***October 19, 2022***
"Eames," Robert Goren said, "did you catch what Sharon posted on her Facebook page yesterday?"
"I was texting Holly about my manuscript or Lizzie most of the day, so I never checked Facebook." Alexandra Eames smiled to herself at the use of her last name, her husband's term of endearment for her, and drifted from the kitchen counter where she'd just finished making a cup of blackberry tea to check out his cell phone over his shoulder; he was sitting comfortably at the table finishing his coffee. He held up his phone so she could clearly see the photo memory that Sharon Kovacs, the head server at the Dark Crystal, the restaurant and bar owned by their good friends Shard Carver and TJ Gomes, had shared from the previous year. Noted as "1 year ago," it was a shot of the two of them standing before the front door of the little Cape Cod house Bobby Goren had rented in the late summer of 2020, which they had lately finished renovating after purchasing it the previous year. Alex wore an elfin smile, with one hand at her forehead to keep her hair from her eyes, and Bobby's face was so full of joy that it made her throat tighten. Sharon's original notation stated "Just finished helping our good friends Bob and Alex move in together. Tired, but happy!" Her current message read "Happy homecoming anniversary, Alex!"
He tilted his head back and left to smile at her and she kissed his cheek and said, "Time's just flown by."
"That was a...momentous day," he said reflectively, reaching up to clasp the hand she had lightly laid on his shoulder.
"And then came the next day, when it all became real," she added, with a tiny thoughtful smile.
***October 19, 2021***
She was curled on her left side, warm and mostly asleep, but could hear him breathing easily next to herwait! he's not late for his shift, is he?
Her brain finally registered. The scent was wrong. Not Joe Dutton. Bobby Goren. Her old partner, now her lover and fiancée. Her sleepy mind had just taken a split-second 23-year time trip to the past.
Her eyes popped open, only to find him watching her. After a few seconds, a tentative smile flickered on his lips. He reached out with his left hand, brushed the hair from her eyes. "It's hit you finally, hasn't it?"
She made a wry face. "You do know it's disconcerting, having your thoughts read like that?"
He sighed, blinked. "I'm sorry, Alex. Habit. But it's written all over your face: 'what have I done?'"
She knew it had to happen. Since last Tuesday...since that kiss...everything had moved as if in double time. She'd always debated everything in her life, never made a decision without doing all the research, both as a detective and in her personal life, and now this. Oh, WednesdayWednesday she'd tried to fool herself that she was being sensible, but this wasn't a sensible situation, this was about what she wanted out of the rest of her life, and whether her feelings overwhelmed the facts or whether it was about time she did something to make herself happy.
And she knew he'd ask the inevitable question-
"Alex? You've always spoken your mindyou'd be honest with me? I didn't push, did I?"
She flashed on his admonishing note-to-self stuck in Dr. Grissom's textbook of forensic entomology: DON'T PUSHbut his eyes had told her everything the first two days back together; the thought that he missed her so intensely made her hurt and filled her with warmth at the same time. But it wasn't his reaction, it was hers...
"Don't," she said gently, laying her hand on his heart. "I swear. No. You never pushed." She bit her lip. "Last Tuesday night was everything I'd ever wanted. Oh, I won't deny I fought it on Wednesday. I didn't want to give into my feelingsJohnny Eames stubborn to the last. That's something I need to ask...but never mind." She took a deep breath. "I kept holding myself back Wednesday, all day, when all I wanted was to come back here, to you. I saw which way the current was flowing, Bobby, and the speed and the strength of it, and I stepped in anyway, because it was what I wanted; I let it take me freely...I promise."
They were in each other's embrace in a second, nose to nose.
"So," she said softly, "what's Tuesdaybesides tonight's trivia?"
"I...usually work," he admitted, then smiled a little. "Penelope doesn't expect me to work this week, though."
"She's very generous," Alex said meekly. "I'm sorry I...chewed her out."
"She likes you," Bobby replied. "And the way you stood up for me. I...uh...was flattered. So, we're free. What would you like to do today?"
She put her head down, only to have him kiss her forehead and make her blush. "You know, I moved here...and did nothing. Never went anywhere, saw anything. Just Wednesday shopping...that silly class...every Friday in the city. All I had to show for nine months living here was a Connecticut address." Now she met his steady eyes. "Show me around? Show me your Connecticut? I mean, if I wasn't here, and you were free, where would you go?"
He stifled a smile. "I'd probably go to the Book Barn. And yes, it really is in a barnused books. But it's a bit of a ride, over an hour out, east of here, in Niantic."
"Over an hour's drive? What, will we have to stay overnight?" she teased. "I didn't know you'd turned into a Rhode Islander."
His spontaneous laugh ran a happy thrum through her.
"If we walk Sam and then leave, eat breakfast on the road," he continued, "we'll have plenty of time. But surely you don't want to go bookstore-surfing with me, do you?"
"I lost a lot of favorites in that fire," she answered soberly. "I'd like to try to replace them."
He nuzzled her gratefully. "Most ladies wouldn't think of it as much of a date."
"I can always drag you shoe shopping with me, if you insist, and call it square," she joked. "So why not?"
Bobby's big tricolor collie, Sam, rescued from the animal shelter the previous year, was disappointed that Alex wouldn't run with him, but still trotted ahead of them good-naturedly, taking in all the scents of autumn. The trees were brilliant with color now, lemon, golden, orange, scarlet, plum. There were even a few rare white birch trees dotting the landscape, vertical slashes of cream when fronting spruce and pine. Then Bobby fed the dog, made sure he had enough water, and they headed out to his Camaro, with him dangling the keys before her. "Want to drive?"
She stopped, regarded him, then smiled. "No. This is your tour."
He flipped the keys in his hand, then slipped into the driver's seat with her next to him, and headed south toward New Haven. Quizzically, she asked, "Is this a date? Because I think we've done it backwardsthe marriage proposal and living together came first."
"C'mon, Eames," he chuckled, leaning back in the driver's seat, "when did we ever do anything that was expected of us?"
Just north of Oxford he slowed at a silver and red establishment on their right, with "Miller's Diner" emblazoned in red neon. There were only a few cars parked outside since it was after the breakfast rush, and he was able to park close to the double-front glass doors, which someone had painted with huge, colorful maple and oak leaves. He hopped from the sports car and was at Alex's passenger side to hold the door for her before she had even opened it.
"Why, Bobby," she reproved with a smile as she locked the door, "cheating on Shard and TJ?"
"Wait until you taste the coffee and you'll understand why."
Once inside, Alex felt like she'd been popped into a scene from Happy Days. While it wasn't original to the site, Miller's wasn't a gleaming modern approximation of a 1950s diner: it used vintage equipment; nor was the decor shiny and new, but had a fine patina of age about it (mounted on one wall was a photographic tale of how it had been salvaged from a defunct diner in Springfield, Massachusetts). The booths lining the outer, glassed-in wall were red vinyl seats matched with white Formica tables; a long Formica counter with classic "boomerang" outlines was stretched before the grill, fronted with red revolving stools. Fifties' era restaurant menus filled in any remaining walls. Bobby angled toward a booth, but Alex looked so longingly at the counter that they ended up on the two seats directly in front of the grill, where he had to rearrange his long legs and then he couldn't keep still and kept swiveling restlessly as she browsed the menu.
"What's good here besides the coffee?" she asked.
"I've never eaten anything bad here, but for breakfast I can recommend the waffles," he answered, just as the head server, a Black woman wearing a vintage diner uniform, a pale pink A-line dress with a white pointed collar and black piping, complete with a pink-and-black cap resembling an old nurse's cap and a name tag, approached. Her eyes lit up. "Why, Bob Goren, I haven't seen you since the summer!"
"Good morning, Celeste!" he responded cheerfully enough, but looking abashed.
The tall grey-haired man at the grill expertly flipped an egg and several rashers of bacon, then turned around to greet him as well. "Hey, Bob."
Alex smiled to herself as she ordered waffles, coffee, and orange juice with a side of bacon. Typically Bobbyhe knew everyone in the place and even asked after someone named Charlotte, whom he was told had found a job as a literature instructor at the University of New Haven, news he received with delight. The surprise was that everyone knew her name, something she had no opportunity to inquire about until a short, olive-skinned man with dark curly hair and moustache burst into the restaurant with a hearty "Roberto! Amigo!" and some backslapping ensued, after which Bobby abandoned his eggs and toast to check out Pedro Sosa's Dodge Charger.
"Men and their cars!" Celeste shook her head and Alex refrained from telling her that she was somewhat of a car buff, too. "You want more coffee, Alex?"
"Yes, please," she said approvingly, and then almost laughed aloud when she remembered the previous Tuesdayshe never did get the coffee Bobby had promised her after she'd walked him home after trivia. Instead she suppressed a smile at the memory of something oh-so-much-better. "Just wondering how all of you know my name."
"Oh, that was Charlotte's doing," Celeste said with a confiding smile. "She was working here while finishing graduate school. Divorced last year and her kid went out west after college, so she was completing her teaching degree. Bob was coming here for breakfast since early spring, always with a big book in his hand, and Charla saw a kindred spirit. He'd come in around now, our slack time, and I didn't mind her talking to him about books so long as she kept up with the other customers." Then she halted abruptly, biting her lip. "Say, you don't mind me"
Alex shook her head. "Bobby's always had...admirers," she admitted.
"Well, Charla certainly did admire him. About six weeks later she asked if he'd like to go to a lecture with her in Mystic about a writer they'd both been discussing"
"Herman Melville by any chance?" Alex asked puckishly.
"Yeah, how'd you know?"
"Not a surprise."
Mystified, Celeste continued, "So they went, and he offered to take her out for coffee afterwards, and, as she told me later, she...was pretty happy about this development. But they spent the whole meal talking about"
"That's what I would have figured, but then that's the only Melville book I remember from school. This one was about Billy somebody."
Billy Budd, Alex dredged up from her own high school English memories.
"So the server put the check down after they were halfway through their mealpoor form from a restaurant, I thinklet your folks finish their meal first!and Bob pulls out his wallet and Charlotte sees a photo of a woman in a uniform in there. Of course she's wondering 'shit, is he married?' and as casually as she can, asks who the lady is, if it's his sister. Instead, she said his eyes got 'funny looking'her words, not mine!and said, 'No, that's Alex, my best friend,' and spent a half hour talking about...well"
Alex was already pink, and now she ducked her head, embarrassed. "Me."
"After that, he and Charlotte still talked about books when he came in for breakfast," Celeste concluded, "but she never asked him anywhere again, and then he disappeared during July. This is the first time he's come back. I think he felt bad."
Bobby stuck his head back in the diner door. "Eames, you wanna come check this out? It's a Shelby."
She grinned at Celeste, who laughed. "Sure, why not?"
"You were right about the waffles," she told him when they got back on the road. "Even good gone cold while you look at a classic car."
"Wasn't that a boss car?" he asked happily, resting his left arm out the open window; it was still only in the 50s but they both had worn warm jackets and Alex a pink-and-white watch cap, so they could freely enjoy the autumnal air.
"I've seen a Shelby Cobra, but never one of the Chargers," she admitted. "Really great car. Sounded like he's been saving up for it for years."
"About fifteen, he said," Bobby responded. "His girlfriend thinks he's certifiable for paying so much." He glanced at her briefly. "Celeste tell you about Charlotte?"
"Oh, I spent that time profitably," she said with tongue in cheek. "Another broken heart on Main Street." She eyed him. "You didn't need to stop showing up. She understood."
Bobby shrugged. "I worked double time on a job for a couple of weeks...after that I was embarrassed." He chewed his lip for a few seconds, finally admitting, "All I wanted was a 'bookclub buddy.' Charlotte was...looking for a deeper friendship. But it was so good to discuss Melville with someone..."
"...who wasn't a homicidal Australian?"
He winced. "Yeah. That. I need to send her a congratulatory card. She really wanted that teaching position."
She shifted so she was tilted slightly toward him. "There was no need to make a monk of yourself on my account."
"Trust me, I wasn't a monk," he said sheepishly, "but the last two years...kinda hard to start an intimate relationship, even if you're looking for one, when all you can do is bump fists."
"There is that," she responded.
"You're not cold, are you?" he asked, secretly loving the face framed by the pink cap.
"I didn't wear this jacket to get hermetically sealed in a car," Alex returned. "So...Shard and TJ...how did that happen?"
"Completely...uh...by accident," Bobby said, shaking his head and started to gesticulate with one hand.
"Now you know why I never let you drive," she said with mock severity. "Both hands on the wheel, Agent Goren."
"Yes, Captain Eames," he responded, stifling a grin. "Anyway, I told you I sublet a place in New Haven. Then came the lockdown and the landlord let all the tenants know that unless it was completely broken and unsanitarysay the toiletor on fire or leaking downstairs, he wouldn't be making any repairs. Next to my bedroom is the bathroom and the constantly dripping faucet that's the equivalent of water torture. So I...um...check out some YouTube videos. It's only a washer; I figure I can fix this. On goes the mask and the face shield and I'm at Home DepotI turn the corner on the aisle of cleaning products and I hear a familiar voice. But what I'm seeing is two young dudes, one with purple hair."
"Shard does sound like his dad," Alex admitted. "Makes me homesick, listening to him talk."
"You know the rest, how they told me about opening a restaurant and I said they were crazier than me, and then Shard asked me if I wanted something to do...at that point I would have shoveled out the Augean stables. I started out telling them stories about our cases, but then I'd keep going into the details"
"How well I remember those details," Alex quipped, but her voice sounded wistful instead of chaffing, and he gave her a searching look, then concentrated on navigating the interchange between the highway and the eastbound lane of the old Connecticut Turnpike. The wind carried to them the briny scent of the Atlantic, even though the shoreline was still a mile or two east, and they both spent a few minutes reveling in the salt tang.
Finally he asked the question she knew was inevitable. "Was...being captain all you hoped it would be?"
She needed to choose her words carefully, because while he had said he didn't "fall on his sword," that his leaving Major Case had been a gift freely given, she knew that for him, with his need for stability, it had been a sacrifice. But at the same time she couldn't lie to himthat had been the bedrock of their working relationship. "The rush...the promotion...it was unbelievable. Even before the promotion, when I transferred to Homeland Security, working at something important, those couple of times teamed with Liv Benson...I felt like I was making a difference." Then her eyes went pensive. "My brother-in-law Steve's best friend, Gary, visited last New Year's Eve. Because of COVID, he and Steve wrapped up in coats and hats to be able to sit on the front porch and talk; Steve told me Gary was an aerospace engineercrazy about airplanes since he was in high school, retired from working with a major airline."
She shifted to look at him. "Gary got off on designing airplanes, Steve said. That's when he was happiest. But like in any business, he was expected to climb the corporate ladder. So Gary ended up in management, was cool with it at first, signing off on someone else's aircraft designs instead of working on his own. But finally what he was doing most days was...mediating employee conflicts, placating upper management, approving overtime schedules...eventually that was me, Bobby. I got to the point I was 'the mayor's trusted source,' polishing one apple after the other, when all I wanted was to be back out on the street, doing what I did best...what we did best...getting the perps off the street and making a solid, fair case." Then she finished through her teeth, "Rather than kneel on someone's neck for nine minutes."
Now Alex raised her chin and her face cleared. "And I finally understood Ross, always underfoot when we were working, instead of letting us do our work like Jimmy Deakins did. The experience was worth it. Maybe my expectations were unrealistic, or I should have taken stock of my situation when things started going sour. But it doesn't matter. Last week I started a new life. With you. And I have a good feeling about what we've begun."
His right hand closed over her left one with a reassuring squeeze.
He was as good as his word. The Book Barn really was a barn...not to mention a lot of toolsheds, old stalls, kiosks, and other outbuildings crammed to the gills with books, connected by ambling paths, colorful signs, kitschy markers, and unexpected places to sit, complete with the usual complement of bookstore cats. And, she was told later, that wasn't the entire establishment; there were two different annexes, one east of the original, and one west.
"Hi, Bobby!" one of the cashiers at the Book Barn called out when they walked in, exactly as she'd expected.
It made a good feeling about what they had begun.
***October 19, 2022***
Alex was still emerging from her memories when Bobby's cell phone tweedled and she heard him chuckle. "What?"
"We haven't been to Miller's in awhile," he said unexpectedlyor was he just reading her thoughts again? "How about breakfast out this morning?"
"My appointment with Dr. Chaudry is in fifteen minutes and yours in another hour," she pointed out.
He held up his cell phone. "I texted her to tell her we were celebrating an anniversary today. She'll see us next week."
All that read into the image of a big red rose which had been Kashvi Chaudry's single response!
He held out his hand, palm upward. "Mrs. Goren?"
She laid her own across it. "My pleasure, Mr. Goren."