"I want you in charge of that body until the coroner comes." Oliver looked right at her.
Gail hedged. "Well, I mean, I can take statements .. and brief the detectives when they get here."
She got that patented Oliver 'I am disappointed' look. The subtle one. "You got a problem babysitting a body?"
"No." Gail didn't say sir. She didn't have to.
Dead bodies are part of the job. She knew that. As Oliver left her, though, Gail sighed and sat down on the stone railing.
"Just you and me, kid," she said to the dead girl. "I wonder what you were thinking." Gail tiled her head. "Was it one of those things that you've thought about forever and then suddenly decided you had to? Suddenly all at once, right?" She exhaled and looked up. "Yeah, I know that one."
"Do you always talk to the dead?"
Gail startled out of her skin. A woman, a few years older than she was, was crossing the tape line. "Hey, Lunchbox. You're not allowed in here."
"Thanks," said the woman, smiling way too much. "Appreciate it."
Shit. Was she drunk? Gail stood up and got between the woman and the body. "No, I said you're not allowed in here." Gail made a circle with her finger.
"Me? No, I am." The woman looked perplexed.
"Who are you?"
"The forensic pathologist? Coroner asked me to get samples?"
Miffed, Gail looked for an ID badge and found one half-hidden by the jacket. She reached over and pulled it out, checking the name and face. Dr. Holly Stewart. "Well, you should have told me that before."
Dr. Stewart fixed the badge a little sheepishly. "Sorry, I thought it was obvious."
"Only to nerds. Can you come back later? I'm supposed to be here until the body's collected."
"You're not up on your medical jurisprudence. We need to determine the cause of death."
"She fell off a roof."
"Was she pushed? Did she slip and fall? Did she jump? The trace evidence around her will help us understand how the vic died. I can check the evidence in the soles of her shoes, the way they're scraped, to determine the likelihood of each possibility. Then I can use the pattern of the breaks to —"
"Why are you saying all these words?"
And the woman laughed. "Alright. May I?"
"Be my guest." Gail stepped aside. "Julia Kennedy," she added, pulling out her phone and texting dispatch to be sure this Dr. Stewart was legit.
"Her name. Julia Kennedy. We ID'd her."
"Call said Ashley." The doctor frowned as she opened her kit.
"Yeah, she took her sister's ID."
Shaking her head, Dr. Stewart muttered how kids never changed. "You're staying?" She looked up at Gail, amused.
Gail shrugged. "Oll- Officer Shaw said to stay till the coroner comes." When Dr. Stewart gestured at herself, Gail smirked. "Forensic Pathologist. You work under the coroner as everything from lab assistant to actual medical examiner. Generally specializing in evidence collection as it pertains to the body."
"Well. I'm impressed. You google all that just now to show off?"
"Don't flatter yourself," sneered Gail and she tapped her name tag.
The doctor was puzzled and looked at Gail's name tag. Then she looked at Gail. "Well I am clearly missing something."
"First day?" When Dr. Stewart nodded, Gail sighed. "Freebie. Anyone named Peck has probably been studying for this their whole life."
Now the eyes widened. "As in Superintendent Peck?"
"That would be my mother," Gail said, resigned.
"Man, that is a hell of a lot to live up to."
Gail blinked. That was new. "Not what most people say," she admitted.
"Oh yeah? They think you get it easy or something?"
Suddenly Gail felt like smiling. "Usually."
"Eh. Well people."
Gail watched the doctor work until Oliver came back out. "So, uh, they're almost done here," she told him.
Oliver nodded. "You can go in and help with the witnesses."
Hesitating, Gail looked down at Dr. Stewart, who was still finishing up. "I should stay with her- um, with the body- Un-until they take it away."
The older officer looked at her for a long moment. "Okay. Fine with me."
"I just think that's it-" Gail started.
But Oliver waved her off. "Yeah, yeah." He paused and pointed at Dr. Stewart. "The coroner's already here."
"Dr. Stewart is the forensic pathologist, and it's her first day. She checks out. Dispatch confirmed."
Oliver looked at Dr. Stewart, then Gail, and then he shook his head. "No. No, you're right there. Right." And he went back inside.
The doctor smirked. "You checked with dispatch?"
"You could be trying to destroy evidence." Gail shook her head.
This seemed to please the other woman. "How did you know it's my first day, anyway?"
Gail shrugged. "You're too new. It shows." Shoving her hands in her pockets, Gail added, "Gail. I'm... I'm Constable Gail Peck."
The doctor grinned a lopsided smile that was the friendliest Gail had ever seen in her life. "Dr. Holly Stewart. Why don't they put your first names or initials on your name tags?"
"They used to do initials." Gail found herself half smiling back. There was just something about the woman that she liked.
"How's Chris?" Holly eased into a chair.
"Better." The blonde sipped her coffee. "I don't know if it was a good idea to stay with him."
"Dov is still..."
Gail snorted. "Dov is still being Dov. He doesn't like me there all the time. Complained I don't pay rent."
"Gail," sighed Holly.
Her friend rolled her eyes. "Stop it. He's going back to work next week and then I'll go home. He doesn't need babysitting." It was nice that Gail had taken care of Chris. Of course, every time Gail had worried something wasn't right, she'd called Holly, which had been amusing and annoying all at once.
"I suppose that's good."
"Eh. It's okay. I don't think Dov gets it." She shook her head. "So hey, date tonight?"
Holly winced. "This is a terrible idea. Why did I let you and Lisa talk me into this?"
"Because you've been single for three years! You need get laid, Stewart."
"Please, say that louder." Holly groaned and hunched her shoulders. "And you know what, maybe I'm totally happy with being single? I have great friends-"
Gail interrupted. "Present company excluded, your friends are petty and dull compared to you."
Ugh. Why did Gail have to start on that again. "I have an awesome job-"
"Which your, self proclaimed, best friends on the planet don't get."
"You are not helping."
Gail tossed her hands up. "You're being stubborn and dense! I actually checked this one out. She's smart, she's an artist, and she's kinda hot. Not as hot as I am, but hey, who is?"
Holly felt an unwelcome blush creep up her neck. It was true she'd noticed the attractiveness of Gail a few times. The woman was drop dead gorgeous. And she was also dating the sort of dim and buff Chris Diaz. Holly liked him, and Dov. They were nice people. But she couldn't see why Gail was slumming it with Diaz.
No. She could. Holly had met Gail's parents. Not in the 'hey I'm your daughter's friend!' way, but in the more acceptable way that people who worked together in the same building might meet. Chris was simple and unoffensive and probably good in bed. And Gail needed something in her life that wasn't pressuring her into the career she didn't want but had no choice in.
Gail was a Peck. Pecks were cops. No matter what Gail wanted out of life, she had to be a cop. She had to be at least as good as her brother, the youngest detective in his class. Already Gail had 'failed' by not having as good an arrest record as her mother (though she had a better one than her father). Holly had seen, first hand, the pressure her family put on the blonde. Just one night, at the Penny, Gail was approached by three Pecks and reminded in varying degrees of 'subtle' that she should support her family, following a suspicious arrest.
Later on, Gail explained what had happened with her brother's partner a few months prior, and how it was still something they were touchy on. Months later. Holly could only imagine how strangely stressful it would be to have every police moment thrown at you like that. Constantly.
So in that sense, Chris made perfect sense. Chris was unlikely to be offensive, he wasn't pliable in that he didn't actually seem to care how dating Gail affected his career, and he was easily discarded. That was what Gail had said, actually. He was easily discardable. And she hadn't said it with any ounce of enjoyment. It was just acceptance in what her life was.
And even if Gail wasn't dating Chris Diaz, there was absolutely no indication that she was into women, let alone Holly. Whom Gail knew was a lesbian. It didn't really help that Gail had the most blasé reaction to Holly being a lesbian. They'd been talking in the lab one day and Gail had mentioned she was shitty at relationships. Holly, without thinking, said she had been as well, but then she'd figured out she was a lesbian. Without turning a hair, Gail said she just hated most people.
No, Holly just needed to shelve her little crush in the back.
"I feel like we should go get drunk," said Holly with a deep sigh.
"God, yes," replied Gail. "After you actually go on a date. One of us should have a successful and functional relationship."
Holly arched her eyebrows. "Chris is…"
"Chris. I feel like I'm on borrowed time. It's going too well." Gail plucked at her muffin.
"Gail, not every relationship blows up in your face."
Her friend looked at her dryly. "Did I ever tell you about Nick?"
"Ah. Nicholas Collins. The bad boy with no parents and a motorcycle. He pissed my mom off to no end." She smiled a little. "We were engaged."
Holly blinked. "Wow. What happened?"
"We were in Vegas." Gail paused and played with her napkin. "He went to get some fresh air and never came back."
Suddenly, Holly wanted to punch Nick in the face. She just wanted to scream at him that treating anyone like that, least of all someone as cool as Gail, was inexcusable "Wow… Wow— Just … Holy crap, what an asshole."
"Steve ran a check on him, after picking me up from the airport… And he bought the ticket… Anyway, turned out the idiot joined the army. He's in Afghanistan right now." Gail sighed. "You know, stupid me, I kinda thought he was the one. Right? Stupid. But I thought I could be me with him, and then he just fucked off."
Holly frowned. "Be you? You're not you?"
Gail shook her head. "No. Not… No."
Well that was weird. "You lost me, Gail."
"I'm bitchy Gail with them. The angry one. They like her. I don't get to be me with them. Sends 'em running every time. Like I can't be more than one thing." She sighed and dropped her napkin. "I want to be more things. I am more things."
Biting the inside of her cheek, Holly nodded. She could see all the things that made up Gail. She was falling for them. Hard. The bitchy, the mean, the gentle, the sarcastic. Gail was all the things she'd been looking for in a woman, and she was straight.
Holly sighed. How dumb was she? Falling for her straight friend.
"Fine. Let's set me up so I can complain about stupid girlfriends."
"That's the spirit," laughed Gail.
The best thing about Holly was that, when Gail showed up in uniform and asked if she could crash on the couch, the doctor waved her to the guest room, found her some sweats, and broke out the ice cream.
"It's my mom," Gail said finally. Not that Holly had asked. Yet another reason Holly was the greatest person ever.
"The super? What'd she want now?"
"Mommy daughter time at work." Gail hunched her shoulders. "She wanted women to see two generations at work."
Holly sipped her tea and looked thoughtful. "Okay. What's bad about that?"
Gail hugged her knees and pressed her face into them, feeling the uncomfortable tightening in her gut. The stress of her mother, plus the idea of public speaking, plus the stress of Peck, was leaking out. She shook her head. "It ... " Gail's breath hitched. Damn it. This was why she bailed after Chris bought her time. She couldn't even talk about it.
He would have just run off if he knew what a mess she was. Everyone always did. Gail Peck, the latest heir to the dynasty, couldn't speak in public, couldn't just stand up and be a marionette for her family. It hurt. It actually physically hurt her to talk about it, because after explaining her mother wanted her to do a thing, Gail would have to explain more than just the self-sufficient laws that governed the Pecks.
And yet Holly stayed. "Gail. You're having a panic attack, honey..." A hand rested on her shoulder. "Gail, listen to me okay? Take a breath. Can you breathe with me?"
Listening to Holly's calm voice was helpful. She had something to focus on instead of the crawling terror. Holly went on, her words mellow and smooth. Soothing. She repeated simple phrases, encouraging Gail to breathe and relax.
"There you go," said Holly at length. "Better, right? Take a deep breath. Slow. And easy. Okay." Holly rubbed Gail's shoulder. "Wow, your crazy parents did a number on you."
Gail shook her head. "It's stupid," she whispered.
"No, it's not. If it freaks you out, it's not stupid, honey."
Sighing, Gail closed her eyes. "She just wanted me to do interviews."
The hand on her shoulder paused. "You're afraid of public speaking?"
At first Gail nodded, but then she shook her head and nodded. "Failure."
"Honey, everyone fails," Holly pointed out.
She grimaced and looked at Holly sadly. "Holly, my parents are already disappointed in me enough."
"I will never understand them," grumbled Holly. "You're smart, top of your class, a good cop. So you're not just like them. Isn't diversity good?"
Gail found herself smiling as Holly launched into a diatribe about genetic diversity. There was something about it, the babbling and medical ranting, that just soothed her jangled nerves. "I'm not the right kind of Peck," she said quietly.
And Holly, wonderful Holly, snorted. "Idiots. Them, not you."
The arm around her squeezed once and let go. "Don't you have to give a speech at the academy?"
Gail nodded. "I was 'sick.' Of course." She made the air quotes and Holly rolled her eyes. "I don't like being up in front of people. Stared at." Gail slouched into the couch.
"And the superintendent wants you to be the next superintendent?"
Morose, Gail nodded again. "Steve made detective fast, the first in his class. So I'm supposed to, but I don't want to be a detective."
"What do you want to be?"
As Gail opened her mouth to answer, she felt an unfamiliar tightness in her chest. It wasn't panic. It wasn't fear. But it hurt. It was agony. It ached. Something inside her burned her raw and Gail felt hot tears carving their paths down her cheeks. She gasped for air, struggling out of a sea of the unknown.
Holly looked terrified for a moment. "Gail? Hey, hey, I'm right here." The hand was back on her shoulder, gently rubbing. "Okay? Just breathe for me. In and out."
Shaking her head, Gail wiped her face with her shirt sleeve. "I'm not... I'm not having a panic attack," she said thickly.
"Oh." Holly sounded confused.
"I think. I think you're the first person who's ever asked me that."
It took a moment for the words to sink in for Holly. Gail watched her friend's face contort into abject horror at the idea that no one in Gail's life had asked her that. "What? Ever?"
Gail nodded. "Not even school." She exhaled. That was the feeling. Empathy. Someone cared about her, how she felt. "I'm a Peck. We're cops."
Shaking her head, Holly surged to her feet. "Okay, now I'm pissed. Jesus, you're a person, Gail! You're allowed to have your own fucking dreams!" She'd never heard Holly swear like that before, and Gail snickered a laugh. "It's not funny, Gail! I'm serious! What mental rejects are they!? And your brother just goes along with it? What the hell is wrong with them?!"
"You don't even know," said Gail, trying not to laugh. It wasn't funny. It wasn't funny at all. And yet it was absolutely hilarious. "Holly, you barely know me. Why do you care so much?"
Her friend paused in her pacing. "Because you're my friend." Holly looked confounded again.
Clearly to Holly this was the most simple, obvious, thing in the world. Gail was her friend. Friends helped friends.
If only she'd met Holly years ago.
As she looked at Holly, Gail felt a warmth she wasn't very familiar with. Affection? She did like Holly a lot. A lot more than anyone else, frankly. And she could talk to Holly about anything. But was she just using her?
Gail sighed. "I suck as a friend, Holly."
The brunette smiled. "No you don't. You, Gail, are incredibly loyal. What more could a friend want?"
"Uh. Sympathy? Comfort? Help moving?"
"I don't help people move," Gail said seriously.
"I'll keep that in mind," Holly said dryly, but smiling. "But. You should."
"Help people move? No thank you."
Holly smacked her shoulder and sat down again. "Think about what you want to be."
Gail grimaced and leaned back. "I have no idea."
"Do you like being a cop?"
She shrugged. "I never thought about being anything else—" Gail cut herself off. "Oh."
Holly poked her with her foot. "Oh? What does oh mean, Gail?"
With a sigh, Gail shook her head. "It doesn't matter. It was just something stupid, y'know? I wanted to be an astronaut."
"So did I," said Holly. "All the cool science experiments you could do in space! Did you know we only sent one scientist to the moon?! How crazy is that, right?"
Gail smiled. "I wanted to go to Mars. Be away from my parents."
Holly's excitement faded. "Oh."
"Yeah." Gail shrugged. It wasn't like she didn't know her family's unrealistic expectations were hard. Maybe if she'd been born first it would have been easier. The pressure to succeed was constantly being battered by the recognition that her brother had gotten there first.
It didn't matter how well Gail ever did, she'd never be good enough for them.
"I think. I think we need another drink," said Holly firmly. "And then I'm gonna kick your ass at Death Domain."
Gail smiled. "Never gonna happen, nerd."
For now, she could have a friend though. And maybe that would be enough.
The number of times Gail had shown up at her townhouse looking emotionally defeated was surprisingly high. Holly wasn't quite sure why life felt like it needed to shit all over her friend, but Gail's luck with most things, especially people, was terrible. This last time, the latest time, Gail had arrived around dinner time in the rain. The thin hoodie sweatshirt under her leather jacket was soaked through and Gail's expression was one of a puppy kicked too many times.
Chris had kicked her out.
Chris had dumped her and kicked her out because Gail had chosen not tell him that Dov, high on painkillers, had professed his love for her.
And since Gail had been, basically, living with Chris, her options were to go home to her parents or to seek the shoulder of, as Gail put it, her only real friend.
Of course Holly was willing to have Gail stay with her as long as needed. Her increasingly inappropriate crush on Gail not withstanding, Gail was her friend. And Gail needed a friend. Not a wanna be girlfriend.
Also Gail was straight.
Which had nothing to do with why Gail was on the phone just then. "No, it doesn't look like they stole anything else." Else? Holly hadn't heard Gail mention anything was stolen at all. The cop studied the window and then the room. "Just my uniform."
Holly blinked. They stole Gail's uniform? "Are you sure?" She covered her mouth as soon as she spoke. Gail wasn't talking to her.
Gail nodded. "Yes, I'm sure." She pointed at the phone, reminding Holly she was on it. "They broke the window in the guest room and my spare uniform was on the bed... Jesus, Homicide, why the hell do you care? ... Uh huh. Yeah, we'll wait for forensics." Gail hung up the phone and swore.
"This is ... Is is very peculiar." Holly rubbed her own upper arms. "I'm sorry."
"Not your fault." Gail backed out of the room and rubbed her face. "Forty-eight fucking Pecks in the city. Four. Eight. Twenty-six of us in uniform. Nine women. And this fucking idiot steals my uniform and shoots someone."
"I'm sorry," repeated Holly.
She did feel sorry. Gail had been so stressed and so withdrawn that Holly had all but dragged her on a run that morning. As they'd been on their way back to Holly's, someone Gail only referred to as 'Homicide' called. Gail was a suspect in a murder. When they'd gotten home, literally seconds later, the break in was discovered.
Gail shook her head and sat down on the floor. "Someone short and blonde in a uniform that says 'Peck' shot and killed a man at six forty. Thank god it wasn't my gun."
"Well... It wasn't you. I'm your alibi, right?"
"I'm not a suspect. The perp bled, cut their arm. Quick whatever it was... Wrong blood type for a Peck."
"That. Yes." Gail sighed. "Homicide and forensics will be here. Along with my idiot classmates."
Immediately Holly knew exactly what was going to happen. She grimaced. "I'm somewhat glad they didn't unlock your bedroom door."
Gail eyed her. "I'm glad they didn't get my gun or badge. Jesus, my mother's already going to skin me alive." She paused. "Why didn't the alarm go off?"
That was a good question, and sadly one Holly knew the answer to right away. "I ... I may have forgotten to turn it on."
For the first time ever, Holly was the recipient of a particular look from Gail. Disappointment with a shade of 'how could you be so stupid' mixed in. "Well. Fuck. Holly, you can't do that." The blonde sounded more weary than anything else. "You're a single woman, living alone, on the last townhouse on the row. You're ... You're a target! You have weird hours, too, so someone is totally going to hit your house." Now Gail's voice rose. "Jesus, what if it had been a murderer?"
When her friends harassed her about those things, Holly blew them off. She made light of them. But this... This was asked by a cop. Someone who knew better. Oh it still rankled, but Holly knew Gail was right.
"Technically I'm not living alone," muttered Holly, defensively.
"You will be soon." Gail closed her eyes and thudded her head against the wall. "As soon as the great and mighty Mama Peck hears about this, my ass is going to under house arrest for ... Oh. Ever. Gail Peck. Permanent disappointment."
Holly was stunned. "You're an adult! You're... You're twenty-four! She can't just arbitrarily decide you're moving home."
"Calculatedly." Gail's voice went flat. "She knows I'm staying here, Holly. She's letting me stay here because I'm having a little rebellion. But if I stay, if I tried to stay, she'd use it to target you. Suddenly, you'd find yourself on the night shift, forever. Or never promoted. And yeah, it would be my fault."
The trouble was, Holly realized, Gail was probably right. She sat down beside Gail. "Please don't bash your head against my wall."
"Why? Maybe I can just numb myself so I don't have to feel anything anymore."
Silently, Holly took Gail's near hand, threading their fingers together. It was greedy, stealing a moment like this to keep herself near Gail. Masochistic too, certainly. But she cared about Gail in a way that defied logic. The woman who talked about dead humans with respect. The woman haunted by the pressure of her name. Gail drew her in. Holly liked the bitchy princess who had a dark sense of humor and snapped at people.
"Because then we couldn't hang out."
Gail's fingers twitched. "I'm not sure we should be." She sounded sad. No. Defeated.
"No, I'm serious. I hate it, because you're the only person on the planet who gives a shit about me, but..." Gail shook her head. "I don't want to fuck your career over."
As much as Holly wanted to say it wouldn't, she couldn't. The hanging threat of Elaine Peck was not a vague or hypothetical one. There was a dread fact they both knew, that Elaine could and would do whatever she could to get what she wanted. Gail had warned her and, shortly after Gail all but moved in to the guest room, Elaine had shown up at Holly's office and told her not to get too attached. That Gail would move on, sooner or later. And that it would be for Holly's best interests.
Holly was pretty sure Elaine knew about her crush, too.
Before she could say anything, Gail spoke again. "When the cops get here, let me talk."
"Because you're a cop?"
"Because... I want to protect you from my Mom."
Holly stared at Gail. Protect. How could Gail call herself a bad friend? Here she was, offering to take a proverbial bullet for her. "Gail, don't."
"Please. Let me, Holly." Gail turned and looked incredibly earnest. "Please."
It was the please that did it. It was the soft, gentle way Gail asked to stand in the line of fire for her. And it broke Holly's heart. She found herself nodding and, when the mysterious man named 'Homicide' turned out to be Luke Callaghan, Holly found herself letting Gail tell the story. Then went for a run, Luke called, they came back, the condo was broken into.
"Why was the alarm off?" Luke glanced at Holly, curiously.
"I was being a brat about running," said Gail. "I distracted her."
Luke looked at Gail for a long moment. "You want to do it like that?" When Gail nodded, they both glanced at Holly. "Yeah, okay. You're right." He sighed. "Okay. Get dressed. Let's go find the idiot."
Once Gail vanished into her guest room, Holly cleared her throat. "Exactly how much trouble is Gail in?"
"From the force? None. Your place got broken into, it happens. From her mother... I shudder to think." Luke tucked his notebook away. "Don't forget the alarm again. You're living alone, Dr. Stewart."
Holly nodded. "What about the girl who took her uniform? How much trouble will she be in?"
"A lot. Depending on why she did it, though." The man studied her for a long moment. "Thank you. For putting Gail up for a while. She's not the easiest person to get along with."
"Everyone says that," sighed Holly. "I like her. She's ... She's a good person."
His lips quirked into a smile. "She can be."
The door opened and Gail walked out carrying her two duffle bags. "Okay, Homicide, let's roll."
Holly's heart dropped. She didn't have to look at the room to know Gail had packed up everything. She was leaving. "So. I'll ... See you tomorrow?"
"I'll call you later," said Gail. She sounded like the outside world Gail, the one who was mistreated and angry. Resigned to being hated. Gail glanced at Luke who held his hands up.
"I'll wait in my car," said Luke, and he walked out.
Kicking the floor, Holly looked at Gail's feet. "I don't ... I want ... Damnit Gail."
"Hey. Not your fault, Holly." Weary. Gail was weary. "This shit happened and it is what it is and ... Thank you."
Holly nodded. "You're my friend, Gail."
"Still. No one... You're the only ... Just ... Fuckit, Holly, say 'you're welcome' or something. Okay?"
They both smiled. "One condition. I will say 'you're welcome' if you promise we're still going to hang out. Because I like you."
Gail froze. She slowly, slowly, nodded. "Okay. But not if Mom threatens you."
"Fine. Fine." Holly rolled her eyes. "You're welcome. You can stay here any time." And she hugged Gail briefly. "Go catch your thief. And if there was a good reason, go easy on her."
Gail hesitated and then nodded. "Okay." She hitched her bag on her shoulder and went for the front door.
"Gail?" Holly waited until Gail turned to look at her. "I am sorry."
For a moment, Gail looked forlorn. Pained. Then she nodded. "Thanks." And Gail walked out the door, leaving Holly feeling empty.
Chris elbowed her at the bar. "You gotta stop leading her on."
Eyeing her ex-boyfriend, Gail scowled. "Leading who on what?"
"Holly. She's crushing on you."
Gail glanced back at the table where Holly was laughing at something Traci was saying. "No she's not."
"She thinks you're attractive."
Gail smacked Chris in the forehead. "First of all, I am hot. Everyone looks at me like that, Chris. I'm fucking catnip to lesbians." Turning back to the bar, she picked up half the glasses. "Second, just because Holly's a lesbian doesn't mean she's into every woman. And third, she's my friend, you moron."
"I was your friend before we dated."
With a sigh, Gail shook her head. "No, Chris. You were not." She walked back to the table and handed out the drinks.
"What's up with Chris?" Dov frowned as he took a beer.
"He's upset because I told him we weren't friends before we dated. Oh, and Holly, he thinks you have a thing for me."
Holly coughed as she drank. "I what?"
"I know, right? Apparently pea brain here can't imagine a lesbian having a chick friend without wanting to jump her!" Gail sighed and sat down. "Which is why I argue we were not friends before we had sex, Chris."
"Uh, you said dating," said Chris, confused.
Gail rolled her eyes. "Our first date we had sex in your truck, moron. Same thing."
"Nice, real nice," said Dov, sarcastically. "I'm never using that truck again."
"You took apart my game to make a pretend bomb with Sue," countered Gail.
"You left it at my apartment!"
"It wasn't yours!"
The argument about that with Dov was comfortable. After the Chris fiasco, Dov had slowly sided with Gail. Chris had rankled, but then seemed to move on as if he and Gail had never dated. A fact Gail was happy to correct for him, regularly. Because they had dated, and Chris was still a fucking asshole about it.
Really, Chris had just reinforced her suspicion that no one was really ever going to pick her first. She could cry that nothing had happened with Dov until she was blue in the face, but Chris chose to side with Dov. He sacrificed Gail for a friend.
Holly had said it well, telling Gail that Chris could have had both, he could have believed that Gail was trying to protect them both. Whatever convoluted story Chris told himself to explain why Gail left out the details, he could suck it. The best Gail could guess was he thought she had feelings for Dov.
Sure. A friendship.
At least Dov was apologetic about it, and defended Gail to Chris, but it was a lost cause. He was a lost cause. First assholes like Nick. Then idiots like Chris. It was why, as she'd told Holly, she wasn't going to date anyone for as long as possible. Sex, fine, but no relationships. People sucked.
"Whatever," said Dov at length, laughing. "Am I the only person with a successful relationship?"
Chris flinched. Gail rolled her eyes. "You're terrified Sue might break you, so you do what she wants."
Beside her, Holly snorted a laugh. "I've met Sue. I can see that."
"She's okay," said Gail with a shrug. "I'm done with relationships. They all suck, and people suck, and I hate them."
"And yet you're here," said Dov.
Gail pointed at Holly. "She's my friend. You two I tolerate because you're easy to beat at video games."
Dov looked hurt. "I'm not your friend?"
Holly poked her. "You're allowed to have multiple friends."
Shaking her head, Gail sipped her drink. "Not the point. You, Holly, are the only person who even listened to my side about anything and helped me. They both picked themselves first. Which you know, I get it. Whatever makes me happy, I'm for. But that doesn't make 'em good friends."
"I'll settle for being a convenient friend," said Dov with a shrug. "It's about the best you can get out of Gail. And she's, y'know, loyal."
Gail smiled, feeling justified.
But the back of her brain clung to Chris' statement. She never intended to lead anyone on, ever, but it wasn't her fault that people always hit on her. Holly was different from all her other friends as well. Holly had her back and let her rant without judging her and was… Well she was the friend people talked about in movies. And Gail adored her for it.
Sure, she was a little more touchy-feely than normal with Holly, but Gail felt comfortable around her. She could be herself, and not worry about being the Peck or the Legacy or the next White Shirt (which frankly she didn't even want). But was she accidentally leading Holly on?
As she and Holly walked to Holly's car at the end of the night, Holly prattling on adorably about the paper she was working on, analyzing an autopsy.
"Huh?" Holly stopped talking.
"Chris thinks I'm leading you on."
Holly stared at her. "Leading me on... Like romantically?"
"Yeah. He thinks, and I admit he has a point here, that I'm catnip to lesbians. And obviously I'm leading you on."
"Wow." Holly laughed. "Wow, Chris has quite the imagination."
Gail grinned. "I know, right?" She elbowed Holly.
"And you are quite the egotist."
"Hey! I'm hot! That's not my fault!"
"Oh please. I see how you dress. All femme fatal, ice princess. You're stunning, you know it, and you use it."
Smirking, Gail shrugged. "Looking this way is not my fault. Using it to my advantage, I'll give you."
Holly laughed again and unlocked her car door. But there was something about the laugh that made Gail wonder. Maybe. Just maybe. Maybe Chris had a point.
Gail hated hospitals. Holly knew it. That was why Holly hadn't called Gail for a ride home. Earlier that year, when Gail was still dating Chris, she'd been exposed to a crazy virus and had been terrified of dying. After she'd been cleared, Gail had shown up for their regular drinks and explained to Holly how much she detested hospitals.
Even so, it was the hurried footsteps of a girl she knew way too well that pulled Holly out of her mental recitation of the veins in the body. It was her way of not passing out while the nurse removed the IV.
"Officer Peck," said a familiar voice. "I'm ... I'm her friend. Is she okay?"
"Ma'am, yes, Miss Stewart is fine—"
"Doctor. She's Dr. Stewart. They said she was shot?"
"Gail, I'm okay," said Holly, raising her voice. The nurse checking her vitals gave her an eye. "Sorry. She's noisy."
The blonde head popped into her room. "Holly! What the hell? Who cleared the scene?"
"Salvador. Gail, I was shot at. I'm fine."
"Uh huh. You're a porcupine." Gail gestured at the nurse.
The nurse rolled her eyes. "She's fine. Possible concussion, which is why she needs a ride home. I presume that's you?"
Gail nodded quickly. "Got your car downstairs. I'm gonna punch Sal and then we're good."
"Gail." Holly sighed, exasperated. "Please, I just want to go home."
Nodding again, Gail turned to the nurse. "Brief me. What do I have to know?"
Holly sighed and closed her eyes, leaning back as Gail got the run down on every possible aspect of a concussion. Then Gail signed Holly out, wheeled her to the car, and took her home. It was a relief not to have to think about it anymore.
Along the ride, Holly babbled for a little while until she slid into a quieter frame of mind and then, finally, dozed a little. She was woken up by Gail's gentle shake to her shoulder and request that Holly wake up and come inside.
"My head hurts," she muttered, letting Gail unbuckle her.
"You bashed it into the ground."
"Stupid robber." The gunshot had started Holly, sending her toppling, whacking her head on the cement. Salvador had caught the bad guy and called it in, but Holly had four stitches on the back of her head and a merry cocktail of drugs.
"Come on, nerd. You need to clean up."
"Can't even shower," complained Holly, but she leaned up Gail and followed her into the townhouse.
She was too tired to express surprise as Gail helped her clean up, washed her hair, even gave her a bit of a sponge bath, and tucked her into bed with an icepack. "Alright, don't fall asleep, I'm just gonna change."
Holly held a hand up, thumbs up, and tried to stay very still. The pounding in her head had not fully subsided, but being clean certainly made her feel a little better. When Gail came back in, she spoke up. "Why are you here?"
"Because you need a babysitter, your sister is out of town on that conference, and your parents live in Quebec." Gail put a tray down on the bed. "Okay, wanna try eating something?"
"You're being nice. Gail, you're never nice."
"I'm nice to you." Gail picked the icepack up. "Come on, sit up."
Holly groaned but sat up. A pillow was wedged behind her and Holly took in the tray. Tea. Toast. Applesauce. "I don't have the flu."
"No, but head injuries tend to make you nauseous."
"Well. Me." Gail picked up a slice of the toast and bit into it. "If you can eat this, we can do grown up food."
With a sigh, Holly took a bite. Gail was right about two things. Her stomach was a little unsettled, but also the toast helped. "How many head injuries have you had?"
"Looking for an explanation to my behavior?" Gail smirked. "Four. My brother hit me with a nightstick once, we were supposed to be practicing. I fell out of a tree at the cottage when I was ten, got stitches for that. Once was at the academy, how I met Nash actually. She's got a mean right hook. And the last one was a perp."
Holly was amused. "Nash? Really?"
"She's a boxer." Gail mimed a punch. "That's why she was our ringer on Fite Nite."
Gail looked surprised. "Inter division boxing. Lots of booze. It's pretty fun."
"I'm kind of shocked you like it."
The laughter was bright. The kind that made Holly feel warm inside. "I love boxing. Fighting. MMA stuff. All that cool stuff. Not wrestling though, totally fake."
Holly grinned. "You like watching boxing. Wow. And here I thought you'd get all weird if you knew I was a black belt."
To her delight, Gail looked elated. "What? Really! What kind?"
"Brazilian Jujitsu. A lot of ground work, but it's fun." Holly's thought train skidded to a halt as Gail leaned into her. There was something warm about the woman along side her.
"You okay? Your face is flushed."
"Headache," sighed Holly. Which was true. Her head was killing her.
"Finish the food. I'll give you yummy narcotics for desert."
Holly sighed. "They're not narcotics. You're going to wake me up all night, too, aren't you?"
As much as she wanted to stay there, with Gail, Holly had to confess. "I'm tired."
But without giving Holly any guff about being sleepy, Gail cleaned up the dishes and brought a book back, as well as a bottle of water. "Okay. You're going to put on your little eye mask and sleep. I'll be right here."
At first Holly wondered how she could possibly sleep with the beautiful woman in her bed, but she was pretty sure she was out like a light. The memories of the night were a blur. She recalled answering that there were 206 bones in the human body, that neon was a noble gas, and the shoulder was also the glenohumeral joint.
Gail. Those things all had to be Gail.
So did the smell of coffee.
"Oh my god, I love you," said Holly, sliding her glasses on and looking up at the blonde, in her uniform, holding a breakfast tray.
"That's an improvement from telling me to fuck off." Gail smirked and put the tray down.
Coffee. Toast again, with jam and butter. Eggs. "You hate eggs."
"You like them. All I know how to make are scrambled."
It was precious. Gail looked worried. "I'm sure it's fine." Holly took a bite and was delighted that it was more than edible. "Why're you dressed for work?"
Gail looked down at her own shirt. "Because I have to go in today. Lisa's coming over, though."
Ugh. "Must she?"
"Yes. Rachel has some trial thing that I didn't care about and Lisa just has to juggle boobs." Gail smirked. "The doctor said you needed supervision."
"He exaggerates. I don't have a concussion."
"Uh huh. Suddenly I see why people say doctors make the worst patients." Gail picked up the second coffee and went back downstairs.
Holly sighed and looked for her phone, to tell Lisa not to come. No phone. Damn it. "Gail! Where's my phone?"
"In your office. Eat breakfast."
She contemplated getting out of bed, but Holly realized Gail had her best interests. And Lisa would likely just want to Netflix and nap. If only that would quell the giddiness she'd felt of having Gail take care of her that night.
"Have you ever touched one?"
Holly looked confused. "One what?"
Her friend made a face. "No. Not outside of work, and no, Gail."
Gail laughed. "I wasn't going there, but since you did—" A pillow hit her in the face. "Ow!"
"You are such a crybaby for a cop. And you know what, I should ask you if you've ever touched someone else's vagina."
With a shrug, Gail hugged the pillow. "Nope. Kissed. Fondled a girl's boob. Didn't get any further than that"
Holly stared at her. "Wait a second. What?"
"I kissed a girl? Was that weird?"
Gail snorted. "Don't be a prude, Holly."
"I'm just .. You've kissed a girl?"
"More than one." Gail leaned back. "College. Post Nick." And there they were, back at the elephant in the room.
Holly pushed a beer closer towards Gail. "You don't have to talk about it."
She didn't feel like another beer. Two days ago, she'd drunk Nick under the table. "He said that it was good to see I was still in there." Gail sunk into Holly's couch.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Holly looked curious and like she found the statement distasteful.
"He thinks the old me was more fun."
"Well he almost married the old you."
Gail smirked. "Thanks for reminding me."
"Hey, you're the one who called him 'the one' y'know." Holly even made the air quotes. "So… what, he knew you five years ago?"
"Yeah." Gail closed her eyes. "I don't share popcorn. I sleep with my socks on when it's cold. I listen to Kelly Clarkson."
She waited for some sort of derisive comment, but Holly just looked thoughtful. "What songs? I'm more of a Taylor Swift girl, but some of Kelly's stuff is good."
Gail blinked. "It was … It was one song."
"Oh! Is it Breakaway? I love that song!"
She gaped. "Seriously?"
"Oh come on, it's great. Did you know Avril Lavigne wrote it?"
"I … Did not know that." Gail smiled, feeling weirdly warm and safe all of the sudden. Jesus, why couldn't Nick be like this? Holly was practically perfect. She was smart, funny, didn't take Gail's shit or try to change her. All the stupid things that had gone on in the last year would not have been survivable without Holly. From the breakup to the break in (which technically was Holly's fault anyway), having her as a friend who cared had been amazing.
She was just the coolest person and Gail couldn't imagine her life without Holly anymore. She was absolutely perfect, from the smile to the laugh to the sense of humor.
The feeling clicked. Not something she'd really felt before, but something she'd heard people talk about. It was the feeling people like McNally described as falling in love. Butterflies in her stomach, heart racing, and a stupid, stupid, desire to see Holly smile as much as possible.
Holly sung the chorus. "I'll spread my wings, and I'll learn how to fly. I'll do what it takes till I touch the sky… Yeah, it's just a good song."
Nope, no denying that one. Holly singing made Gail blush to her roots. Quickly picking up the beer and taking a swig, Gail tried to ignore the fluttering feeling in her stomach when Holly smiled. "That's the one," said Gail, nearly mumbling.
Shit. There was a trope about falling in love with a best friend, two tropes actually. There was the one where a woman figured out she was a lesbian because she'd fallen for her BFF and the other where the lesbian fell for her straight BFF. Gail wouldn't ever say love, not now or here, but she was totally felling something for Holly. And it could be at a worse time in her life, but frankly Gail wasn't quite sure how. Having feelings for her best friend, right when stupid Nick had showed back up into her life, was ...
Well screw Nick, first of all.
"What are you going to do? About Nick?" Holly looked thoughtful.
"What?" Gail felt her face heat up.
"You still kinda like him," said Holly, gesturing at the flush.
Oh Jesus. "Kinda don't, no," snarled Gail. "Unless by feeling you mean I want to introduce his face to the feeling of my fist."
Holly rolled her eyes. "Violence is not the answer to everything." She paused. "Or anything."
"Nick... It's just going to be Chris all over again," said Gail, bitterly. "He wants the idea of me, but he doesn't want the real me. He liked angry, rebelling Gail. Chris liked ice princess Gail."
Her friend nodded, sympathetically. "I don't know angry rebel Gail. What's she like?"
Gail hesitated and then pulled her phone out. As much as she denied the existence of the video, she had a copy of herself arguing her way out of a parking ticket while her mouth was full of Novocain. And she showed it to Holly.
The brunette watched the video and laughed. "Oh my god... You are so sensitive to drugs!"
What? Gail blinked. "I'm what?"
"You're high as a kite!" Holly grinned and paused the video. "Look at your eyes. I bet you get stoned out of your mind on opiates."
For a moment, all Gail could do was stare at Holly. Because she was right. "Yeah... How the hell did you know that?"
"Doctor," said Holly, and she waved a hand. "I'm sorry, but this is funny as hell. The hair is funnier."
The hair was jet black and short. "Thanks," snarled Gail and she grabbed her phone back.
Holly laughed again. "The color. Black is ... Too harsh. Dark brown maybe. With your skin, wow. But the cut was sexy as hell."
Gail felt flustered. "I cut it off after Vegas."
"Ah, which explains why you're still growing it out?" Holly canted her head to one side. "What's your real color?"
"Red-blonde. Not strawberry, just... Golden?" She flipped through photos until she found one and showed it.
"Huh. That's ..." Holly squinted. "Less dramatic. I think I like this better. Femme fatale." She handed the phone back. "We talk, right?"
"We do," said Gail, cautiously.
"Okay. I'm gonna ask. Why didn't you get any further with girls?"
Gail's stomach dropped as she realized how bad this was. There was no way Holly could know, though. "It's stupid."
"Oh come on. I told you I didn't like kissing men because their lips were hard!"
The thing was, she didn't want to lie to Holly. Gail sighed. "My mother. She's not very accepting of 'alternative lifestyles,' especially sexually." For starters, Elaine would kill Gail if she went out with a woman. Or disown her. Kick her out, certainly. And damn it, in college it had been easy to brush off the idea of kissing a girl as a passing fancy.
But looking at Holly and her sad face at the idea of Gail's mother being a homophobe, Gail felt pain. Actual, physical, pain. Because she was struck by the fact that she wanted to make Holly feel better, to hug her and maybe even kiss her, and Jesus had Holly always been that hot?