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Life Lessons: Ambition vs Family

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"And when she knows what she wants from her time...and when she wakes up and makes up her mind," Abby sang along with the radio, taking a moment from brushing her unruly blond hair to sing into her hairbrush so she could croon along with Billy Joel, "...she'll see I'm not so tough, just because I'm in love with an Uptown Girl..."

She twirled into the main area of her loft, lost in the music until she heard someone clearing his throat. She stopped mid-spin, almost falling to the floor, and looked up to see her brother, leaning against her kitchen island with a cup of a coffee and a smirk on his face. She immediately felt like the dorky little kid again who tried to keep up with her cool older brothers, but never could, and she attempted to hide the hairbrush behind her back. Stupid brothers, she thought to herself, when he chuckled at her.

"Hey there, Billy Joel. If I knew I was getting serenaded, I would’ve had my lighter ready."

"Shut up," she said, going back to brushing her hair as she walked toward him. She held out her hand for the cup of coffee he had waiting for her and said, "I want my key back if you’re going to show up here whenever you feel like, Richie."

"Yeah, like I wanted to get up at seven a.m. on my only day off this week to sit vigil with my bratty kid sister," Richie replied. He wrapped his arm around her and said, "You're lucky I love you, Abs."

She rolled her eyes, but grinned at him. She nudged him in the side and said, "You know, when I asked you to keep me occupied, I didn't mean you had to get here so early. I was thinking a late breakfast-early lunch over pancakes, hotdogs, and Sports Center."

He shrugged. "I knew you would be up already and running around in circles like a deranged lunatic. Did you get any sleep last night?"

She moved to a stool and pretended to get caught up in the paper. "Some."

"Define some."

She shrugged. "It's some. Who are you? My mother?"

"You don't torment our dear mother the way you do me."

"And you love every minute of it. I keep you stocked in free beer," she replied. She pointed to the main article in the sports section and said, "This reporter, and I use the term loosely, is an angry little man who does not appreciate the greatness of the Bears."

"Not many people do these days."

"I won't tolerate that kind of talk in my home," she said. She took another sip of her coffee as she closed the paper and added, "And thank you for coming over. You're a good big brother."

"I'm the best big brother and I demand a shirt that has that printed on it and then a pair of shirts that say 'so-so brother" for Steve and Donnie."

"You didn't tell them—“

“—not a word, as promised. I don’t get why, though – it seems stupid.”

"What if I failed? What if I did worse than fail and my exam ends up on the internet?"

"First, you've never failed anything in your life, and second, unless you made drawings of cats saying cute little things I can't imagine anyone on the internet would care," he replied. Abby darted him a look and he said, "What? Laura loves I Can Has Cheezburger."

"Yeah, Laura loves it, I'm sure."

"You need to feed me. I can't handle Grumpypants Kowalski on an empty stomach,” he said, reaching over and ruffling her hair.

She shot him a dirty look, knowing he was purposefully trying to provoke her, hopped off the stool and grabbed her keys. “I hate when you call me that.”

“So stop acting like it.”

“If I wasn’t so freaked out about imminent failure, I would punch you.”

“Like you could take me. You’d trip over your own feet before you even laid a finger on me,” Richie replied with a laugh. He nodded to the door and said, “You mentioned pancakes.”

“I’m totally telling mom on you,” Abby replied as she walked past him out the door. She tossed the keys to him to lock up without looking back and headed for the stairs. She needed fresh air. A few minutes in the cool Chicago air would get her out of her own head. She either passed the detective’s exam or she didn’t – there was nothing she could do now. It was in the hands of fate and the Chicago PD.

**

The day passed by slowly and if it weren’t for her brother pestering her and keeping her preoccupied with reruns of CSI, she would have gone crazy. She was pretty sure that this was some sort of test from the department. Make an officer sweat to see how she handled pressure. She wouldn’t have minded it so much if her entire life weren’t hanging in the balance. All she had wanted for as long as she could remember was to be a homicide detective, but her parents had insisted she go to college first and explore other options. And while she didn’t regret her time in school, it didn’t change her mind and now she was a few years behind the other cops her age. When she finally qualified for the exam, she didn’t want to blow it.

“There is no crime scene technician that works that quickly anywhere. It’s preposterous,” Richie said, pointing at the television screen.

“You’re supposed to suspend disbelief.”

“And why are all the hot chicks throwing themselves at the creepy bug guy? It makes no sense.”

“Grissom is smart and confident. It’s sexy.”

“Ew.”

“I’d totally—“

“—if you finish that sentence I will puke.”

“Gee, thanks.”

“You’re my sister and that’s something too disturbing to think about,” Richie replied.

Abby sighed and tried to focus back on the television. Her brother was right – the story was ridiculous. No beat cop she had ever met was stupid enough to trample all over a crime scene. And she was pretty sure there was no such thing as “rush order” on forensics in real police work. But the guys on the show were cute – smart and hot. Good combination in her book.

She had almost managed to stop wondering why it was taking so long to get her results when her cellphone rang. She stared at it on the coffee table as it lit up and buzzed, but she couldn’t bring herself to move.

“You’re not going to answer that?” Richie asked with a raised eyebrow.

“I am. In time.”

“Abs, pick up the phone and put us both out of our misery,” he said.

“I will.”

“In time?”

“Yes.”

“Abby, I love you, but if you don’t answer the god damn phone, I will. And I’ll tell them that you’re too chicken to talk to them yourself.”

Abby glared at him before picking up the phone from the table. She looked at it – not a phone number she recognized – and tried not to panic. Richie was right – she was a big chicken. She needed to suck it up, answer the phone and let the cards fall where they may. So what if her entire life’s plan could be thrown out of whack with a few words?

“Now you have to accept the call, dumbass.”

“Jerk,” she muttered to him before forcing a smile on her face and answering, “Kowalski.”

“Good afternoon, Sir,” she said. Richie’s breath tickled her neck as he leaned in to hear what was being said. She jumped off the couch and started pacing, “Yes, sir, very excited to know my results.” She ignored her brother’s roll of the eyes and listened as the Captain babbled on about the statistics and history of the detective’s exam and how it wasn’t a slight against her if she failed. Blah, blah, blah.

She was about to hang up the phone, sure the inevitable let down was coming, when she heard, “Congratulations, Kowalski. You aced the test. “

“I did? Are you sure?” she replied. His voice was crystal clear, but the words seemed muddled and wrong like she was trying to hear through water or maybe she was having a stroke? Maybe this whole conversation was a hallucination because she actually failed the test and went insane days ago. A part of her knew it made sense since had spent almost all of her free time the past few months preparing for the exam, but another part of her couldn’t really accept it. It was all she wanted for so long and now she had it.

“You’re a good cop and you’ll be a great detective. Your test scores have already been passed on to Human Resources. Good luck.”

“Thank you, sir,” she replied. She met her brother’s expectant expression and grinned as she dropped the phone. She said, “I aced it.”

Richie jumped up and hugged her. “Way to go, sis.”

“I can’t believe it. I mean, I worked my ass off for it, but it still seems so unreal.”

“I’m proud of you, Abs,” Richie replied.

Abby wanted to run around the block to burn off some of the adrenaline coursing through her, but she had things to do. She needed to get over to Human Resources and get things moving as quickly as possible. She was one step closer to her goal.

“Donnie’s working the late shift, but I think Steve should be done soon. We should celebrate.”

“Not yet.”

“What?”

“Let me find out where I end up first. And I think it would be better to tell everyone together so mom and dad don’t feel like I left them out of my decision.”

“You did leave them out.”

“But that sounds so mean,” she replied. She took Richie’s hand and pulled a move that had worked on him since she was five. She did her best puppy dog expression and said, “Please, Richie, just keep quiet about this for now. For me.”

“Stop with the face. It’s your news to tell and I won’t say anything. I still think we need some beer.”

“You always think we need beer.”

“I’m a very smart guy.”

She rolled her eyes as she headed to the fridge. She felt like a weight had been lifted off her shoulders. She was a detective now and in two years she would be able to move to homicide. And with enough time and hard work, she could be running her own department.

**

Abby tried to keep her face as unreadable as possible as she knocked on her brother’s front door. The past forty-eight hours had been a rollercoaster of emotions and if there was anyone who could talk her down from the ledge and help her figure things out, it was Richie. She had been so excited when she finally received her results, but then, like most things in her life, it went to hell within a day.

The Human Resources representative didn’t even have the courtesy to look sad as she told Abby about her only two options. This wasn’t how this was supposed to go. She had a plan and the stupid universe was messing everything up.

Richie didn’t seem surprised to see her and just stepped aside to let her in. As he closed the door he said, “I’m going to take it things didn’t go too well with HR this morning?”

“There’s an opening.”

“That’s great, Abs,” he said, reclaiming his seat on the sofa.

Abby turned the television off and sat down next to him. She picked up one of the wrappers strewn across the coffee table and said, “Does your wife know how you behave when she’s away?”

“I had the shift that felt like it would never end. Brody kept going on about some girl he’s obsessed with and we got called into a bad wreck that involved four young kids.”

“That sucks. I’m sorry,” she said. She reached for the remote, not wanting to add to her brother’s day, but when he stopped her, she met his gaze and said, “The only opening for a detective is in IA.”

“Like Internal Affairs IA?”

“Is there another IA that I don’t know about?”

“I was hoping so for your sake,” he replied. He patted her leg and said, “I’m sorry. I know how much you wanted this.”

“Yeah, my life blows,” she replied with a loud huff. She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye and said, “The thing is…well, the whole walk over here…I don’t know if I can go back to patrol when I know I could be doing more, and I've earned this promotion.”

Richie sat up and turned to face her. He said, “Aw man, what are you telling me?”

“I think I’m going to take it.”

“Please tell me I heard you wrong.”

“Nope.”

“IA? Do you have a death wish? Are you hoping dad will disown you?”

“No and no. I wish there was a better option, I really do, but there's no reason to wait around for a posting that might not appear when there's a perfectly good one available.”

“In Internal Affairs. Where your job would be to investigate other cops. Like me and dad and Steve and Donnie.”

“That would never happen. You’re all good cops.”

“Yeah, like IA has never gotten it wrong before,” he replied, taking another swig from his bottle as he sat back. He groaned and ran his face over his hand like he could make her disappear if he rubbed hard enough. Richie's whole demeanor had changed and he kept going back and forth between staring at her incredulously and shaking his head like he heard her wrong.

Abby needed to get Richie on her side. If she couldn't get his support on this, she was completely screwed. Richie was the easy one. She already knew her father would be hurt and pissed. Donnie would just be pissed. And Steve would go along with whatever the rest of them were feeling. She needed an ally. She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly before saying, “I can’t speak to that, but you know me, do I seem like the type who would let an innocent cop go down for something he didn't do?“

Richie shook his head. “This is a bad idea, Abby.”

“Are you saying that as a cop or my brother?”

“Both? I don’t know.”

“I need two years on-the-job experience as a detective before I can even consider applying for homicide. I can’t wait around for an opening because it would make my family happy. I need to do what’s right for me.”

“It sounds like you’ve made up your mind.”

“Yes…maybe…I don’t know. I need to find a good spin for this before I tell the family.”

“A good spin? Good luck with that,” Richie replied. He chugged down the rest of his beer and added, “You’ve always done what was right for you, damn the consequences, Abs.”

“You make me sound like a selfish bitch.”

“No, that’s not…you know who you are and what you want and you don’t let anyone keep you from getting it. I admire that, I do, but you’ve got to know that if you take this position, the shit will hit the fan with the family and you need to be prepared for the fall out.”

“What about you?”

“What about me?”

“Will you hate me?”

He rolled his eyes and draped his arm around her shoulder, pulling her close. He said, “I’ve got your back even if I think the decision is insane.”

“But…”

“I mean it. I’ve got your back, just like always.”

She smiled as rested her head on her brother's shoulder. She knew she was behaving like a little kid who blindly adored her big brother, but she also knew she would've been lost without him. It would probably amuse most people to know that smart-and-confident Abigail Kowalksi's mood could so easily be swayed by the approval of her family, but it was as much a part of her as her ambition. She said, “This is why you’re my favorite.”

“I thought it was because I saved you from the school bully when you were seven.”

“I’m the one who saved you. I tackled the kid and he was too afraid to hit a girl so he ran off crying,” Abby replied.

“That’s right. Poor little Tommy Whitkins. It’s not easy being beat up by a girl with pigtails,” he replied with a chuckle. He patted her leg and said, “You want a beer? My big plan for the night was to order a pizza and watch the hockey game.”

She nodded. When Richie stood up to head to the kitchen, Abby jumped up too and threw her arms around him, squeezing tightly. She said, “I love you. Thank you for putting up with me.”

He tugged on a strand of her hair and said, “Yeah, yeah, enough of the mushy stuff.” He walked toward the kitchen, but stopped. “And Abs?”

“Yeah?”

“Make sure to give me a head’s up when you plan on telling the family. I want to be out of town.”

“Maybe they don’t need to know?”

He could hear him chuckle and she rolled her eyes, mostly at herself. As if she could keep a secret from her family for that long – like it was possible. She needed to find a way to explain her decision in a way that caused as little damage as possible and she knew Richie was right. Things were going to be rough going, but she had Richie in her corner and that was a start.

Besides, her future awaited her and her dreams were worth a little discomfort along the way.