning and her heart was pounding against her chest. It felt like her ribcage was shrinking into her lungs and she wasn't getting enough air.
Each gasp just seemed to tighten her throat even further.
"Are you okay?"
The panic in Tiffany's voice only added to Rosa's own panic. She wanted to run away but her legs weren't cooperating. She could only stumble back into bed, digging her fingers into the covers and shutting her eyes as she fought for air.
"Can't… breathe." Rosa choked out the words. She curled up and clutched at her hair. "Can't. Can't. Can't."
"Has this happened before?" Tiffany's voice was calmer now as she put a hand on Rosa's shoulder.
It helped. Rosa felt less like she was going to die.
But she still felt like she was going to die.
She felt like she was back in solitary. The dark walls closed in around her, the silence pounded in her ears, the unbearable loneliness stabbed through her chest like knives. The fists and batons of guards subduing her after she started the riot.
"Breathe with me." Someone was holding her hands, clutching them tightly. Not enough to hurt, but enough to pull Rosa out of solitary and back into her bedroom. "Just breathe, okay? Come on. Breathe in…"
When she tried, one inhale wasn't enough. Rosa took several gulps of air, but it still wasn't enough. She was going to die like this. Barely dressed, with a stranger in her bedroom.
She was going to die.
"Stay with me." Tiffany's voice was clear and firm. "I think you're having a panic attack."
"A what?" Speaking forced her to exhale, which meant having to take another several inhales to regain the lost breath. She just wanted this to end. She wanted to be away from all of this.
"This will pass." Tiffany said, squeezing Rosa's hands. "I just need you to stay with me. What's your name?"
Still fearing that she was going to die, Rosa struggled to get in enough air and choke out an answer, "Rosa."
"Okay, Rosa." Tiffany continued. "Are you willing to try counting backwards with me? From 100?"
She could barely even talk. She couldn't breathe. How was counting going to help? Rosa's heart felt too large for her chest as it pounded like a caged animal. Like how she was a caged animal in prison. How the guards sneered at her and jostled her. How the other inmates distrusted her.
"C-can't." Rosa gasped.
"Please, Rosa? At least from 50."
Still hyperventilating, Rosa grit her teeth and tightened her grip on Tiffany's hands.
"Fif… fif...ty." She had to breathe in between syllables.
"For… ty… nine."
The room still seemed to shrink into solitary, but grasping Tiffany's hands kept Rosa in her bedroom.
It was a struggle to keep counting, but Tiffany stayed firm and encouraging.
Rosa found herself managing more syllables.
It was getting easier to breathe again. Her chest didn't feel as tight and she felt less like she was coming to the end of her existence.
Tiffany continued to count with Rosa, until they finally reached the end.
"Three… two… one…"
Drained but finally feeling like she had regained control of her breathing, Rosa let go of Tiffany's hands and struggled to sit up. "Sorry… about that."
"Hey, it's okay." Tiffany looked like she wanted to move back over to Rosa but stopped herself. "I'm… I'm here if you want to talk. I'll also go if you want me to."
The thought of being alone tonight frightened Rosa more than she was willing to admit. Even if some sense of pride wanted to tell the woman to get the hell out and pretend none of this happened, Rosa knew she couldn't do that. She wished she could, but she knew she couldn't.
Rosa wiped at her face and realized she'd shed tears as well as sweat. She wanted to get out of her skin and run away. "I'm… I'm going to take a shower. Please… please stay?" It sounded stupid and she hated how her voice broke and she hated how vulnerable she was tonight.
But she was afraid of having another attack.
"I'll be here when you're done. Don't worry." Tiffany promised.
Rosa spent a good hour in the shower, part of it spent cleaning herself off, most of it spent quietly sobbing and feeling like a complete idiot and a total loser. This wasn't her. This wasn't who she was. She was Rosa Diaz. The total badass everyone at work was afraid of. The tough dude people would go to if they needed a perp to be intimidated.
If they could see her now, broken like this, would they still respect her?
Swallowing back her sobs and forcing herself to regain composure, Rosa got out of the bathroom and was relieved to see Tiffany still there.
"Do you want me to sit with you?"
Hesitating, Rosa didn't answer right away.
"Whatever you need, Rosa."
"Sit with me." Rosa finally decided as she reclaimed her spot on the bed and hugged her knees.
Tiffany -or whatever her real name was- took the other side of the bed and crossed her legs. She didn't speak, didn't push, didn't try to embrace Rosa or ask her how she was. That was something Marcus would do and Rosa wasn't sure if she wanted someone to fuss over her and make her feel even more frail than she already felt.
Adrian would probably suggest stabbing watermelons. Which would have been fun, but not quite something Rosa had the energy to do either.
Sitting quietly… letting Rosa decide when she was ready to talk…
…this was just right.
"I'm a cop." Rosa finally spoke.
The agreement was no names, no jobs, no past shit. Rosa had already broken most of the rules, she might as well just keep going.
"I got framed and… spent time in prison."
The sad look in Tiffany's eyes made Rosa feel like something was wrong with her. It felt like a painful reminder that she wasn't the terrifying badass she was supposed to be.
"I dumped my fiancé."
Rosa shook her head and wiped at her eyes, hating how she still couldn't regain her usual firm grip on herself. "At work, I'm this badass. Everyone's afraid of me and everyone knows I can handle shit. My friend was framed too and spent time too. They're all over him and checking on him and fussing over him because yeah, he's a bit of a softie but…"
She had to admit it.
"…but I'm struggling too."
"They haven't checked on you?"
Rosa sighed. "I told them that if any of them asked me how prison was, I would shank them with the nearest object because I learned how to do that in prison." She let out a bitter laugh, remembering Boyle's terrified face and the way a huge guy like Terry backed away with wide eyes and tensed shoulders.
Tiffany looked like she wasn't sure if she was supposed to laugh or be concerned.
Sighing, Rosa leaned her chin against her knees.
At the time, she wasn't ready to admit how hard it was. When she was still in prison, she knew Jake would struggle more than she would and she hoped they would pay more attention to him because he needed it more.
Afterwards, she felt the same way. He was obviously having a hard time adjusting and he needed the attention more than she did.
That and… she was afraid of admitting that prison changed her too.
It made her fearful and frail and powerless. All the things she worked hard not to be in her cut-throat line of work.
"I wasn't ready to be vulnerable."
"Rosa, if your friends value you like I think they do, they would be more than willing to be there for you." Tiffany said, "Friends care for each other. Friends support each other."
"What if they don't see me the way they used to?"
The respect and fear she held at work helped her thrive. It was her thing. It was how she fit into the group and how she belonged in the group.
"Do you think you're the same person you were before you went in?"
Rosa shook her head, hating having to admit it.
"Then let them see you as you are. Be honest with them."
"Maybe." Rosa wasn't sure if she was ready.
Still, she was grateful to this stranger. She came in expecting a one-night-stand but ended up having to calm down a wreck of a person.
"Thanks for tonight… and I'm sorry I didn't give you the wild fun I promised."
"Hey, don't worry about it, okay?" Tiffany reached over and put a hand over Rosa's. "I don't think I was ready either. And I'm honestly glad I was here to help you out. And I'm grateful to you for opening up to me."
Rosa sniffled and choked out, "…thanks."
They sat in silence for a while.
Until Rosa realized she hadn't even thought to ask Tiffany for her story. Or her real name.
"So… what's your real name then? And your story. Since you basically got a big show of mine."
The woman smiled before telling Rosa her name.