Rusty stared down at a speck of ink on his jeans. When had he done that? If it was a while ago it probably wouldn’t come out in the wash; it was probably a set in stain. He rubbed at it with his thumb and was only semi-surprised to see that that hadn’t wiped it away.
Sharon watched Rusty in her periphery. He was fidgeting and she wanted to tell him that it was fine and that he should stop worrying but the U.S. Marshal seated silently across from them kept her from saying anything. She was careful not to drum her fingers in boredom in case it would cause Rusty more anxiety.
The Marshal shifted in his seat and checked his watch. Sometimes Sharon really disliked Assistant Chief Taylor. Times like now where he’s undoubtedly trying to send the message that his time was more valuable than theirs.
The door swung open and all three of the room’s occupants turned expectantly to the late-to-a-meeting-in-his-own-office bureaucrat. “Sorry I’m late.” He shrugged, walking further into the room and trailed by Brenda Leigh Johnson.
Sharon’s eyebrows went up in surprise but she didn’t say anything.
“Quite alright.” Marshal Tucker nodded, gesturing to the couch for Brenda to take a seat.
Brenda sat down next to Sharon. “Hello Captain.” She said softly.
Sharon smiled a little. “Chief.”
Marshal Tucker cleared his throat. “Chief Johnson has been added to the program last minute because, until yesterday, we were not made aware that she was also receiving threatening letters.” He pulled out five copies of the file folder from his briefcase. “Because of the short notice, this may not be ideal.”
“What do you mean?” Sharon furrowed her brow.
“Well, with the two of you going together.” He nodded to Brenda and Sharon, “the most plausible way to send you is to send you as a couple.”
“Excuse me?” Brenda blinked.
He cleared his throat again, “we’ve set you up as a married couple in Vermont.”
“Married?!” Brenda cried as Sharon balked, “Vermont?!”
“As I said it’s already been set up.” He handed dossiers to Brenda, Sharon and Rusty. “We’ll go over the rest of the details on the plane.”
Brenda opened her folder. “You named me Georgia!”
Sharon let out a laugh and stifled it as soon as Brenda shot her a glare.
“Your stories were adapted from an already established family unit: George and Rose Murray.”
“Why can’t she be Georgia?” Brenda grumbled, shutting the dossier with a scowl.
“This…” Rusty said slowly, looking over the façade of the house. “Is not a horrible house…”
“Yeah, it’s kind of cute.” Brenda agreed as Sharon pushed the door open and pulled in her rolling suitcase behind her.
Sharon flipped on the lights, “furniture’s tacky, but…”
“What’s wrong with the furniture?” Brenda furrowed her brow.
“I’m going to find my room.” Rusty announced as he disappeared down the hallway.
Sharon left her suitcase in the living room and proceeding into the kitchen. “They gave you a stupid name but they left you a present.” Sharon walked back out with a bottle of Merlot.
“My favorite brand and everything!” Brenda grinned as Sharon handed her the bottle. “Can I pour you a glass?”
“Why not?” Sharon leaned on the kitchen island.
Brenda checked a couple of cabinets before locating wine glasses and poured one for Sharon and slid it across the island to her. Sharon sipped it. Merlot was heavier than she usually went for but Brenda had good taste in brands apparently.
Brenda took a big sip and smiled contentedly. Sharon let her Brenda a few more sips before she said, “so, Georgie girl.”
Brenda smirked. “I still can’t believe that. They say it wasn’t on purpose, but I have my suspicions.” Sharon stifled a laugh and Brenda nodded, “yeah, laugh it up. You’re just lucky Northern California isn’t a name.”
Sharon laughed as Rusty reemerged from claiming his bedroom. “What’s funny?”
“Just something Brenda said.”
“So, is there food or just wine?” He asked as he stepped past the two women and opened the refrigerator. He perused the contents for a moment, “looks like just the bare essentials. I can probably make something.”
“We got a couple hundred dollars in cash for groceries, we can go tomorrow morning.”
“Okay.” He nodded, “so, my room just has, like, a bed and, like, generic high schooler things. Could we pick up some things?”
“It does look a little stock footage-y in here.” Sharon agreed. “Why don’t we go out tomorrow and pick up some things?”
“You mean as a family?” Brenda furrowed her brow.
There was a knock on the door and Brenda and Sharon exchanged confused looks. Sharon straightened up, “remember, Georgia,” she pointed at Brenda and then at herself, “Rose and Holden.”
“I still hate my name.”
“Spoken like a true teenager.” Sharon winked.
Sharon opened the door and a couple – who Sharon would put in their fifties – smiled at her from the porch. “Hi, we’re the Marshalls, we live next door. I’m Sarah and this is Pete.
“We’ve been seeing your things being moved in and when we finally saw you guys, we thought we’d come by and introduce ourselves.”
“That’s very nice of you.” Sharon smiled, already feeling like she was acting. “I’m Rose, this is Georgia and Holden.”
“As bribery for barging in on you on your first day we brought cold cuts.”
Sharon laughed, “you certainly read his mind. Please, come in.” Sharon stepped aside and the Marshalls entered, shaking hands with each of the three as Sharon took the platter and set it on the kitchen island. “And we just opened a bottle of Merlot, if you’d like a glass.”
“You read my mind.” Sarah grinned.
Rusty held back from making his sandwich until the adults started. Sharon patted his back and he gave her a quick half smile before piling a roast beef sandwich high with fixings.
Sharon led everyone to living room and they all sat down. Rusty leaned against the couch noncommittally, unsure as to whether the adults’ conversation would be too boring and wanting to be able to make a quick exit if need be.
“So where did you guys move from?” Pete asked.
Brenda started to answer and faltered for a moment before supplying, “we were in Washington.” Brenda felt like kicking herself, all those years in the CIA lying about her identity should have prepared her for this exact situation. Pete and Sarah and Sharon continued talking about states and moving and Brenda zoned out momentarily. Brenda wasn’t exactly in ideal circumstances – witness protection notwithstanding.
“How long have the two of you been married?”
“We’ve been together for about ten years and we got married in California the first time they legalized same sex marriage.” Sharon supplied easily. Brenda was impressed; Sharon was good at pretending. Brenda put her hand on Sharon’s knee since she didn’t feel she had anything to add to the conversation.
“Is it weird for me to ask which one of you is Holden’s biological mother?”
“Pete!” Sarah scolded.
“No, it’s okay.” Sharon insisted. Ordinarily she’d be annoyed by being asked so many personal questions but the Marshalls were providing her with an excellent opportunity to practice the details she’d spent a six hour plane ride drilling into her brain.
“What, you can’t tell?” Rusty asked, leaning his face against Sharon’s. “People are always telling us how much we look alike.”
Brenda and Sharon froze for a moment. The dossiers had Brenda listed as his mother but Sharon smiled. Despite it being contrary to their pre-established stories, she had secretly been displeased by that decision and was glad that Rusty felt the need to fix the injustice as well.
“I can definitely see it; that’s what I thought.” Pete nodded.
Sharon patted his cheek.
“Can I go explore the neighborhood.” Rusty asked.
Sharon looked at her watch but it was still set to pacific standard time. “Don’t go too far okay? And don’t be gone too long.”
“I wouldn’t worry, the neighborhood is really safe and there are lots of good kids around here. He’ll make friends in a hurry.” Sarah assured.
“I hope so,” Sharon nodded, “he tends to be a loner and I feel bad that he’s been pulled away from what he knows.”
Brenda put her hand on Sharon’s knee. “He’ll be fine.”
Sharon looked over at Brenda with a little surprise but Sarah drew her attention back. “I’m the same way, Rose, but really, there’s a great group of kids around here and the school is really good, they have a lot of programs.”
Sharon nodded, “I’m sure.”
Brenda stuck her plate in the sink and then turned off the kitchen light as she walked back out into the living room. Sharon glanced at the sink and then at Brenda but was unsurprised when she didn’t pick up on it.
“Well, there goes day one.” Brenda made a dramatic show of checking her nonexistent watch. “How much longer are we here?”
Sharon gave a little shrug. She was just as unhappy – if not more so – with their current arrangement but felt that she should probably be the only one who wasn’t actively disparaging the situation.
“So, uh, I poked around. There’s just the master bedroom. What do you…”
“There’s a couch in my office. I’ll sleep on it for now.”
“Alright. Well, I’m off to bed.”
Sharon waited until she heard the door close behind Brenda to hold one of the decorative pillows against her chest and laid her head on the armrest. When she awoke some time later she felt her neck muscles tightening painfully and she groaned as she sat up.
Her suitcase was still in the master bedroom and she slipped into room. Brenda was sound asleep, pink eye mask askew on her face, her lips parted and letting out soft noises that weren’t quite snores.
Sharon slowly unzipped her bag, avoiding making too much noise. She took her toiletries bag into the en suite bathroom and closed the door. She laid out her things: toothbrush, toothpaste, hair brush, Just seeing her own things here already made her feel a bit more at ease. By the time she’d finished brushing her teeth and removing her makeup her neck had relaxed some.
Sharon approached the bed and gingerly eased a pillow away from Brenda. Brenda stretched and clutched her remaining pillow tighter. “What’s up?” She murmured.
“Just getting a pillow.” Sharon said softly, laying a hand on Brenda’s shoulder. “Go back to sleep.”
Brenda turned over and promptly fell back to sleep, prompting Sharon to wonder why she’d felt compelled to touch her just then. It was one thing when Brenda had touched her knee that afternoon – it was part of their cover, they were playing parts.
On her way out she picked up her suitcase and tiptoed to her office.
“Sharon?” Rusty asked softly, giving her shoulder a gentle shake.
Sharon sat up on the couch, knocking the pillow over. She was sore all over. She rubbed her eyes, “morning.”
“I put on some coffee and I can make you an omelet.”
“I would love that.” She smiled gratefully.