Eight Days A Life
She always thought it was Bobby that stood between us.
And maybe he did, in the beginning.
When he held her body at night next to his and wore her ring on his finger. When he was flesh and blood. When he was alive.
She turned to me in grief, in uncomprehending sorrow and pain when he died-- but for me, it had begun long before that.
Not that she could have known. Would ever have known if it hadn't been for cursed luck and demon fate. I don't look like a gypsy-- but I'm told that it runs in my blood, if I'm to believe some of my mother's more drunken ramblings about the father I never knew.
And sometimes, on moonless nights when the air is so still I can feel its heaviness in my lungs and time seems to have crawled to a stop in the small of my back, I can almost believe it.
When did it start for me? Would it be irrational to say from the moment I saw her? Of course it would-- but I'll say it anyway and laugh at my own foolishness. We didn't have much to do with each other those couple of years ago. I worked cases mostly on my own or with Medavoy, while she was on a deep undercover that just about untied whatever fragile ribbon was holding her together. As though it were moments ago, I remember the sight of her in the locker room, haggard and shaken from whatever mind games Jimmy Liery had been running on her and wanting-- and wanting just to make it better. Easier, something. I don't know-- I've always had too much practicality to be a good knight errant, and God knows Diane Russell didn't need rescuing.
Bobby and I went out a few times-- and did a little more than either of us ever let on to Diane, but I always knew it was mostly for show on his part, to make her jealous when the truth be told, I don't think she even noticed too much. So it wasn't exactly like my heart was breaking when I realized they were getting back together. Actually, I felt a little bad, using him that way. We talked about Diane all the time, what he felt about her, how frustrated he was that he couldn't reach in and just make things right for her. I counseled only patience and told him that were it meant to be, they would find their way back to each other. All the while, I'm thinking... well, I didn't really know what I was thinking then.
I only knew that whenever she walked into a room, my eyes seemed to find her, follow her. My ears listened for the sound of her voice, whether it seemed strained or if easy laughter wound its way out of her throat. I watched her posture, noticed when she was tired by the S-curve of her spine, the way she slumped in the uncomfortable office chairs the department issued us. In time, I learned to tell if her shoulders were aching by the cant of her head and the furrow in her brow. Our partnering up just seemed natural, in a way, though I think the other squad boys thought we should be tearing each other's hair out because of that thing with Bobby.
They didn't have a clue, really. When things started to change, that's probably what saved us from the unending gossip that is part of every precinct and station house I've ever seen. Cops are worse than old women in a way-- maybe it's the incestuous nature of the job, how you can never manage to hook up with anyone for any length of time who isn't part of the job in some way. It's always cops with cops, cops with lawyers, cops with EMS techs-- anybody and everybody who can understand the grind and the pain and the unrelenting need that drives you back to the job day after pounding day.
That need destroys some cops-- sends them seeking someplace hotter, faster, further than the law will let them go. It ruins undercover cops the fastest, and Diane was one of the best undercover cops I had ever seen.
I don't know what self-preservatory instinct made her give it up-- most UCs are like junkies that way, have to be pried off the job too often with their gun pointed at the roof of their mouth. The easy answer--- Bobby and the need he filled deep within her-- made my gut ache and my eyes sting with the thought.
But she became my partner even as she became his wife.
And her losing him made her grip onto me all the more tightly.
Am I ashamed of that? That I let her lean on me, that I held her when she cried, or put my hand out to keep her from the bottle? Maybe I should be, because at times my motives couldn't have been the purest-- but when that day of reckoning comes and I have settle up with whatever higher power may or may not exist, I won't look away from the charge. Pleading no contest is not something my spine could withstand.
I never asked for anything. My only defense, I suppose. Not even on that night when she was so close to me, her spine against my legs, her hair with its cinnamon spice of her shampoo in my nostrils. I waited. For her breath. For her touch. For the words that would let me know she was mine.
And my lungs ached and my heart pounded that night when she slipped my arms around her.
"What if I told you the thing I was thinking about was you?"
Her voice. Her words. Not the hushed whisper that I heard in my dreams those nights when my own hand slipped between my legs long after the boys were asleep.
Even as my mind hesitated, my body responded and I felt my lips brush over her neck, absorbing the soft startle of our combined surprise and desire.
But it was toomuchtooquicktoosoon, and I felt my body shaking-- so close to plummeting off a precipice that I hadn't seen looming. The terrain of our lives was changing beneath our feet with every moment that passed. Arms, mouths, breaths making everything irrevocable. No turning back now, even had we wanted to.
"Come on then..."
My words rougher than I had intended, but I was afraid my voice was going to break and that newborn look of desire in her brown eyes would shatter. She couldn't know-- not now not ever-- how undone she had made me-- and for how long. It would color everything that had happened before-- our partnership and the friendship that I had come to cling to almost as desperately as she did-- and everything to come.
And oh God, how I wanted there to be an everything. A night and a morning and a day and a week-- a rhythm and a life. A home in this woman's arms as she pressed her head against my stomach and wrapped her arms around my waist.
I fell into her arms that night... and it was coming home to a place that I had never imagined. Her body. That laugh. Her sigh. Her groan. My name. Her mouth. More...
Than anything I could have wanted.
Morning and Fancy and his smile. But we were just partners to him, to everyone then-- running the numbers and scamming the perps better than they scammed us. Getting over a term invented by cops, not skels-- no matter how much they liked to think otherwise.
Her eyes on me all the while. Sienna, burnt with a knowing desire that I had recognized arcing from her to Bobby a long time ago, but directed at me this time-- and I wondered for a minute how he managed to even breathe. This woman's passion directed at him. For him. Knowing her body, that skin, feeling it open to him the way it had opened to me. I felt his hands on my shoulders now. Smiling down on me, an easy smirk of grace, I know...
Had he always?
Maybe. Probably, but did it really matter now because I had compromised no one's honor, least of all his? And our little secret extended to include one more thing.
The locker room-- was it really a good idea for us to be alone? Her eyes and mine her hands and mine her mouth and mine and a flick and a lock and a door the strength of which I doubted could withstand the force of what was burning in me, let alone in us both.
"Shift ends in an hour."
"Don't know if I can wait that long."
"Unless you want Medavoy dropping dead on the locker room floor we'd best."
And poor Danny offering to stand us for that beer-- trying so hard to step into shoes that nobody, not even me, could fill-- the hope in his eyes I didn't have the heart to quash because I knew that look could be on my sons' faces one day. A girl-- or a boy-- and a heart that would never be theirs. Thankfully she turned him down for the both of us, because I probably would have said yes to spare myself that duck of his head, the shuffle of his feet.
My place, not hers... I couldn't do that to Bobby's memory. To myself, really-- though my pride would have no such compunctions later.
Funny, we became shy once the door shut behind us, and the only possibility of interruption stemmed from our own fear.
Her fingers twitched at her side, and I knew the next step was mine. Forward, then across, back, across and down... A waltz of sorts, my left hand reaching for her right. The bare one. The skin that carried with it no mark of any man, any love, any touch that wasn't mine.
The graze of my lips across her palm, and a shiver that I knew was from neither chill nor fear. Her arms wrapped around me, and the last vestiges of hesitancy dropped from my shoulders as I led her into my bedroom.
The apartment was eerily silent to me; the boys gone for another week, and me used to the clatter and clutter that raising two teenagers makes inevitable. The bright sunlight flooding through the curtains of my bedroom Diane had opened the night before.
"Come on then." My words, her voice. Her hand and a smile. I knew I was home.
I opened my arms. Opened my soul. My life to this woman with her pain that shrouded freedom and love and choice from me. But I didn't care. Couldn't care. Couldn't stop myself from wanting
This time. This moment. This life.
With her. Not mine. I knew it was borrowed. A blink a breath a flicker of an eye.
But hers were on me now, and a shudder rattled the cages of my fears.
Set them free.
Always. Have. Will. Can't stop. But my god that's her skin and I never knew it could feel like this. Didn't imagine. Couldn't have. Wanted to but oh my how can it be
Something I never dreamed. Even when I did. Waking up shivering, sweating. But not like this.
"You break a sweat," she murmured. "At the small of your back. Just when you're about to come."
The breath of her lips.
And I do.
Laugh. Soul. Save me now. And the priests and the nuns never prepared me for something like this. But she's my life...
And that raid.
The next morning.
"Russell, Kirkendall. You're up. Get somebody from OCI to back you up."
A crack house where a murder suspect was supposed to have been holed up. Us both with our dark blue wind breakers with the NYPD stenciled across the back. I had never wanted a letterman's jacket in school, never wanted the protection that the big school letters afforded any girl who wore a boy's. "Switch with me," I said.
Dark brows furrowed at me. "Jill."
"Here. Take my jacket. It's too small." Although it wasn't. Not by half. And Diane stared at me again, blinking with what could have been recognition, but she said nothing. Only handed me her wind breaker and accepted my own without hesitation. "You got your vest on?" she asked, knowing-- as I did-- that it would be about as effective as a letterman's jacket if the skel came aiming at something other than our chests.
My reply was interrupted by a shout and the thudding sound of a pile driver hitting flimsy plywood. Cops poured in the front while skels poured out the back-- right into our arms. Our own commands and the sudden appearance of our service weapons stopped most of them where they stood, but a few barreled on through. One right at Diane with a Glock of his own leveled right at her. I shouted, a few skels already on their knees screamed, but I just kept seeing that Glock coming at Diane.
Her weapon steadied.
We both fired.
He dropped to the ground in front of us and her eyes were with mine and all I could think about was getting my arms around her to make sure she was safe. She was whole.
That's not how they found us. Of course.
She covered the down perp while I kept the the others in line. "Shots fired! Shots fired!" Was that screaming, inhuman voice really mine? Sorenson rounded the corner with Sipowicz bat out of helling it on his heels, moving faster than a man of his bulk should by rights. Their service weapons were drawn, but a quick glance told them all they had to know. Still, Danny couldn't help the obvious. "You okay?" he asked needlessly, his eyes never leaving Diane's.
I saw something in that moment, an instant not just of infatuation but of genuine longing. A craving to have this woman mean something, be someone substantial in his life. There and then gone.. She could save him...
"Jill...?" Her voice, her gaze for me alone-- and nobody thought anything of it. We were, after all, partners.
I nodded shakily, not trusting my voice. Not trusting that a wad of bile-- of fear, desire and sick panic-- wouldn't come spewing out of my mouth at the disaster so narrowly averted.
The forms, conversations, evaluations and ballistics tests that are standard procedure whenever there's an officer-involved shooting kept us apart for the rest of the day. Even though the shoot was as clear-cut as a shoot can be-- what with the skel putting a gun in Diane's face with three other cops and another assorted half-dozen skels around-- IAB still took our statements separately and made us see different departmental shrinks at 1PP. When they finally turned us loose, we couldn't get to each other's skin fast enough.
Later, hours, the reassuring lub-dub of her heart against my ear finally kick-started my own. I could breathe again. One hand toyed lightly in my hair; the other traced meandering patterns against the skin of my back, leaving delighted trails of goosebumps in its wake. "Thank you," she murmured in the growing evening dimness. "For backing me up."
"You're my partner," I replied simply, though we both knew it was taking a turn into something other, not more than-- partners are in a sense everything to each other. Especially out on the street. And it wasn't unusual for partners to come romantically involved. That's how Diane and Bobby had gotten together-- but I didn't want to think about Bobby right now.
"Shh..." I hushed her, leaning up to stroke my lips softly against hers. "You'll do the same for me one day."
"I hope I'll never have the chance." Her eyes centered on mine as she framed my face steadily in her hands. "But, Jill, I'll be there for just as long as it takes." She kissed me again, my lips now gracefully familiar with the shape and texture of her mouth. Arousal stirred briefly in the coils of my belly, hers too, I could feel from the slight pressure of her hips nestled snug against mine; but the adrenaline drain of the last twelve hours' chaos reminded us lightly that want we really wanted was to be safe and home in one another's protection.
We must have dozed off like that because full night had fallen when the insistent ring of the phone forced my eyes open and my head reluctantly from its resting place against Diane's shoulder. I half-heartedly lifted an arm to pick up the receiver, but Diane's fingers tangled in mine, intercepting me. "Leave it," she commanded softly. "Just for a night. Leave all of it behind."
I didn't hesitate as I allowed my arm to be guided back to her stomach; the even rise and fall of her diaphragm steady against my light touch.
The noise of the phone receded into the background, subsumed by the growing roar of blood in my ears as her mouth found the now-violent pulse point in my neck. Her tongue licked the artery there; her teeth nipped presumptively at the skin, marking me as her own. Growing lost in this appropriation, I almost didn't hear the snick of the answering machine, even though it was less than three feet away from my head; but the note of controlled panic in Sorenson's voice slowed the rise of desire in my chest.
"Uh... Jill..." I could almost see the duck of his head and the absent fidget of his hand in the hesitant cadence of his words. "It's Danny..."
Like it could be anyone else.
"Anyway... I know IAB hung you guys up past shift but..." Hesitate. Shuffle. Shuffle. "It's just that I been trying to get ahold of Diane..." The rattle of paperclips in their plastic container. "She's not answering... And I'm..."
Ending his torment and not looking at my lover, I reached across her slender frame and picked up.
"Jill!" A strangled yelp. The sound of a boy not yet a man.
"It's okay. She's okay..." I said quietly and flipped on the low bedside lamp. Glancing at the woman in my bed, I waited for her nod before continuing. "She's here with me."
In the silence I could hear him doing the mental arithmetic. Adding up the hour and the stress and the day. Not to mention the hoarse sleepiness in my voice that I couldn't have hidden had I wanted to.
"Oh..." The quiet disappointment in that syllable told me that the answer he was getting to his equation was pretty close to the truth. At least as close to the truth as someone like Danny would let himself come about something like this.
I glanced again at Diane. "You want to talk to her?"
The pause was so filled with hope I could have cried for all of us. "Nah..." he said a moment too late, and I knew that what he felt for Diane, as painfully adolescent as it was in a sense, was as overwhelming to him as my own feelings for her were to me.
I shifted, rolling free of Diane's embrace, and handed the phone to her. She sat up, cradling the receiver in her hands, her back to me.
"Danny? Hey." She ran a hand through her disordered curls, and I had to fight the urge to do the same. To touch some part of her while she talked to him and assert a claim that wasn't really mine to make.
"Yeah..." she said. "We were both pretty wound up after IAB kicked us..." Her voice dimmer now to me. "... Must have fallen asleep..."
A necessary lie, more for form's sake than anything. I saw in that moment what the future would be for her. For us. A duck and parry instead of the wink and nod the Job gave her and Bobby. My kids-- who the hell knew how they would react, though Kyle seemed to like Diane well enough and Frank was of the age when his adolescent rage wouldn't allow him to like anyone.
Danny offered her the chance to go from wounded to healer. To take that last step in becoming whole.
I think things started falling apart then. The boys came back home, and their demands were so easy to put ahead of my own. Sorenson, for his part, was there at every turn. Unknowingly perhaps, but there, pressing his clumsy suit with an endearing gracelessness that would have made me wince had it been any less honest in its intent.
He kissed her, she told me bemusedly. Adding, "He wasn't you..." in a low tone bored into my chest, adding to the ever-present ache there. She opened her mouth to say more, but Greg came barreling through the coffee room, saving me from attempting a lie I knew I couldn't carry off.
In a way, it was so simple for both of us to pour it all into the partnership. The twelve-hour days and blood and wounds of the city were almost adequate diversions for what burned between us. We became the kind of partners who could finish each other's sentences, who could work a perp without having to stop beforehand to discuss it. There for every step, every word, watching each other's back, guarding each other's love.
It wasn't enough, of course. Not nearly, for either one of us. The sidelong glances were beginning to threaten to set one or both of us aflame.
Maybe that's when Don oozed back into my life, I let him. Then told Diane about it the next day. I don't know why; I certainly didn't expect her to step up for me instead of stand aside, the way I did for her and Danny.
I could see the wind knocked out of her when I told her, breath leaving her lungs in a soft whoosh as surely as if I'd kicked her legs from under her. She was trying to find the right thing to say in that silence, and I wanted to tell her that this wasn't a test. There was no right answer.
It was simply a way out. For both of us.
Or it would have been, if Don had been anything other than the no-account, lowlife skel he had always been.
Her telling me that the Job had him up broke me faster than if I'd found out on my own. Knowing that there wasn't a way out-- either from the lies she and I would have to tell if we were together, or the burn in my belly if we weren't-- just made me want to let it all go.
She wouldn't let me, though. She kept getting between me and the oblivion that sinking in Don's schemes would have brought me. But oh, god, how I wanted to. Take his drugs, make his deals-- I would have been a far more effective dealer than he ever was. Don, for all his ambitions and drive, was always small time.
Seeing her face every day, remembering her touch, stopped me. When Don realized the truth, realized I'd never willingly sink to his level, he threatened violence to his own flesh and blood. His taking Frank showed me the end of the road-- that one or both of us would have to be dead for it ever to be really over. By this point, I really didn't care if it was him or me. Or all of the above.
She got between me and that, too.
And at the end of it all, she gave me Bobby's ring, the mirror of the one she still wore, and slipped it on my finger. Said, "Remember everything..."
And I knew it hadn't all been a dream, wouldn't have all been a lie if we-- if I-- had let myself see us through. We would have found a way.
I live Down Here now, and the colors are something I'd never seen before. Whole Crayola packs' worth of just green, or just blue. Sixty-four shades of white in the single puffy cloud in the sky.
The boys are growing like the weeds that cover the small stream at the edge of the property of the small house where we now lived. Somewhere in the back of my mind had been the fear that one day Don would drive me to this, and so I'd prepared. Money stretches further Down Here, and we've managed to find a place with rooms for Kyle and Frank, a trim yard and more fresh air than we'd dreamed of in the City.
I miss being a cop, though the women's shelter that hired and then quickly promoted me lets me do as much good here as I ever did with a gun and badge. Perhaps more, because I'm helping heal the wounded, rather than working to punish those who brought them harm.
More than anything, though, I miss her. Every instant of every moment of every day. Having her at my side, watching my back. Missing always those few days when I let myself hold her in my arms-- even better than the way I'd imagined it.
She's there for me now in the weight of the ring that still hangs loosely on my finger. I haven't ever taken it off.
Mid-summer now, a year's worth of days from everything that has happened in the City. The boys are down the street sleeping over with some friends. It's quiet here. The cicadas and crickets and frogs a universe away from the ambient noise I grew up listening to. I like the symphony here, am growing used to its gentler and more measured melody. A glass of wine rests on the patio table alongside the face-down library copy of The Unvanquished. I am learning the literature of this place; and sometimes, I even think one day I'll understand the often inscrutable and unintelligible natives of my adopted home.
But right now, I'm just enjoying the peace, lost in thoughts of I don't know what. So much so that I don't hear the door chime. Must not have, for a visitor-- frequent until now only in my dreams-- walks tentatively around the side of my house, hands tucked protectively in her pockets.
Somehow, only a part of me is mildly surprised to see Diane Russell standing at the foot of my back porch stairs.
She is every bit as beautiful as the last time I kissed her cheek good-bye. Her eyes, however, are peaceful, contented; and I realize there is something different about her. The waning evening light glints off the ring on her left hand; I see her eyes search out and find its mate resting on mine. In that moment, I know.
We are home.