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Your Heart Like A Dam When It Breaks

Chapter Text

And I don't blame ya dear
For running like you did, all these years
I would do the same, you’d best believe
And the highway signs say we're close
But I don't read those things anymore

Stubborn Love - The Lumineers

*

Assistant Chief Pope mentioned it to her in passing.

“We hired someone to take over the Priority Murder Squad,” he said, gathering up his notes from the department head meeting. Most people had left the moment the meeting was over but she had another meeting right after in the same conference room, so she was loitering. He was too.

“Oh?” she said politely. “Should I offer Commander Taylor my congratulations?”

Pope frowned. “Despite his very public assumption of that happening, no,” he said. “We hired someone from outside.”

“Really,” Sharon said, slightly more interested now. That was a rare thing. Either someone started as a beat officer at the bottom or had to be brought it at an exceptionally high level. It was a strange policy that she’d actually campaigned to change, but with any governmental entity, she’d been bogged down by bureaucracy. “From where?”

“Atlanta,” he said. “Remember right after the riots, there was that scab working for all the different agencies?”

Sharon felt herself go still inside. Something very small and very quiet began to stir. She squeezed, hard, the pen in her right hand and hung onto the back of the chair she stood next to with her left. “Scab?”

“I still don’t know exactly who was paying for that… some federal entity, anyway, whatever.” He gave her a quick smile and then raised his eyebrows and said, “You worked with her. Or knew her, I think?”

She felt a little nauseous. The thing inside poked its head up.

“Did I?” she said faintly.

“I’ve been following her career as closely as I could,” Pope barrelled on. “She fell off the map for a while, but once she joined a police department I thought I could get her. Then she went to Atlanta instead, but once I offered her Priority Murder… it’s quite a big promotion for her so we got her.”

“We got her,” Sharon said. “You mean Brenda Johnson?”

But it wasn’t a question.

“I thought you knew her or at least remembered her. Little blonde thing. That’s when you came on with us full time, right?” he asked.

She’d quit in the middle of the semester, actually, after Brenda had disappeared. Had turned to the force full-time with the idea of figuring out what had happened to her but full-time in Internal Affairs had been grueling and she’d had three small children, not to mention she’d been left broken hearted. It had all been so difficult.

“I knew her,” Sharon said.

“Most people won’t remember her from that, I suspect. Still, I know it’s not going to be a popular choice but she’s the best. She closes cases. She gets results.” Pope tilted his head and looked at her with scrutiny. “Are you all right, Captain?”

“Fine,” she said. “Just… skipped breakfast.”

The door opened, the people started to spill in for the next meeting.

“I gotta go, but I’ll have my assistant forward you the requisition for a badge and a gun,” Pope said turning to go. Sharon darted her arm out and caught his elbow. She wasn’t sure that she’d ever touched him before. Perhaps a handshake once, a long time ago. He looked at her, as surprised as she felt. She let go immediately.

“When does she start?” she asked.

“Next month,” he said. “Plenty of time.”

The thing inside of her started to smolder.

oooo

Rusty wouldn’t remember her, of course. Even Ricky had seemed unphased at Brenda’s abrupt departure. Emily had cared, though had acted indifferent. But she’d asked, for nearly a year, about Brenda and where she’d gone and whether she’d be back. Now Emily was rooted in New York and Ricky toiling away up north, caught in the academic machine. He had the sort of job that had started out as being a student and had sort of shifted, in time, into a career. He’d never leave.

Rusty had just started high school. Sharon had sold the house last summer and purchased a condo a little closer to Rusty’s school. He’d hated the idea of moving, of course, had pouted all summer and generally been unbearable. She’d sent him up to Sonoma for two weeks to stay with Sal just to have some peace. She understood, change was hard. But life was nothing but change and it was better he get used to it early on.

Sharon ducked out of her office around three to go pick up Rusty from school and drop him off at home. She ended up sticking the missed time onto the end of her workday but she was always the last to leave anyway, so it wasn’t much of a hardship. In the car, Rusty said, “What’s with you?”

“What?” she said. “Nothing. Why?”

“Usually you just ask me like a thousand questions about my day,” he said.

“Would you like to tell me about your day?” she asked.

“No,” he said.

She smirked at him. “How much homework do you have?”

“Some,” he said. “I did most of my math during science.”

“You’re supposed to be learning science during science,” she pointed out.

“Well they should probably make at least as interesting as my math homework then,” he pointed out.

Hard to argue with that, actually.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” he asked.

“Just a strange day,” she promised. “I’m fine. I’ll be home at the usual time.”

“Do you want me to start dinner?” he asked.

“There’s chicken defrosting in the sink,” she said as they pulled up to their building. “You have your keys?”

“Yes, mom,” he said. “I’ll see you later.” He undid his seatbelt, opened the car door.

“Hey,” she said. “You forgetting something?”

He rolled his eyes but leaned in and gave a quick kiss and then grabbed his bag and was out the door. She idled until he disappeared into the building and then headed back to work.

oooo

She tried not to think about it too much. She tried to focus on her work, but when she requested the badge for the new Deputy Chief, she found herself googling Brenda all the same. Finding her back then would have been much easier with Google. The phones in their pockets, the whole of human knowledge just a few keystrokes away. It made the little pager Brenda had used to carry around like an anchor seem laughably ancient now.

All she really found was an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about Brenda surviving an ethics inquiry. The article was nearly nine months old and it talked around the issue but said she was cleared of all charges. Sharon knew first hand that ethics inquiries could mean a lot of things - they could mean wrongdoings or they could mean someone was upset about a woman being a cop and falsely accused her of something or it could mean Brenda taking the fall for someone else’s mistake. No sense in speculating once it was cleared.

There was a grainy black and white photograph but it barely looked like her. The article also mentioned she came to Atlanta PD by way of Metro PD and the State Department.

So she’d gone back, then. Back to DC, back to the CIA. She’d suspected as much but she’d seemed to dislike it so much. It hadn’t made sense at the time and didn’t make sense now. What had Sharon done to drive her away? To make her run so far and so fast that strangers had come to gather her things?

Sharon closed the browser angrily, told herself it didn’t matter. They wouldn’t be in the same department, they wouldn’t be on the same floor. She could get one of her Lieutenants to process Deputy Chief Johnson, she could hope that there just wouldn’t be any use of force investigations triggered by Priority Murder. Provenza was a loose cannon but he was mostly waiting around for retirement, these days, and Sanchez was feisty but he was quiet.

It’d be fine. It would all just have to be fine.

oooo

Brenda was supposed to arrive on Monday, but when Sharon arrived, jittery and several minutes late, she found that Priority Murder had caught a case over the weekend and had sent someone up to collect her badge and her gun for her.

“You signed out a gun to someone it was not intended for?” Sharon demanded.

“It was Provenza,” Elliott said rather unapologetically. “He trained me.”

“I’m not happy,” Sharon warned him before locking herself in her office. She realized that she was not starting the day off on a good foot. Provenza had put Elliott in a difficult position because Provenza outranked him. If Pope had come in and ordered Sharon to sign over Brenda’s gun to him, she probably would have done it, too. She was just nervous. The only thing she’d managed to get down was coffee and now she felt shaky and unraveled.

She’d worn one of her nicer, newer suits with a silk blouse underneath and had gone too heavy on the eyeliner. She felt strangely overdressed and unlike herself. She sat down at her desk and turned on her computer, stood again and paced around the small office. Sat again and then stood.

Someone knocked.

“What?” she snapped.

The door opened slowly and Sergeant O’Malley stuck her head in. She was relatively new to the team and had come from Vice, had been there not yet an entire year. Sharon had worried that this might be too tame of an assignment for her, but she hadn’t complained yet, in fact had seemed somewhat happy to have Sharon as a supervisor.

“Good morning, Ma’am,” she said and then tilted her head. “You look nice.”

Sharon forced herself not to stick her hands in her pockets uncomfortably.

“Do you have our ballistic results for me, Sergeant?” she asked.

“No, that’s why I’m here. Priority Murder jumped the line so we won’t have them until the afternoon,” she said.

“What?” Sharon demanded. “Why?”

“Francine said it was a request from Pope,” O’Malley said with a shrug. “Don’t they have a new Commander?”

“She’s a Deputy Chief,” Sharon said.

“We have a woman Deputy Chief?” O'Malley said with a genuine smile. “That’s wonderful!”

“Not if she’s always cutting in line,” Sharon said. “All right, this afternoon then.”

“Sure,” O’Malley said. “You want this open or closed?”

“Closed,” Sharon said. When the door latched, she plopped back into her chair let her head fall into her arms on the desk.

She hid away in there for most of the morning, emerged only because she was hungry and had to use the restroom. She generally brought a lunch from home - leftovers or a sandwich but she’d been too out of sorts and had forgotten to even make lunches. Had sent Rusty off to school with a ten dollar bill and now had to brave the cafeteria to feed herself. She bought a salad in a plastic container and a bottle of water, not quite cold enough. Even though she’d been in her office all day, she carried her food back up because sitting alone at a table in a room full of people didn’t sound bearable.

She was never going to be popular. Being good at her job always had to be enough.

Her division was out - they didn’t tend to hang around during the lunch hour which she thought was healthy and good. She navigated around empty desks and chairs that weren’t pushed in, bumping them into place with her hip as she passed. Slowed only when she noticed her office door ajar.

She was certain she’d closed it. She always closed it. Her filing cabinets were stuffed with confidential information and even though they were locked and even though the key was on her keyring which she always kept with her, she always at least closed the door when she left the area.

She walked the last several feet loudly, making sure her heels made a lot of noise on the grungy linoleum.

There was someone in her office.

She looked different, but not different enough that Sharon didn’t immediately know it was Brenda.

Sharon saw her from the side, first, because she was standing looking at the framed pictures on Sharon’s desk. But she looked up when Sharon darkened the doorway.

Her hair was long, still that bright, natural blonde that eluded so many women. And it was curly, too, but the big, smooth kind of curls made with a hot iron. She had the front pieces twisted and secured in the back with bobby pins. And she was wearing a brown dress with brown blazer over it - clothing that positively screamed that she was clearly not from around here. But aside from all of that, it was Brenda and she was still beautiful and the sight of her filled Sharon with agony and anger. It made the beast in her belly want to roar.

Brenda picked up a frame. “Is this Rusty?” she asked with a smile.

“Chief Johnson, I don’t generally permit people into my office when I am not in it,” Sharon said carefully.

Brenda nodded and the smile slid right off of her face. She replaced the frame and respectfully stepped away from the desk.

“I can see I’ve interrupted your lunch hour,” she said. “I meant to come up myself earlier but we caught a case over the weekend and…” She shook her head as she trailed off.

“Yes, one of your Lieutenants signed out your firearm. Another thing I generally do not permit.”

“I came to apologize about that,” she said. “And to… to say hello to you.”

“Hello,” Sharon said, walking into the office far enough to set her lunch things on the edge of the desk. “Welcome to the LAPD.” She enunciated carefully so that her voice didn't shake. She used her ire as a shield.

Brenda wrung her hands together. “Sharon - I mean, Captain Raydor, I just need to apologize to you. Officially or… in person, anyway. You got every right to be mad at me and I’d be mad at me too but I just wanted you to know that I never woulda… left if it was a situation I had control over and everything I did was because I thought it was the best for you and your family. I know it was a long time ago but I thought… I thought I should say that first thing. I’m sorry.”

She nodded. “All right,” Sharon said.

“I… uh… I wasn’t real good at long term plannin’ back then. I was just sort of running on adrenaline all the time but once I started workin’ for police departments, I made a plan and that plan was to get back to Los Angeles. I know it’s been, like, twelve years but this was the last place I was really happy, you know, and almost all of that had to do with you and your family and I know I messed up any real chance I had of us being friendly but at least I’m back here now and even if all we ever are to one another is colleagues or acquaintances or enemies or whatever, I’m just really glad and relieved to have you in my life again. Even if it’s just a little bit.”

Brenda gave her a tense smile. “That’s it, that’s all I’ve got to say. Wait, also you look real pretty. Okay, I gotta go. We have a case. I gotta go.” Brenda edged out of the office, past Sharon and out the door. “Bye now, Captain, bye-bye.”

And then she was gone.

All Sharon could hear once she was alone was the blood rushing in her ears. Her hands were shaking, she felt a little like someone had slapped her.

It was obvious that time had made things very different. It was obvious as well that some things were just the same.

oooo

Thursday, she rode up in the elevator with David Gabriel.

“How’s it going with her?” Sharon asked because she obviously couldn’t help herself.

“Who?” he said. And then, because he wasn't stupid, “Chief Johnson?”

“Yes, Chief Johnson,” she said.

“Kind of a wait and see,” Gabriel admitted. “She’s… I can see why Pope wanted her but she’s certainly not overly concerned with fitting in.”

Sharon snorted. “No, she never was.”

Gabriel’s brow wrinkled up.

“Do you know her? I mean, did you know her already?”

The elevator dinged. “This is me,” she said. “Have a good day, Sargeant.”

She’d stayed up late thinking about what Brenda had said, about doing what she thought was best for Sharon and the kids. Sharon had made one real attempt to track Brenda down and that had resulted in the Chief of Police calling her in to see him like a bad student to the principal’s office.

“Whatever you’re doing triggered someone from the CIA to call and screech at me so knock it off,” he’d said. “Leave the detective work to the actual detectives, honey, or you're liable to find yourself in trouble that I can't get you out of.”

So that had been humiliating. She’d figured at the time it had been Brenda who had rattled his cage but maybe it really had been out of her control - the entire situation. Sharon had spent the last decade equating her being gone with her leaving and being mad that she’d left. She didn’t know what to do with the information that she’d possibly been unfair in that interpretation.

Priority Murder solved their case and it had been a doozy so everyone was talking about it. Failure would make Brenda’s position as a Deputy Chief much shakier. Easier to oust the outsider, the southerner, the girl. But of course, she’d triumphed. Sharon never had any doubt about that. Still, Andy Flynn came up to her office red faced and angry because he wanted to lodge a complaint.

“That’s something you need to take up with Commander Taylor,” she told him.

“I want it official,” he said. “I want it to come from Internal Affairs.”

“That’s not how this works, Lieutenant Flynn,” she said. “Talk to Commander Taylor and if your complaint is valid…” She paused so he would know that she did not believe it would be, no matter what it was, “...he’ll know how to escalate it through the proper channels.”

Andy snorted. “You think Miss Atlanta cares about proper channels?”

“Ah,” she said, leaning in slightly. “Have you thought about simply giving her a chance?”

“Look, I know you’re all rah rah with the sisterhood or whatever, Captain, but you don’t even know this broad,” he said and then got a somewhat mean look on his face and looked her up and down. “I don’t think you’re her type, anyway.”

Andy and Jack had used to drink together, back before Jack left her and then after, too, Sharon suspected. It wasn’t a secret that she was willing to date women as well as men since she and Jack had ended things but it certainly wasn’t something she publicized, especially to the likes of Flynn. It was exactly the sort of thing Jack would have told him out of spite. As if it were Sharon who had wronged him.

She’d dated two men and one woman since Brenda had left. None had managed to last more than a year.

She narrowed her eyes at Andy now and gave him a cold smile. “I’m not so sure, Lieutenant, about that. What could you know about the sisterhood anyway?”

“Haha,” he said. “Forget it, I’ll talk to Taylor.”

“Mmm yes, that would be best,” she said.

He scoffed as he left and slammed her office door.

She sat at her desk and let her hand hover over the phone. Picked it up and dialed quickly, held the phone to her ear.

Sal answered. “Did you talk to her yet?”

“What if it hadn't been me?” Sharon asked with a laugh.

“Caller ID,” Sal said. “So?”

“I mean,” Sharon said. “Of course not. No.”

“Why not?” Sal asked.

“And say what?” Sharon asked, tired now. There was a lot of day left for this level of fatigue.

“Well she apologized, didn’t she?” Sal asked.

“Yes,” Sharon said. “But it’s been twelve years, Sally. It was a long time ago. I knew her for what? Nine months twelve years ago and now we’re supposed to be friends? I think it’s just easier if we do our jobs and stay out of each other’s way.”

“Oh!” Sal said with false cheer. “Easier is always better, so that’s a wise choice.”

“Okay, why did I call you again?” Sharon said. “Goodbye.”

“Wait, wait. You called me,” Sal said, “because you knew you’d need some convincing. So go see her and have a real conversation that consists of more than you standing there in slack-jawed silence.”

“You’re a very mean best friend,” Sharon said primly.

“Shar, this is the girl that you compare everyone else to and no one has ever matched up. This is the girl that got you out of that funk my asshole brother put you in. This is the girl that you loved who disappeared and now she has fallen back into your lap.”

“Like magic,” Sharon muttered.

“No,” Sal said. “Not like magic. She’s back because she worked very hard to get back into your life. So let the girl in!”

“She’s not a girl anymore,” Sharon said. “She’s the same age I was when I met her.”

“Even if you talk to her only long enough to tell her that you’re mad, I think you should talk to her,” Sal said. “That’s my two cents. That’s why you called me. Don’t call again until you’ve done it.”

“Okay, okay, fine,” Sharon said. “Bye.”

“Bye,” Sal said. “I love you.”

“Love you, too,” Sharon said and hung up.

She hated when Sally was right. Sal should have been the lawyer, not her spineless brother. Jack had the same amount of charm, the same way with words. He had none of his sister's good nature or backbone. She'd picked the wrong sibling at first but had at least won Sal in the separation. That was always somewhat comforting, even when Sal was doing nothing more than telling Sharon what she didn't want to hear.

She sighed, opened her office door and stuck her head out. “Who processed Chief Johnson?”

Everyone turned to look at her. She generally didn’t shout from her office, was a quiet, measured person but she was wary about losing her nerve. Elliott stood up, his chubby fingers smoothing down his wrinkled tie.

“I did, Captain.”

“I want her file, please.” Sharon looked at him over her glasses. “Now.”

oooo

The address in the file had been a hotel which wasn’t all that surprising for a cross country move. She’d find a place, though. The housing market was competitive in LA but it wasn’t too bad, as long as the economy held. Brenda hadn’t been there that long.

She’d told Rusty when she picked him up from school that she had to work late and gave him pizza money.

“On a weeknight?” he’d said. “Cool!”

“Do your homework,” she’d warned him. “And not in front of the television.”

“You gonna arrest somebody?” he’d asked.

“You never know,” she’d said. “Children who do their homework in front of the television turn into criminals every day.”

"I don't think future criminals are doing their homework at all," he'd said thoughtfully.

"I may be very late. I have my phone and you can always go knock on Mrs. Nicholson's door if there's an emergency," she'd said. She never liked to leave him alone but they were all used to it. She had a job that never kept a steady schedule. It was part of the reason she'd picked the building for their move. Lots of neighbors, gates and security.

Now she rolled up to the hotel, waving off the valet and pulling through to the parking lot. She wasn’t going to stay, she'd already determined. She was just going to… look around the lobby. Maybe sit at the bar and have a glass of wine. She could work at a hotel bar as easily as anywhere else when it was filling out forms and signing her name.

It wasn’t the worst hotel in Los Angeles but it certainly wasn’t a tourist trap. The kind of place designed for weekend conferences and out of town business people from New York and Chicago. The decor was standard, neutral, showing some wear. The bar was full service with a few high top tables and the lobby spacious enough to have gift store and a business center but not sprawling by any means. It seemed exactly the kind of place the LAPD would put someone up, though Sharon had her doubts they were paying for it at all. Will Pope was a penny pincher.

She felt out of place even being in the hotel but she felt stranger about walking in and immediately turning around and walking out. So she walked up to the bar and ordered a glass of white wine. She looked around - there was a man watching the baseball game on the television, two women dressed in business casual at one of the high top tables splitting a basket of french fries and drinking cocktails. Two bartenders which seemed extreme for the thin crowd. While she was waiting, a couple of flight attendants came in with rolling black suitcases. They were not far from the airport, so that made sense, too.

She sat on a stool when her wine came and pulled out work from her bag. She had to go over every report O’Malley wrote before they put them into the system while she was still on probation. It was only for nine months and it was almost up. It was easy, mindless work because O’Malley was good. It took a particular sort for Internal Affairs and Sharon was meticulous in her hiring.

She’d been there about half an hour when something made her look up. A strange feeling, a shift in the atmosphere of the room. At the threshold of the room, where the bar became the lobby, stood Brenda and she was looking right at Sharon.

She tilted her head at Sharon, raised a hand and rippled her fingers in a wave.

Sharon closed the file folder and twisted on her stool while Brenda made her way through the tables over to where she sat.

“Captain Raydor,” she said.

“Chief Johnson.”

“Are you here to see me?” she asked. She sounded hopeful.

“I… I hadn’t decided,” Sharon admitted.

“Ah,” Brenda said. “Mind if I join you? I mean, since I’m here.”

Sharon nodded. "All right." Her heart was pounding and she pressed her hands flat to the bar top to steady them. Part of her wanted to get up and walk away right now. Part of her wanted to demand an explanation. Part of her wanted to hurt Brenda as badly as Brenda had hurt her. But the thing inside of her seemed to be in control and whatever had made her give in to Brenda all those years ago hadn't gone away. So she stayed.

“Can I refresh your drink?” Brenda asked. “Arturo the bartender and I are getting to be real close friends.”

“Sure,” Sharon said.

Brenda ordered the drinks and was quiet until he placed new glasses in front of them and took Sharon’s empty one away.

“So,” Brenda said, looking at the television above them. “What brings you to my crappy hotel?”

“Honestly?” Sharon shook her head. “My sister-in-law told me I should come talk to you.”

“How is Sal?” Brenda asked.

Sharon stared at her, surprised. “Right, of course. She’s good.”

Brenda nodded, sipped at her wine. Sharon took a big mouthful of hers.

“How are things going for you? I mean with your division?” Sharon asked when she'd swallowed.

“Oh, they hate me,” Brenda said. “Truly, utterly despise me.”

Sharon tilted her head, pulled her wine glass a little closer. “You made an unorthodox entrance into our force.”

“More or less unorthodox than the last time I was doing work for the LAPD?” Brenda asked.

“They don’t know about that,” Sharon pointed out.

“Give ‘em time,” she muttered, drinking most of her wine in one, frustrated swig. And then, “I haven’t eaten any dinner. Do you want to get something to eat?”

“Oh,” Sharon said.

“That’s why I came down here, I was going to walk to that restaurant a few blocks down,” she said.

“Ah,” Sharon said. This hadn't been part of the plan. She'd meant to do little more than scope out the place and perhaps torture herself a little. Sulk, possibly. But now she felt swept up in it all, simply along for the ride.

“Before, I sort of ambushed you, I get that. But, you’re here which means… maybe I could tell you a little more about what happened?” Brenda asked. “Not as an excuse but because I think you deserve some answers to your questions.”

“I could eat,” Sharon said. “Let me just pay the tab.”

“Arturo can put it on my room,” Brenda said. She threw back the last of her wine, got off her stool, shouldered her big black bag. She was wearing a pink floral skirt and a pink sweater set and it was all so much. Sharon drank one more mouthful as Brenda said, “Come on.”

She felt the wine as they walked down the street. Their heels made similar noise on the concrete and Sharon wanted to say many things - to tell her about the kids, about never renting out the garage again and then selling the house, about choosing the safety of her family over pursuing finding Brenda and knowing that had to be the right choice but she just walked quietly and so did Brenda.

The restaurant wasn’t very busy and sat them right away, putting a warm basket of tortilla chips between them and a black bowl of house made salsa.

Their server set down waters in sturdy glasses and walked away again. Brenda said, “When I was 24, I went to Eastern Europe for the government and the work I did there ended up getting the family of a government worker murdered. A woman and a little girl. The man went missing and was presumed dead. I came home to the states and quit my job and decided to go back to school.”

“Brenda…”

Sharon wanted answers, sure, but she didn't expect Brenda to lay it all bare in the first five minutes. But Brenda pushed on.

“Except that my boss at the time didn’t take real kindly to me leavin’ so he decided that no matter where I went, I would work for him or he would spend his days ruining my life. He threatened me, my job prospects, my family. He threatened you, too. So I did odd jobs on the side for the LAPD, the FBI, the Sheriff's department. I think he thought I’d get tired of it and go back.”

“Didn’t you?” Sharon asked softly.

“No,” she said. “Because I met someone and… I fell in love.”

The waiter came up to the table and Brenda sat back, embarrassed, and put her glasses on her face so she could read her menu. They ordered, the waiter went away again.

“Go on,” Sharon prompted.

“One night, I went out on assignment and my boss had… made an arrangement that forced me to fail. A set up, I think. The most important rule of any sort of espionage is not to blow your cover. He made sure I did. So he made me leave Los Angeles and I worked for him another three years. It took me a while to realize that it wasn’t normal, his obsession with me.”

“What happened after three years?” Sharon asked.

“Well, regimes change,” Brenda said. “Old school ways fall out of style… and anyway, I got married and in his eyes it meant I belonged to another man, so I took a job with the Metro PD and when my husband wanted to move from DC to Atlanta, it wasn’t a hard jump from force to force.”

“Your file didn’t say you were married,” Sharon said.

Brenda smiled, leaned in. “Divorced,” she said. “I have just the worst luck with men.”

“Me too,” Sharon said, her throat feeling a little thick.

“I wish… by the time I felt like it would have been okay to call you or write you it had been years and… I don’t know. I knew you were probably better off without me.” She shrugged. "I know you were."

“But you’re here now,” Sharon said. "You said you wanted to come back."

“I like LA,” she said. “But it’s a big city. We can avoid one another if that’s what you want.”

Brenda sat back.

“Actually, it may not matter. I think Pope already regrets bringin’ me out.”

“Because Andy Flynn doesn’t like you? That asshole will always hate any supervisor he has that’s a woman,” Sharon said. “And Taylor is basically incompetent. They don’t have to like you, your work will keep you safe.”

“Guess you’ve been checkin’ up on me after all,” Brenda said.

Sharon sighed, placed both hands on the table. “When you left… I can’t say it was easy. I can’t say you didn’t break my heart. It’s comforting, I suppose, that it wasn’t something I did that drove you away but just because I got hurt a long time ago doesn’t mean I want you to fail now.”

Brenda nodded. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Sharon said.

They ate and Sharon told her a little bit about her kids. Emily dancing, Ricky and his computers. Told the story about Rusty’s adoption party, told her about how smart he was, how he was a sensitive, good kid. Brenda told her about her family, her brothers and her mother and father and how they wanted her to stay in Atlanta but how whenever she tried to go home again, it never worked out quite right.

“I mean I don’t have a place to live, everyone at work hates me, I don’t know anyone in this city besides you and one FBI Agent who doesn’t even like wine and still, I already feel like this is home. Do you think that’s strange?” Brenda asked.

“No,” Sharon said. “Not so very strange.”

They walked back to the hotel together and at the doors to the lobby, Brenda stopped and said, “Well, what do you think?”

“About what?” Sharon asked.

“About us bein’ friends. You think we could give it another try?” Brenda asked with a note of hope in her voice.

Sharon nodded. “Let’s see how it goes.”

“Okay,” Brenda nodded. “Good.”

“See you later, Brenda,” Sharon said. She turned, adjusted her purse on her shoulder and started walking toward the parking lot.

“Sharon?” Brenda called after her.

She turned to look back. Brenda standing there with her arms crossed tightly, her hair blowing in the breeze a little. She was skinnier now than when Sharon had seen her last. A sort of lost, hollow look that Sharon had seen the first time around. It's why she spent so much time feeding her, sending the kids out to make sure she came into dinner. Sharon wondered if she could get Brenda looking healthy and happy again. If friendship was the answer, and home cooked meals. Brenda shifted her weight and put her hand up to her brow to shield the light from the setting sun.

“I like friends,” Brenda called. “Friends is good. But if you wanted to come up…” Brenda pointed straight up to the sky, presumably meaning her room. “That’s an option, too.”

Sharon felt her heart constrict, felt her pulse start to race, felt her feet start to move as the thing deep inside her roared back to life.