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Of course Elizabeth drops her house keys into the same ankle-deep puddle of slush she just stepped into while getting out of her car… and of course, because she left her winter boots in her locker, the slush is soaking her sock. And of course, as she fishes her keys out of the puddle, she notices that the inspection sticker on her car is expired… even though she was supposed to take care of it today, even though Franco had practically demanded that she let him do it… of course she'd told him no, no, she's used to doing things like that for herself and anyway, the garage is on the way home from the hospital...

But of course the woman doing the alterations on her wedding dress had to have a carpal-tunnel flare up today, so, after a double shift replete with victims of gun violence, drug overdoses and viscous flu symptoms the likes of which she's never seen, Elizabeth had to rush from work, pick up the dress and take it to someone else she doesn't trust nearly as much, but who promised to have it ready in a week… and by the time she explained what she wanted and politely edged away from the woman and her endless stories about her latest trip to Vegas… of course the garage was closed and now Elizabeth has to hope she doesn't get pulled over by a cop tomorrow…

And yadda-yadda, first-world problems and she knows she should shut up and be grateful for what she has, because people far worse off than her are suffering and dying everywhere, all the time…

"Hey you!"

She looks up to find Franco silhouetted in the doorway, warm yellow light spilling out around him.

"Hey," she grumbles, shoves the cold keys into her coat pocket, throws her purse over her arm and slogs her way to the door.

"Grumpy?" he says, as she offers her cheek for a kiss.

She just pouts and shakes icy water from her sneaker before stepping over the threshold.

"Uh-oh." He steps in behind her, closes the door, helps her out of her coat, scans her up and down and says, "What the hell's all this?"

She looks down at the scrubs she hadn't had a chance to change out of. They're covered with fluids of various colors, textures and consistencies.

"Don't ask." She toes off her soggy sneakers, peels off her socks and drops them into Franco's outstretched hand. "Where are the boys?"

"I'm trying this thing where I'm locking them in different cabinets to see if they can get out on their own."

She laughs as much as she can. "But seriously, folks…"

He smiles, deposits coat and socks on a bench by the door. "Neighbor's house, reversing their cognitive functioning with crappy video games."

"So…," she says a little too hopefully. "Peace and quiet?"

"For hours." He takes her purse, eyes her scrubs with mock-horror. "Aren't there rules about transporting bio-hazards beyond hospital grounds? I swear there was a memo…"

She's suddenly overcome with exhaustion, shuffles toward the sofa on bare feet, but he stops her. "Hey, let's get you out of this thing." He lifts her arms over her head, pulls off the top, wads it up and disappears into the kitchen where she hears him wrangling a plastic garbage bag.

She closes her eyes, feels her body sway as she half-heartedly smooths down the long-sleeve t-shirt she had on beneath the scrubs. She tries to remember what color it is… can't, has to look down…

Blue. Almost the same blue as the henley she finally notices he's wearing when he reappears in front of her.

"You look good in that color," she murmurs, sliding her palms up his stomach to his chest, parking them there because he's warm and solid and feels really good...

"Sit down before you fall down." He takes her by the elbow, guides her to the sofa, gives her shoulders a tap to remind her what she's supposed to do now. As she plops down, she becomes fully aware of something she'd only been partially aware of before…

"What's that smell?"

"I'd characterize it as more of a stench."

"What's that stench?"

"Your sons," he says, producing a hot mug of tea from nowhere and slipping it into her hand. "Are culinary madmen. They wanted to make you cookies using weird stuff, and kept egging each other down into deeper and deeper levels of depravity. God only knows what they came up with — I had to leave... it got too gross, even for me — but I suspect pork rinds and raw meat were involved. Oh… and cheesy macaroni, of course."

"Of course." She takes his hand and pulls him down next to her. He settles back with a contented sigh, wraps a strong arm around her shoulders and smiles so sweetly she can't help but smile back.

"There's nothing in the world like kid laughter," he says. "It kind of makes your whole soul wiggle, you know?"

She does indeed. She takes a sip from the mug, tucks her legs under her and snuggles into his side. "You know what would go great with this tea?"

"I'm thinking some potentially life-threatening mystery cookies?" he says, stroking her hair.


"They should be done in a few minutes. You nap and I'll fix us a plate. Oh, by the way," he says, his voice a low rumble under her cheek. "If you didn't get to the garage, take my car tomorrow. I'll deal with the sticker thing."

She sighs, snuggles deeper. "Okay," she murmurs, and lets herself drift in the gentle comfort of their home.