There are things people don't tell you about San Francisco. They mention the weather and the traffic and the homelessness. They don't actually tell you how bad it is until you get here. When I came out for the job interview, I was toured to all the nice places. The clean, safe, pretty, places. I was not taken to where a forensic pathologist usually ends up.
They also didn't really explain how shitty parking was when I have to go downtown.
And after a long day of meetings and budgets and wishing I could just be looking into the mummified body found in a house the day before (it was deemed that it could wait a day, but I wish I could do it now, since it's so damn cool), I do not want to deal with whomever it is leaning against my car.
I open my mouth to ask them to leave when the shape catches my eye. I'm supposed to notice things. It's my job. So the hunched form in a black hoodie, black jeans, and black boots that were not buckled hits my memory. It's a hard hit. It's someone I didn't expect to ever see again. I know who it is because I've never really gotten over her even if I haven't seen her in almost two years.
She looks terrible. She looks haunted and morose. I know it isn't just the faded memory of not having seen her (or heard from her) in two years that makes me think that. I've seen Gail like this before, sort of, when she was having a near breakdown in my bathroom. But this seems worse.
"Hi," she says quietly. Her eyes are dark hollows, like she hasn't slept properly in weeks. That's almost all I can see of her face, the eyes. She keeps her head down and looks at me without moving her head much.
My shock and annoyance quickly fade into worry. Concern. For a second I think her face is dirty. I've never known Gail to be dirty. We hadn't parted on the best of terms, but you couldn't not worry about people you'd cared about.
Okay, saying we hadn't parted on 'good' terms was putting it mildly. We'd had a knock down screaming match at each other at my place, which was more cathartic than the non-argument we'd had at the Penny, but just as bad in the end. We may not have been over each other, but we weren't going to be able to pull this off, and I knew it. Things were said that we didn't mean, at least not quite like that. We destroyed any chance of a reconciliation.
That meant I had only heard from Traci about what had been going on with Gail. Like I knew she hadn't adopted Sophie (she was a long shot to start with). And I knew she'd been promoted and Traci suspected she was angling for a White Shirt. But I also knew Gail had been quiet and keeping to herself a lot, and that was something Traci worried about. Gail didn't drink so much, didn't talk so much, and seemed to be lost in her thoughts a lot of the time, said Traci the last time we talked.
Come to think of it, I hadn't heard from Traci in a couple weeks either. I'd emailed her, same as always, but she was a detective. Sometimes she got busy. More than once she'd been radio-silent for a week or more, and then came back to email me a long story about undercover ops.
"What— What are you doing here?" I know it isn't the most elegant way to ask, but I had to know. Why was she here?
"I have no idea," laughs Gail, bitterly. "I mean, I have to be somewhere, right?" The words chill me. If I thought Gail the suicidal type, I'd be panicking right now. Gail's too egocentric for suicide, thank god, so it's not that.
Still, I'm positive that something is way wrong. This doesn't sound like Gail.
She pushes off my car, starting to apologize and I guess go somewhere, when I see her wince when she moves her arm. "You're hurt?" I reach out and touch her shoulder, only to have her recoil in clear pain.
"It's fine," she grumbles, teeth gritted. "I mean, it's a bullet wound, but my stitches aren't bleeding, I think…" Gail looks at her arm and frowns as if it's the source of all that's hounding her right now.
This one-ups both the burnt wrist and the hair disaster in my bathroom. Crap. Maybe she actually is suicidal. That settles it. I can't let her go, it's not safe. "Gail, get in my car," I order, picking up the small bag at her feet. I have no idea what I should do with her, what I can say to her, but I can't just leave her.
She stares at me for a moment, confused and clearly conflicted. Then she shuffles around to the passenger side and gets in without a comment. Whatever had happened to spur Gail, who hates flying, onto a plane this soon after being shot and show up at my office has to be epic. "Thank you," she breathes, shoulders drooping as she buckles in.
"You're an idiot," I grumble. "How did you even know I'd be here?"
"I didn't." She won't take the hoodie off so I can barely see her face. That can't be dirt... I don't like the other option.
"How did you know this was my car?"
She smiles a little. "Office of the medical examiner. Figured you'd be there. Just looked for the hybrid with the newest plates." She leans her head back a little. "I was lucky I guess. The BART smells, by the way."
There is something seriously odd about the way she said 'lucky' that makes my hackles rise. After you work with cops for a while, you get used to sorting out what they don't say. The tone Gail uses to say she's lucky actually chills me. "You want to tell me why you're here?" She shakes her head. Awesome. "Gail…"
"It's not a happy story," she mutters. She sounds sorry. "It's not short."
Most of our story hasn't been happy, it occurs to me. It is a brief story. Girl meets girl over dead body. Girls flirt. Girls kiss. Girls love. Girls are stupid and blow things up and regret everything. But if she's got something that she's saying is unhappy and long, then she may not want to talk about it until her blood sugar is back to normal, which I'm sure it's not. "Have you eaten?"
Okay. Something is very, very, very, wrong. Gail Peck is not hungry. I think about what I have at home and make a quick decision. I can probably change her bandages with what I had… hopefully. Then I can order food. I explain this to her and she doesn't answer. Glancing over as the traffic crawled to a halt, I see her drooping more. "Hey, hon— Gail?"
It isn't my place to call her 'honey' anymore. I want to. I know I've never really gotten her out of my system. But it's been a year and change, nearly two, and we haven't been friends in that time. We've both moved on, I thought. Traci told me Gail had gone out on some dates, and I'm seeing someone... Sort of. Still. Gail is someone I care about. I wanted her as a friend when I left Toronto, though that hadn't worked out. She'd been adamant about needing space and time to get over me since I was leaving her. I told her to fuck herself and not call me, because she was good at that.
Yes, thank you, I was an absolute bitch about it. I was hurt and angry and still in love with her. I know I still care about her, whatever that means. And now, clearly whatever has happened to her, she needs me and not anyone else. It feels like a burden, the regret of my past treatment of her sinking in shamefully, but I can't turn away someone in need like this. Certainly not Gail. Very gently I reach over and touch her leg.
She starts awake with a massive flinch as her arm moves. "Fuck," she complains, sounding like the Gail I remember, and holds herself rigid. "Sorry," she adds, hissing through her teeth.
She was sorry? I check the GPS and see that we are deadlocked in traffic for at least a few minutes. Turning, I look at Gail directly. "Take off the hood," I ask her. No. I tell her. I pitch my voice just like my father when I'm being stupid. "Now."
With a very apologetic expression, Gail pushes it off her head. The hair is a dirty red-blonde. Her natural color, as I recall, similar to Steve's red but blonder. It is also chin-length and less than immaculate, which is weird for Gail. I'd never known her not to be fussy about her looks. But her face, which is bare of makeup, is also resplendent with half-healed bruises and what looks like road rash on the right side. Someone kicked the shit out of her. "Not pretty," Gail notes, dryly.
My brain short circuits. "You have looked better," I reply, while thinking she is still beautiful and wanting to murder whomever did that to her. What the hell has been going on in Toronto? "Is that related to your arm?" She nods at me. "That looks horrible."
"It feels about as bad as it looks." She pulls her hood back up and slumps in the seat. "Still. It's been four days."
"Jesus, your roommates let you out of the house?" I really wonder who let her out of the hospital.
I scowl. This is going to be a long story if she keeps telling it like this. "Do you want to tell me now or when we get to my place?"
Gail sighs and leans her head back. "Your place. Please."
That's progress, I guess. We make it to my place, a row house I'm subleasing from a couple who'd moved to Florida, and I hustle Gail inside. She is surprisingly tractable and obedient for anyone, let alone a pesky Gail Peck who is many things, but tractable is not one. Once on my couch, it takes little effort to get the hoodie off, and her over-shirt. Gail has on a tank top (thank god) and I finally get a good look at her.
The bullet is in what we jokingly called the 'TV dramatic injury' spot back when I was in school, being on her upper right arm. The bruising possibly looks worse than it was, given Gail's skin color. She was shot and apparently stomped and rolled. "Is it just the arm?"
"Mmm, the rest hit my vest," she mutters.
Damn. I coax her into lifting the hem of her tank top and see the marvelous bruising from the rounds that hit her where she was protected. "Did they give you painkillers?"
"Threw 'em out. They messed with my head."
Yeah, that was Gail. I sigh and make the order for Chinese food before collecting my med kit from the bathroom and the strongest painkillers I can find. The ones from when I dislocated my finger three months ago are strong but not narcotics. They'll have to do. Gail doesn't argue at all when I hold them out, dry-popping the pills and letting me change the bandage on her arm. The stitches are fine. A little red and swollen, but that's to be expected. She's been moving it around today.
After getting her cleaned up and back in her shirt, I get out frozen peas for her to ice her arm and rib. "Can I lie down?" Gail is almost pleading.
"Yeah, the food will be here in a bit."
She doesn't reply and is asleep in moments. Snoring.
I grimace. This is not going to go over well with my quasi-girlfriend, Maria. I text her to cancel our standing dinner, saying a friend wasn't feeling well and needed babysitting. I try to tell myself that it was okay to feel relieved about not explaining anything to Maria just yet. I like her, but I felt a little pressured to be her girlfriend in the first place, like it was expected just because we were women who went out a couple times.
Maria knows about Gail in broad terms, but we've only been going out for a couple months, so it's not like she knows everything just yet. I'm pretty sure she won't take this well. Maria's a little jealous, which has been something I've actively disliked and told her. Our fights have been around that, and they haven't been super pretty. I'm not sure our relationship will last much longer.
But if things come to a head, if Maria finds out Gail's here and takes it the wrong way, I know what she'll say. She'll demand I kick Gail out. Would I pick Gail or Maria? How much do I want to have my friendship back? Would I be using Gail as a handy excuse to break up?
Sometimes I hate my life. No matter what, I don't want Gail to look like she's an excuse. That's that, this is this. I don't need her or Maria taking things the stupid way like both might do. I also know I'd pick Gail's friendship over Maria any day. Gail's a better person. Ugh. Every time I think about it, I regret Maria and that's really telling.
When the food comes, Gail doesn't even twitch. Clearly the explaining isn't going to come from her, so I call her brother. No answer. Traci. No answer. There are only a few people left that might possibly know and I don't have their numbers. "Oh fuck it," I grumble and dig Gail's phone out of her bag. It is turned off and dead. Of course.
I plug her phone in to charge and call Fifteen Division directly, asking for Oliver Shaw. Gail always spoke highly of him and I'd liked him when we met. He called me 'her girl' with the most gentle of tones. He clearly adored Gail. She put up with him, but I thought she liked him too.
"Officer Shaw," he sounds a little less perky that I recalled.
"Hi, I don't know if you remember me. Holly Stewart?"
There was a moment's pause. "Dr. Stewart? Gail's Holly? From the forensics lab?"
Of course that was how they remembered me. "Yes. I've been looking for someone who could explain what's going on."
Oliver's voice is weird. "God, are you looking for Gail?"
What an odd question. "No. She's asleep on my couch right now— "
Oliver cuts me off. "She's there? Oh thank god!"
"Oh." I frown at the sleeping blonde. Red head. Blonde. "This is making less sense every minute," I admit.
"Hang on a second. Epstein! Call off the hounds, we found her." I hear a second voice ask where Gail was. "She's… Uh. She's okay?"
That was to me. "She's asleep. Her arm's okay, but she looks like shit."
"Okay. That'll do." Away from the phone, he adds, "She's fine, Epstein. I'll give you the details later, okay?"
So Oliver was keeping her location a secret? None of it made any sense to me. "Oliver," I say in a low voice. "Someone better explain why the hell Gail just showed up in San Francisco and why you didn't know where she was."
Oliver exhales loudly. "She didn't tell you anything?"
"She said it was a long, unhappy, story, said she wasn't hungry. And then she fell asleep."
He hesitates. "This is something she should tell you, Doc."
I push. Hard. "She's not going to any time soon. I already tried her brother and Traci, but they aren't picking up. She's here, Oliver. I should know why."
He makes an unhappy noise and then he tells me.
Gail had been working with her brother in Guns & Gangs, just as a uniform. Nothing big. Spying on houses, keeping tabs on criminals. The usual thing. She did a little undercover for him, but most of it was sitting in a van being bored. I could only imagine how she must have bitched. Oliver thought Gail was angling to be a D or maybe get a White Shirt, but she'd been very quiet outside of work. Serious.
It all went pear-shaped four days ago when they went to talk to a drug store owner. Gail had been in uniform, her vest on, while Steve was just dressed like a detective. They were just doing some normal work, making sure the owner was aware of what was going on. From what the police figured out, one of their suspects happened to be in there, buying supplies, and they got the drop on the Pecks. Shots were fired. Gail had jumped between her brother and the shooters, but three bullets went wide. One hit Gail's arm, two hit Steve. There was some kicking as well, which explains Gail's face. The whole thing was caught on video.
Steve died en route to the hospital.
"So Gail… she checked out AMA two days ago, and no one's seen her since. Her father's been going nuts trying to find her."
I can't even fathom how she could have vanished from Toronto like that. Anyone who thinks she's not a good cop needs a kick in the ass. A Peck just ditched the entire Toronto police department and skipped the country. If I wasn't so pissed at her, I'd be laughing. "When she wakes up, I'll see if I can get her to unpack what's in her head, Oliver… Should I call someone?"
"No! No no, I'll take care of this. Uh.. You're Traci's friend too?"
"Sort of. I still talk to her," I admit. Traci is an afterthought right now, which is really shitty of me. But... Gail is here, on her own, and in pain. Theoretically Traci has someone to talk to, and Gail clearly does not. "How is she?"
"She's with her mother right now. They'd just gotten engaged."
I hadn't known that. Traci got engaged to Steve! More than once, Gail had talked about how she liked them together, that Traci brought out the best in Steve. Traci had told me how much she liked the weird Peck. "God, no wonder she's a mess." Her dead, engaged, brother.
He takes a deep breath. "Did either of them tell you about Jerry?"
I frown, remembering Gail touching her severed pony tail and whispering about how that part was when Jerry died. I know nothing, it seems. "No."
And Oliver told me about Jerry, Traci's fiancé. And how Gail had been kidnapped and drugged and Jerry found her but was killed.
And now Gail had been there when another of Traci's betrothed had died.
"Oh Jesus," I whisper. No wonder she was a mess. The burning agony hurts me to the bone, I can't begin to understand how she might feel. I can see some of that pain, some of that agony, I remember it, but this is different. I had nothing to do with anything. I'd been asleep. But Gail has the weight of action on her shoulders and will forever be something she doubts. I know Gail. This will swallow her. This could break her.
"Yeah, it's a heavy, heavy thing. Can you— I hate asking you this, darlin', since I know you guys didn't end so good. I mean, I know my Peck. You really aren't - aren't friends anymore. But can you hang on to her? At least until she sleeps?"
Without thinking or processing, I reply, "Yes, yes, it's fine, Oliver. I'll keep her here for a while."
I have no idea exactly how I'm going to do that. I really don't have the right to do any of that. I was the one who told Gail goodbye. I was the one who snapped and said she shouldn't call me. And here I am, promising to keep her at my place? God. I'm a masochist. But what can I say? She was shot four days ago. Her brother died. Her closest friend, Traci, was engaged to him. She's got to feel hurt. And some of that I do understand.
"Thank you," says Oliver. "Thank you."
I promise to keep him in the loop and study the face of the poor woman in my couch. She didn't even go to Steve's funeral. I know she hates them, more than she hates weddings. This is terrible. I pick the ice packs up off her and put them in the freezer. She doesn't even twitch. I've never known Gail to sleep that soundly.
Her bag is too small to have much in it, and I take it and her boots up the the guest room. It'll be easier to get her up after. She's surprisingly tractable when I wake her, suggesting she try the bed. All she complains is that she wants to sleep, so I nudge her up the stairs and into my tiny guest room. I gamble that she has no capacity to shower, so I just get her onto bed and negotiate her out of some of her clothes, the jeans and sweatshirt go. The over shirt and bra are a problem. It's only after I promise she can wear one of my sports shirts, the one she always borrowed when she slept over with me, more than a year ago, that she agrees to change.
It's not the first time I've seen her naked, but it feels weird now helping her into the comfy Canadiens sleep shirt. She's not my girlfriend. She's not even my friend last I checked.
"Thank you," she mumbles, letting me tuck her in.
"Just get some sleep, honey." I didn't mean to say it, but the endearment slips out. If Gail hears it, she doesn't react.
It makes for one of the worst nights I'd ever had in that house. I barely sleep. I have nightmares and panic that Gail's gone, so I have to check on her what feels like a hundred times. She barely moves all night long, sleeping soundly. Finally I manage to fall sleep.
Come morning, I call in and ask my assistant to run the house mummy for me, explaining I have a family emergency. He's a darling and says he'll put it last, just in case I make it in before he gets to it. That leaves me with a sleeping ex in my guest room.
Gail is still sound asleep too. She's not waking for anything, not even when I walk into the room with coffee. She's feeling bad. I wonder if she slept at all in the hospital or on her impromptu trip here. Probably not. I let her sleep and do my paper work from home. At least I get caught up in that.
It's a full twenty hours before Gail opens her eyes. She comes downstairs in the sweats and shirt I left for her, looking too thick headed and bleary to be really comfortable. "What time is it?"
"Almost five," I tell her and she frowns. "It's also Wednesday."
Her eyes go wide. "What?"
"You slept all day," I explain. "Hungry?"
She looks at a loss and nods a little. "Kind of. Thirsty."
I save my work and open up the fridge. "I have leftover broccoli beef and sesame beef." She doesn't answer and I look over. The pure adoration on her face is a surprise.
"Nick forgets I can't eat tomatoes," she says, blushing. "We haven't talked in two years and you remember my Chinese food order."
When she puts it that way, I sound a little creepy. "I think we determined my value of Nick a while ago," I say a little flippantly.
Part of me wishes I hadn't. Because Gail said that I was better than Nick in many ways, but at the time she'd said it first, she meant in bed. "You'll notice I'm not at his place," she sighs, agreeing.
Bullet dodged. A metaphor I won't be using in my out loud voice any time soon. "How about I get you both and some water. Sit on the couch?" I turn away, trying to fight my flush. When I turn back with a plate of food, she's sitting at the table, looking at her phone. "I charged it."
"Thanks," she says, staring at it and tapping, but not typing. "Who did you call?"
I don't know if the phone gave it away or just her latent deduction skills are waking up. "Oliver."
She turns her phone off and tosses it away from her. "Okay. What do you want to know?"
I want to know why she's here. I want to know if she's okay. I want to know if she has anyone to talk to. I want to know what she needs. I want to know why she picked my doorstep, of all people's, to show up on. I want to know if she has feelings for me. I want to know if I have feelings for her. I can't ask those yet.
Instead I just say the obvious. "I'm sorry about Steve." I put the plate and a glass of water down for her.
Gail wipes her face. "I couldn't stay there."
"I don't blame you." I didn't realize I was going to say it until I do, but when I do I know I mean it. I couldn't have stayed. I didn't stay. I went away to school. "How the hell did you get here without them finding out?"
For a moment I see that sharp, smiling Gail I love. The wicked grin. "I used Mom's credit card. Memorized the numbers."
I can't help it. I laugh. She laughs too. We're both laughing helplessly. It feels good. "Oh god," I chortle.
"They'd figure it out in a couple weeks," she admits. "But I'll be gone by then so it won't matter."
The words slash cold water on my soul. "Where are you going?"
"Dunno. Anywhere? Somewhere?"
The night before she'd told me she had to be somewhere. She had, literally, no one but me to turn to? How desperate must she have felt? "They know you're here now, so you'll stay here," I tell her. I don't ask. I tell.
She stops eating and looks at me like a deer in the headlights. "Holly... We don't even know each other anymore."
That's true. "We know each other enough," I argue.
"God we know each other too well. I mean, I was nasty."
I snort. "I was the one who told you where to shove your phone," I point out, and she cracks a smirk. "Look. You're hurt, and I don't mean your arm. So let's start over."
Gail looked at me, confused. "So I should call you lunchbox and kick you out?"
That feels like a million years ago. Not just a year and a half. "It's my house, I belong here. I'm Dr. Holly Stewart, medical examiner's office, San Francisco. I used to date you when you were a blonde." I hold out my hand.
She starts laughing again. "You are so very weird, Holly." But she takes my hand. "Gail Peck. Unemployed thief."
My eyebrows raise. "Unemployed?"
"Oh? Oliver left that out. I threw my badge at my mother and quit."
"He did not mention that, no," I sigh. "You sure?"
Gail looks surprisingly calm as she nods. "Yeah, yeah I am. I can't do it anymore. Not there. Jerry and Steve ... No."
I can understand that. She's not really the cause of the deaths, and I know she knows it. But I also know she's so sensitive. I know why this hurts. What can I say? Nothing. I touch her hand. "Stay here for a while. I have a spare room. Sleep in it until you feel better. I can afford to feed you."
She smirks a little. "You got a raise?"
We both laugh. "You're not eating normally," I point out and gesture at her plate. She's eaten very little.
Guilty, Gail picks at the food, but her heart isn't in it. We end up sitting on the couch, watching TV, and she starts to drift off. This time I make her shower and change. She has nearly no clothes in her bag, so I throw what she does have in the wash. I can probably pick up something at the store on my way back from work.
She's still out when I go to work the next day, so I leave her a note. Around lunch, she texts asking if she can finish the leftovers. Then, at three, a more serious question of where her clothes are comes. I tell her they're in the dryer. She's asleep when I get home and I let her rest.
This goes on for most of a week. She's either asleep or hanging out with me. Quiet. I've never known her to be quiet. Then she texts me on Thursday saying someone's at the house to see me.
I'm not sure what to expect when I get home, but it's not what I ever imagined.
Maria and Gail are sitting across from each other at my kitchen table. Fuck. Me.
"This is your sick friend?" Maria's bilingual. So's Gail, who is fluent in French (and she claims other languages), but Maria learned Spanish at her abuela's knee. When she gets mad, the accent slips out. Right now it's there.
I hang up my coat. "Yes," I say simply. Gail's face still looks like crap. She still looks exhausted. A week of sleeping hasn't been enough to chase away her pain or let her heal.
"I'm going upstairs," starts Gail, getting up.
"Sit." Maria's voice cracks like a whip and I wince, expecting Gail to snap back.
My ex is weirdly surprising me a lot. She doesn't sit down, but she looks very sorry. "Look, Maria, I told you, I didn't come here to hook up with Holly. Okay? I just... I needed not to be... I-"
I can't watch her talk about it. I can see the raw agony. "It's fine, go upstairs," I tell her.
"Sending your little bitch away?" Maria's already at her worst. Excellent.
Gail hesitates. Her eyebrows arch and I know she's asking if she should stay for me. I give a small head shake. She nods. "I'm not anyone's bitch," remarks Gail flatly to Maria.
I smile. I shouldn't, but Gail and I are still on the same page for so many things. Still, that isn't the subject at hand. As soon as I hear Gail's door close, I turn to Maria and hiss, "Would it kill you to have some compassion?"
"For her? For the ex you never got over?" Maria is loud, like she gets. Gail got loud. But not like this.
"Did you even see her face?" The bruises are still epic. Even after a week, she was black and blue and green and yellow.
"She get too uppity for you?" Did she actually say those words?
I feel my face heat up. "What the hell is wrong with you?"
And we have a row. It's ugly. The words you say when you're angry are the worst. You say the things you know will hurt the worst, and I do. I pick the scabs in our relationship and I know it's wrong but I can't help it. She's got no reason to be worried about me and Gail because there is no me and Gail. There's a friend who is hurting and in a bad place and yes, damn it, I'm going to help her.
I know it's over as soon as Maria starts devolving into Spanish. She slams her hand on the table, shattering a glass that spins off. I call her a name my parents would be shocked to hear me use and pick up the glass, cutting myself in my haste. I tell her off as I'm washing my hand off and wrapping a towel around it, while Maria is saying things I don't understand fully, and that's when Gail comes back.
"Everyone needs to calm down," she says, in her cop voice. It stops Maria. It stops me.
Maria bristles. "Now you come back?"
I've seen many police officers hold the pose Gail has now and it washes over my anger like cold water. "Holly, are you okay?" Her voice is controlled and solid. Dependable. It reminds me of Oliver when I met him and Gail and her army ex, Nick, were picking a fight. And just like that, Gail's calmed me down.
"Gail, it's fine," I tell her. It's not, but now that the rage stopped, I can collect my brain. "Maria, go home."
But Maria doesn't. "You don't get to tell me what to do or how to feel."
Oh. This is over. But before I can say anything, Gail speaks in a low, dangerous, voice, "Holly told you what I do for a living?" Maria nods slowly. Gail jerks her chin at the door. "She told you to go home."
When Maria opens her mouth, Gail takes one slight step towards her. It's not even a step. It's more like a half-lean. It's something I've seen her do before to intimidate the crap out of drugged out idiots twice her size. It worked then. It works now.
I've never seen Maria look scared before. "So that's how it is?" She may be scared, but she's still loud and angry.
"No." Gail's voice is tight. And then she says something, very quickly, and Maria's eyes widen. "You should know, some white people speak Spanish too."
Maria looks at me, then Gail, then she grabs her purse, dropping her set of my keys on the table. The word she uses as she leaves is one I do know. It's not polite. The door slams and I startle. Did that just happen?
"Are you okay?" Gail's voice is suddenly softer, more gentle.
"You speak Spanish?" That wasn't what I'd planned on saying. Sometimes I just say things without my brain getting in the way.
"A little," she dismisses. "Did she hit you?"
My eyes feel huge. "What!?"
"She was saying ... God you don't speak Spanish at all. She was saying ... Well she was saying she should smack some sense into you. That's when I heard the glass break." Gail searches my eyes for something. She's treating me like a cop facing the victim in a domestic.
I feel cold. "I need to sit down." She helps me to a chair, gets me some water, and starts a kettle. Had I just been saved from a relationship that was about to get abusive? Was that how they started? "I thought she was just jealous," I whisper.
"Yeah, it starts like that sometimes," says Gail. She's sad and worried. "I'm sorry. She let herself in and ... I just said I was your friend from Toronto. I didn't know how to ... I didn't know what else to call me."
"Well," I laugh shakily. "You just saved me from a girlfriend who has a mean streak. Ex girlfriend now. So friend is a great term." I reach for my purse and pull out my phone, texting that we are over. She left the keys. I think she knew.
Gail gestures. "You can block her number."
"I might." I don't think it'll be a problem. I hope not. "What would you have done if she hit me?"
"Been arrested for assault," says Gail flatly. I just look at her for a long moment and she shrugs. "What happened to your hand?"
I look down. I forgot about that. "I cut it picking up the glass she broke."
Gail nods and cleans up the rest of the glass, even getting out the vacuum to make sure.
I watch her as I put a bandaid on my hand, which really isn't that bad at all. When she comes back to stand by the chair near me, I ask, "How bad has this year been?"
"Kinda depends on what Oliver told you."
"He told me about Steve. And Jerry."
Gail exhales a soft 'ah' and sits down. "About the same as getting kidnapped I guess. I mean, I bashed my face in the same, but didn't get locked up in a serial killer's basement, just because I was a hot blonde call girl."
I blink. Clearly Oliver left things out. The problem is I do know the rest of the story the moment she says that. I did the autopsy on the call girls and everyone was talking about how the killer had taken an undercover police officer. Ross Perik. That was Gail? Again, a question pops out of my mouth without asking permission, "How... How the hell did you go back out there?"
She looks surprised. "I didn't want to be some sad, pathetic little girl who can't hold her own," she explains.
I look at her. She went back after being kidnapped and probably assuming she'd die. She went back after being shot at. And this time, this time she can't go back. But that isn't it at all. "Tell me about Steve," I ask quietly. "Not how he died. Tell me about all the crap you two used to do."
And we sit for a long time, through the Egyptian food I get delivered, and she tells me all about the crazy things she and Steve did. It's haltingly at first, in fits and starts, but eventually she starts to tell me. She tells me about the movies and music they shared, the plays they went to, and everything illegal. The time Steve came home high on weed and had a panic attack about their parents, who were in Texas on a business trip, finding out, so he locked himself in his closet and couldn't get out. She laughs so hard she starts crying when she tells me about how she 'borrowed' his car to drive with Nick to Las Vegas.
The tears keep coming after that until she's just destroyed with them and she folds on herself, sobbing. I give up the the distance I was trying to create between us and hug her, letting her get through what I think is the first really good cry she's had about this since it happened. She's always so self contained and closed off about her feelings, like she's ashamed to have them. She barely cried when she was freaking out in my bathroom.
Unlike that time, this one doesn't lead to us making out in my shower. I knew it wouldn't and that's okay. That's not who we are anymore. And anyway, I just broke up with my, apparently, crazy girlfriend. What she needs is a friend, and so do I.
It's very odd, but now I have Gail as a friend again. It's a good trade off, I think. Gail's incredibly loyal and devoted to her friends, even if she can be dismissive of them. They've all betrayed her, except Traci and Chloe and Oliver (and I'm under a sworn promise never to mention that to Chloe). I can't say that having an ex-cop around doesn't make me feel better when I slap a restraining order on Maria, just in case. That happens after Gail suggests I run a background check and, when I do, I find that Maria was arrested for domestic violence. Twice. Gail gives me a knowing look, but when I ask if she ran a background check on me, she won't answer. So yes. She did.
In the next few weeks that she lives with me, she haunts the place. She stays out of my way a lot, sleeping most of the time, cleaning, doing laundry, and avoiding talking to her friends from Toronto. I promised Oliver I'd keep her around, like a pet cat, for a while, but I also know she's got to deal with some of this.
It takes me the rest of that first week to get her to talk to Oliver. When she does, there are no tears. She's solemn and quiet, but insistent. She cannot go back to the job. Not there. Not anywhere right now. Oliver makes her talk to her father, who in turn somehow gets her mother to call me.
I've never met Elaine Peck. I'd seen her around, of course, but we never talked. She thanks me for keeping an eye on her only child. That hits me hard, and I wonder if she knows. Probably. Gail's said that Elaine has a spy network. Elaine surprises me, telling me she understands why Gail doesn't want to come back right now, but it would be nice if she did. For herself, Elaine promises she's not just going to show up. She's giving Gail the space and time she needs to heal.
They all seem to think Gail will get over this and come back to Toronto. The more I watch her, the more I see her dread the very idea of leaving. She's scared.
I think about it for most of the second week and finally figure out how to explain it to her over a quiet dinner. We're both cooking, her making pasta carbonara and me making some vegetables, when I start. The only way to do this is to tell Gail something I don't want to tell her. I don't want to tell anyone.
"This is a shitty club."
Gail looks at the tv, which has the news on, as if it has the answer. When it doesn't, she asks, "What club?
I know her. I know she likes the straight forward, the direct. If I beat around the bush, she'll just get frustrated. I say it. "The dead big sibling club."
She looks over at me, stirring the sauce. "What?" She's surprised and confused.
"My sister died when I was seventeen."
Her face is a weird mix of stiff and sad. It's tight, like she's holding back the pain for both of us. "I ... I'm sorry, I didn't know."
I realize she thinks I'm annoyed, or hurt, thinking about her. "I know. I don't talk about it. Lisa and Rachel don't even know."
She's surprised. "They're like family," she says.
"We keep things from family," I point out. But then I ask, "It wasn't on my record?"
"I didn't look at yours," she replies. "You were hired by the Territory. They tend to be pretty good about that sort of thing."
I smile. "Cheater."
"Peck," she counters. She's not smiling. She's looking guilty. "You don't have to tell me."
I don't want to. I don't want to explain how she was driving me back from checking out universities and I was asleep. I don't want to talk about how she flipped the car in the middle of winter, trying to avoid an idiot on a motorcycle, and how we landed upside down on the side of the road. I definitely don't want to talk about how I hung from the seatbelt, watching my big sister bleed out with a tree branch through the windshield and her neck. It's why I'm a pathologist, but it's not a story I like to tell.
I don't tell her the story now. I can't. And I think she understands that. She understands the agony that is losing a sibling. The pain from having to tell people, over and over, fact that rip at you like tiny razors. Like you're walking on thumbtacks. And they just keep asking you the same thing in different ways and you want to do something, anything, to make them shut up and leave you alone.
Like disappear from a hospital, AMA, get on a plane and fly to California to your ex's.
I just went away to college in the States.
But yes. I get it. She gets it.
"I'm just saying, Gail... I kind of understand, a little, how it feels. And you don't have to go back to Toronto unless you want to."
Enlightenment dawns on her face. "Thank you," she says softly, and looks back at the sauce.
She understands I've told her this now because I won't kick her out. My revelation explains why I want her to stay. And now we don't have to talk about it at all, she just knows she can stay as long as she needs to.
It's weeks before she really manages to come out of her depressive haze. She finally stops just existing and starts living. Her arm is better, to the point that I can take out her stitches and nag her about doing exercises. She also finds some initiative and sorts out her career. She talks to HR and they settle on a retirement package due to trauma, provided she get a psych consult. That takes my help, which I'm happy to give when she asks. I find her a shrink from the SFPD to talk to who confirms that she has enough mental trauma from the kidnapping and Jerry and Steve to keep her from working safely.
This time my call from Elaine is less happy. She's livid that I've helped Gail leave policing. She's irate I'm giving her a safe place to stay. She accuses me of having ulterior motives ... Well, to be fair, we did date. But damn it, that's not what's going on here.
I tell her off. I unload on Elaine, informing her that her daughter could use a damn bit of support for a change, and not to call me again until she learned how to have feelings. Gail is delighted to find this out, as Elaine tries yelling at her about it next, and apparently told her I was unhelpful. She tells her mother than she's done trying to be what Elaine wants, and she's going to figure out herself.
We both delete a lot of messages from Elaine for the next few days, until Bill calls Gail to apologize and promises to calm his wife. Gail mutters that it's a fat chance. But after that, Elaine texts with an apology.
Things don't go perfectly from there on out. Gail and her mother fight about things, but I hear it as a mother and daughter who are struggling to find their new place together. It prompts me to call my own mother and catch her up on the last few weeks.
Mom and Dad don't really like that I'm letting Gail stay here. They don't think it's good for my heart. Mom especially is worried about me hurting myself up until I tell her about Maria and then she asks what she can send to thank her. But they both still ask me to please be careful about throwing myself into things. I tell them the truth. I do love Gail, but as family.
They both still live near enough to Toronto to find out what happened. Peck is a well known name in policing if you just ask. They find out about Steve and that he was Gail's brother. Detective killed in shootout. The news, which they email me, makes Gail out to be a hero. Which she is. But they know how much it hurts to lose family, if not in this way.
All arguments about Gail staying with me fade away. No one, not even Traci, finds an picking point with it. Not even Lisa.
"How long can I stay?" Gail asks it a few weeks later as we're watching a BBC period murder mystery.
"As long as you need," I promise. "I told you that. I mean it."
Gail plucks at a string on the blanket she's got on her lap. "I don't have a visa."
A passport is good for six months. So she's thinking about staying longer. That may get complicated, I realize. "You can stay here, with me, if you want," I say again. "But... Yeah."
"I'll have to go back. Or get a job."
I'm making enough that she doesn't need to pay me, but I know that would help her stay. "Do you want to do anything?"
She shrugs and we drift back to watching the movie. She spends a lot of time after that looking things up on the Internet. In the end, Gail finds a job and magically sorts out a work visa in half the time in took me. It's literally a month, start to end, and she's set up. I suspect she used her Peck Powers and connections to make it happen.
What the job is surprises me. "You know sign language?"
"I do. And they need a Canadian Language teacher to help, so ..." She shrugs as if it's no big deal.
I'm always finding out new, awesome, things about Gail. "We should celebrate," I decide, and drag her out to dinner.
Through whatever means, she doesn't even have to go back to Canada to pick up her things. A couple boxes show up, labeled for her, and it turns out to be her clothes and some personal affects. I wonder who packed them, or what happened to the rest of her things. She had books and video games and I thought furniture.
Gail barely unpacks, keeping it clear that she feels her status in my place is temporary. She also takes her new job very seriously. Kids love Gail and she loves them. Kids who hate everything because they're different adore her because she gets them. Many seem to find her the only hearing instructor they connect with.
She even starts to make some friends. The parents of her students are delighted to have someone who is willing to help without giving priority to the kid or the parents. She ends up giving a night class for parents so they can learn sign language, telling them how important it is.
She doesn't why she knows sign language, but honestly I don't ask. She's starting to be happy again, and it makes me happy. I've never know happy Gail before, or at least happy outside our little bubble. We don't have that romantic bubble anymore, so this is the truly happy Gail, and it's beautiful.
The weeks blend into months, and we find a place where we are friends again, truly. She teases me about not going out, or about the lack of lesbian bars in San Francisco. When she gets a bicycle, I harass her about how terrible she is on it. We both complain about BART and MUNI and the smell. Oh god, the smell!
We have fun. We go to new restaurants, shows, sports games, and we make new friendships with other people. The one thing Gail doesn't do is connect with cops. When I go out after closing a case, she doesn't come with me and is less than chatty once I'm back. The next morning, I ask her if it bothers her and she says it doesn't, that it's just weird.
I try to keep my work out of her hair but that only lasts until I have a devil of a case. I'm up at three in the morning trying to make sense of the evidence I'm reporting, trying to phrase my write up so it helps the detectives, when she walks into my office and sits in my spare chair. She's adorable in my Canadiens shirt and short shorts.
"Tell me," she says, propping her feet up.
When I hesitate, she arches her eyebrows. "It doesn't make sense," I sigh, and detail my case.
I've never really worked on a case with her before. She was a patrol constable when I was in Toronto, and I've never seen the brilliant detective mind before. No wonder Elaine lost it when Gail stopped being a cop. She's really good at this. She sees things in the whole of a case, things I don't notice when I'm mired in science, and she can explain them. By morning, I'm untangled and she's off on her bike to work, saying she's fine on short sleep.
I have a problem. I have a big problem.
I'm sipping coffee when it hits me. I didn't just not get over Gail, I'm still in love with her. And not as just a friend. Because after she saves my case, I'm grinning and all I really want to do is thank her somehow. The first ideas that pop into my head are decidedly not what friends do. Half memories and half fantasies, my mind is firmly set in enjoying Gail and making her smile.
Either I'm still in love with her or I fell in love again, not that it matters which. But how could I not? Gail's not the same Gail I met in the forest. She's still acerbic and prickly, and the name Peck suits her because dear god, she will peck you to death. But she's sweet and kind and great with kids and funny and she smiles a lot more now. Not just around me. Every time she smiles at me, though, I feel warm inside. Every time she smiles at me, I want to do anything to see it again.
It's terrible and I know it. Gail doesn't need that, not from me. She needs someone who is a friend and not telling her she's wrong or stupid or crazy. That's what her friends say. Andy and Dov are very vocal that Gail is wrong. They tell her, and me, that she's a cop and should stay a cop. When I call Andy an illiterate prole, Gail laughs so hard she cries. I find it weird that she doesn't have any problems with her friends being adamant that she should come back.
"They don't see me like I am now. You do," she shrugs.
See, it's things like that which make me love her. She just drops little bombs that say she sees me, and I see her, and she trusts me.
But it's also when I get nailed by a migraine (the smell from a case did me in), she rides her bike downtown, picks me up, and drives me home. There's no question in her mind that I need a hand, and she does it. She gets me into my bed, puts an icepack on my head, closes the blinds and sits with me, quietly reading. I don't have to ask a thing.
The arguments with her Toronto friends draw lines and I'm surprised that even Oliver thinks Gail should try to come back. It's really everyone except Traci. Traci and Gail have had long, thoughtful, phone calls about things. Traci has even started to mention she'd like to visit, and Gail's answer stuns me.
I don't know if I was supposed to hear it, but I do. She's on the phone, walking through the house, and I wasn't supposed to be home.
"Maybe you can visit after I move out. It's not fair to dump all that on Holly," she says.
She's leaving me.
She's not mine, I know that, and she's shown zero interest in being mine, or anyone's frankly. Gail is trying to be independent and do things on her own, and I laud that choice.
It's just that I hate the idea that she's leaving.
She doesn't tell me about this plan for a couple days. "So... I found an apartment," she says carefully as we watch backlogged episodes of Mr. Selfridge.
"Rent here is astronomical," she grumbles and I smile. "It's not that bad. Relatively."
She shows it to me online and I have to agree it's not that bad. One of the parents of her kids found it for her. They knew her budget and since she's an ex-cop, they used that to talk down the rent a little. The building is owned by another ex-cop, and it's a cute little walk up. But she's leaving me. I can't help but hurt. And she looks so excited to be moving forward. She shows me how it's close to my place, close to the private school where she's working, and close enough to the BART that she can get to her classes to get teaching certification. The bar for getting certification for teaching in a private school is shockingly low, and I'd teased her about that before. Now, as I see how she's set things up to make all that easier, without me, I feel some agony.
I've gotten used to having Gail around. I've gotten used to her wit and sarcasm about things, her studying habits, her inability to put her boots away when she walks in, her weirdly obsessive cleaning of the bathroom, her usage of all the hot water on a cold winter morning. I've gotten comfortable with her in a way I never thought I would have with Gail. She always seemed prickly and sharp, even when we dated, but in six, seven months of being roommates, I found the soft parts of Gail I'd never known.
The woman who gets me comfort food when I have a case with a child. The woman who cheers on a sports team with me, clearly having no idea who is who is whom. The woman who dances with me to stupid music when we both need to just get it out of our systems. The woman who sings karaoke and introduces me to some amazing music.
I've fallen in love with her again, in a totally different way, and clearly she's not feeling the same towards me or she wouldn't be moving out.
I'm such an idiot.
What did I expect? I have no idea. Maybe a miracle.
For a couple weeks, back months ago, I'd tried to see if she was interested in dating. We'd been at an outdoor yoga class (her idea) and I mentioned the instructor was sort of cute. Gail looked back at him and shrugged, saying she guessed so. Given that all the straight women in the class were swooning, I assumed she was really a lesbian now. So when I pointed out various attractive women and got the same reaction, I decided she just didn't want to date anyone.
Anyone includes me. Maybe I was pushier than I thought. Maybe I scared her off.
I'm being a shitty friend, and I know it, so I push aside my feelings and I try to be the friend I should be.
When she moves in to her new place, at the first of the month, I help her because I'm clearly a masochist. Three boxes and a bicycle, all of which fit in my car. I insist on helping her with cookware and dishes. Her mother, surprisingly, is the one who gets furniture delivered. Even Gail is surprised that they show up right when we do. The van is full of the things one needs, like a good mattress (Gail has an air mattress, which she's insisted is just fine), a bed frame, a couch, a table, some chairs, a dresser. She doesn't have much space, and once it's all in, the apartment is cramped.
The unexpected van makes for a chaotic move in but in the end we have a pizza on her couch that still smells of plastic wrap and look around at a small, comfortable, apartment.
I point out to her, "No TV?" We've been Netflix junkies for a while.
"I'll watch on my laptop. Or come over and watch your big screen," she shrugs. She's not worried at all, and she's really not all that far from me. It's a quick bike ride.
"Oh so you're going to keep coming over?" I try to be teasing, but I think my tone is too heavy.
Gail chews her lip. "I'd like to. I like hanging out with you."
And yet she moved out. "I wasn't sure... I thought maybe I was too pushy."
She shakes her head. "No, no, actually the opposite. You've been really awesome."
"I'm glad I could help." I mean it sincerely.
"You did. More than... More than anyone, Holly." She looks weirdly shy.
The flip flopping in my stomach needs to stop. Damn it. She's just so beautiful when she's not being all Peckish, which she hasn't been much at all since showing up in San Francisco. It's like she's finally blossomed and become more than just the things she had to be.
"You're welcome," I say softly.
We don't say anything more as we nibble our slices of pizza. The sound of traffic filters through her open windows.
"We should do dinner," Gail says abruptly.
I look at the half eaten pizza (Gail never really got her appetite back) and gesture. "We are."
"Not this. I mean out out."
I have no idea what she's talking about. "We eat out all the time."
Gail gives me a look like I'm an idiot. Then she looks nervous. "Sorry, that's... That's totally... God I'm sorry."
The clue drops.
I knew she didn't end up in California for me, or to hook up with me. She came here because she trusted me and needed someone in a dark time when everyone else was too close to her and too close to her world, but would still understand her. That really only left me. The fact that we never got over each other didn't matter at that point. It didn't matter when Maria was an idiot. But now, months later, it's different.
It matters now.
Because it turns out I'm not the only one who didn't get over someone. It appears that I'm not the only one who fell in love again. "Are you asking me out out?"
She nods and looks apologetic. "Yeah, sorry, I mean, you and Maria, and me, and history, and... That's a bad idea. I'm sorry, forget it. That... Yeah, I'm just going to make this hella awkward now." She screws her face up into a self deprecating sneer.
I stare at her and can't stop the smile that inches up my face. "No. No it's not a bad idea."
Gail blinks. "It's not?" I shake my head and she looks relieved. "I thought I lost my ability to read people."
Funny how I was thinking the same thing. I shake my head again, "I just, you know, I though you weren't into dating anymore."
"Oh," she exhales. "I wasn't. I mean, hello, have you seen how fucked up I am?" Gail slouches in her seat. "Not really girlfriend material."
I reach over and poke her shoulder. "And yet you're asking me out? Mixed signals there, Peck," I point out.
Gail looks chagrined. "I'm really good at that."
I chew my bottom lip for a moment. "So?"
She looks up at the ceiling. Anywhere but at me for the moment. "So I know this is just all kinds of stupid, Holly, but I still like you. A lot." I can't say anything to that. It's such a relief and a comfort and a little confusing. When she looks over at my face, her 'are you stupid?' expression comes back. "Seriously? You thought I didn't like you?"
"We had a pretty epic breakup," I sigh.
"We did," she agrees. Her fingers pluck at the couch arm. "It's not like I was trying to, you know. It was just really weird. You were there, and you were… You were you. Smart, and funny and I meant it when I said you're the most wonderful person I've ever had in my life." Her voice gets quieter. "I know I'm all messed up, and this might be a bad idea, but I'd really like... I'd like to maybe try again?"
I wonder if she's right. Is this about to be a bad idea? Do we know each other too well? Do we know our foibles and pain points to closely? Are we doomed to do the dance where we're friends and lovers and then not talk?
But the reasons we broke up are unlikely to happen again. She's not the Gail who walked out on me at the Penny. I'm not the Holly who didn't defend my girlfriend to my friends. She's still sure she's broken and I'm sure I'm still spineless in my moments. I probably wouldn't have broken up with Maria that day if she hadn't been there.
But. But. But. I love us together. We work well together. We're a good team. I smile at her because that's the only expression my face can make right now, "There's a good Ethiopian place we haven't tried yet."
Gail's smile matches mine. "You busy Thursday?"
"Oooooh," I joke. "A week day date?"
"Don't want to rush in again," she says seriously.
I understand that. "I just have two questions." She gestures for me to go ahead. "Did you move out just because you have a crush on me?"
There is the briefest of pauses. "Mostly." I arch my eyebrows, silently asking for elaboration. "The other part was I was sure you didn't - I thought you weren't into me, and I figured if I screwed this up then at least we wouldn't be in the same house."
"That makes sense," I agree.
"Sometimes I'm very smart," she smirks. "What's the other question?"
"What time should I meet you?"
Gail smiles and blushes at once. It's that hint of the old Gail who wasn't sure how to tell me she liked me, but knew I had to stop talking. It's the Gail who lit my world, briefly, and whom I've missed terribly. I see it in her eyes. She's filled with hope and doubt and fear and relief. I said yes, after all.
She reaches over and takes my hand. There's no kissing here. There doesn't need to be. For the first time in a while, we're both whole of heart and head and in the same place. A right place where there's no drama from friends being shot or hair being chopped out. We're people who know each other well, as people, who have a connection that we can't deny.
She keeps smiling and says, "Seven."
Once, Gail told me her mother said success was 90% luck and 10% timing. Maybe our timing's right. Maybe we're just lucky. But we're going to try again.