Prologue | Monday | Tuesday | Wednesday | Thursday
The office could tell when Chris Larabee had something on his mind.
He paced the floor of his office, emerged to get pencils out of stationery cupboards, refilled his coffee cup or on occasion go outside and swore at the vending machine for giving him a Mars bar when he had clearly asked for a Snickers. On this particular Friday morning, the mood in the office was tense because everyone was burning with curiosity to learn what had happened between Chris and Mary after their explosive confrontation the afternoon before. All of Team 7 had found an excuse not to come back after lunch because they were certain that their leader would be in a filthy mood after Mary Travis had torn strips of him for telling a close friend that she was a lesbian. Buck Wilmington suspected there was more to Chris' motivation than just a practical joke but Chris could be awfully closed mouth about these things.
It was obvious something was wrong even if he refused to say it. However Buck did notice that Mary was absent because ever since she started covering her story with her at the beginning of the week, the woman had always arrived promptly at nine. After seeing her here all week, Buck thought the place did not look quite the same without the lovely blond occupying the desk provided for her use. Mary's presence in the office had made the Team 7 office not feel like such a boy's club and watching her with Chris had been the most entertainment he had since he forced Ezra to sit through the Porky's trilogy with him.
Speaking of the southerner, Buck stood up from his desk and went to see Chris. The rest of Team 7 saw him rise and looked on in admiration as he prepared to breach the lion's den. The others had been giving Chris a wide berth, aware that he did not like being disturbed when he was in this kind of mood and glanced at Buck with equal parts admiration as well as foolhardiness at venturing anywhere near their leader when he was like this. Buck let out a deep breath and closed the distance between himself and the front door of Chris' office. Tapping lightly on the surface, he was rewarded with nothing less than a growl.
"What?" A cold voice barked through the door.
"Need to talk to you," Buck replied and twisted the door knob, not waiting to see if he would be invited in as he pushed open the door and entered.
Chris was behind his desk, sitting in front of a table full of sharpened pencils, the rest of which was presently embedded into the soft porous material of his ceiling. Chris looked unrepentant and dared Buck to make comment. His expression was that of a child throwing a tantrum and Buck wondered what in the hell had happened to make his old friend so.....grizzly. There was no other word that described him with better clarity.
"You look busy," Buck said with amusement.
"What do you want?" Chris asked, clearly unimpressed by the intrusion.
"Just had a call from Ezra," Buck replied, undaunted by Chris' demeanour even if he did not wish to provoke it any more than he had already by his presence here. "He's taking a sick day. He'll be in on Monday."
"Sick day my ass," Chris muttered, perfectly aware why Ezra was not present today and it had nothing to do with some imaginary illness. No doubt the southern wanted to stay well away from him after the embarrassment of walking in on him and Mary yesterday.
"Something wrong Chris?" Buck asked, deciding to throw caution to the winds by inquiring.
"No," Chris retorted and glanced at the clock once again. Buck noticed that he had been doing that ever since Buck had walked into the room, shifting his gaze every few seconds to the face of the digital clock that sat at the corner of his desk.
"You expecting someone?" Buck ventured to ask, since it was obvious that he was.
"No," he answered, somewhat defensively.
"Don't mind me saying so Chris but you're pretty antsy today," Buck pointed out.
"Thank you Buck," Chris replied sweetly. "I'm so glad you dropped by, now get lost."
"Want to talk about it?" Buck asked.
"No!" Chris retorted. "I don't want to talk about or discuss or analyse my feelings about it or do any goddamn thing but to be left alone! Now unless you want to be checking liquor licenses at gay bars for the next month, I suggest you get the hell out of my office!"
Buck rolled his eyes, not at all worried by the threat but deciding that if the man did not want to talk about it there was not much he could do about it. "Alright Chris, I know when I ain't wanted." His old friend shook his head in resignation. "By the way, I just wondered, is Mary coming in today?"
"I....don't....know," Chris answered slowly, each word smouldering off his lips as it escaped him and Buck realised that he had inadvertently stumbled upon the reason for Chris' bad mood.
Where saner men would have left it at that, Buck Wilmington decided to make one last ditch effort to talk to his friend, hoping what he had discovered in the last few seconds would be enough to enable Chris to reveal something about what was worrying him so much. "I'm sure she'll be here sooner or later. The little lady can be a little bit of a firecracker but she's a professional, she wouldn't just let what she's feeling get in the way of her job," Buck tried to sound reassuring.
Wanna bet? Chris thought silently to himself. "Buck," he cleared his throat. "I don't give a damn whether or not she's coming in today. She's been nothing but trouble since she walked through that door. The best thing she could for me right now is to stay the hell away from us so we can get on with our jobs!"
"What happened Chris?" Buck pressed on and this time his tone took on a quality that was devoid of humour or light hearted casualness. This was the voice Buck used when he was about to get knee deep in Chris' business, no matter what the consequences. It was the same stubbornness that had allowed Buck to pull Chris out of the mire of self pity that had been his life after Sarah and Adam had died.
Chris saw the sudden shift to and was powerless to do anything but let down his defences for the moment. "She ran from me," he said shrinking back into his chair. "We got past all the crap that's been going on the past week and finally got down to the truth. Damn I wanted her Buck, I haven't anyone like I wanted her since Sarah. Then Ezra walks in and she jack rabbited on me. It never occurred to me that what was happening between us was just as scary for her as it was for me," Chris laughed at the irony of it even thought there was no humour in his voice, just plain disappointment.
Buck took in Chris words and could well understand why Ezra had wisely chose to remain scarce today. He was lucky Chris had not shot him already but that was neither here nor there. At least now he understood why Mary was absent today. She was hiding as Chris was hiding his office, hoping she would come in because it would make it simpler than his having to go find Mary to confront her.
"Maybe you ought to try talking to her," Buck suggested.
"I would if she was here," Chris confessed. "But it looks like she's not going to show up today."
"And what are you going to do about it?" The ATF agent looked at his leader in expectation.
"Do?" Chris stared at him blankly. "There's nothing to do."
"Okay, sit here and stew then," Buck replied shortly and saw the frown deepening on Chris' face. "Chris, you can't expect this to be easy. You care about her, then you got to go explain yourself. Sitting here and biting everyone's head off ain't gonna change much is it? Besides, it sounds like she's about as screwed about this as you are."
Chris narrowed his eyes. "Thanks a lot."
Buck grinned and started to withdraw out of the room to leave Chris alone so that he could think further on this.
+ + + + + + +
She was out of chocolate.
Over the course of the night since her abrupt departure from the ATF building after her exchange with Chris Larabee, Mary had been cutting a swathe through her refrigerator, devouring everything she could find within it because she always ate whenever she was confused or distressed. Thus she always ensured that her pantry and refrigerator was stocked with a copious amount of confectionary and sweets to prepare her for that moment when comfort food was needed. After what happened between her and Chris, she had felt that the situation called for the utilisation of those stored resources.
She knew that food was not enough to quell her nerves when she had cleaned out the tin of Ovaltine with a spoon.
Still clad in her pyjamas, Mary wandered around her house after leaving 37 messages on Julia's answering service, still waiting for her best friend to call while she thought of all the reasons why she should not go to the ATF building today and face him. She could not even bring herself to say his name because to do so would be to remember how incredible his lips had been against her when they were in his office. Mary had never believed she could desire any man as much as she wanted Chris at that moment. If not for Ezra walking in, she would have been borne away solely on impulse despite the consequences to her life.
Her inner voice wanted to know. Consequences! Mary told herself. She did not have the energy or the inclination to get involved with a man right now, especially that one. Chris only had to be the most arrogant member of the male species to ever crawl out of the primordial slime with the sole intent of driving every woman he met insane. There was a moment when Mary wondered if Sarah was not dead, just hiding. However, as soon as she thought that, she felt immediately remorseful because the effect of his wife's loss had marked his soul. It surface occasionally and usually during those moments when he thought no one was looking because all Mary wanted to do when she saw that pain in his steel coloured eyes was to hold him in her arms. Mary understood all too well what he was going through.
Why did he have to be an ATF agent! Someone who could get killed every time he walked out of his safe office into the field. Mary did not want to lose Chris the way she had lost Stephen. She could not imagine going through that hell again and it was that which propelled her out of the room, running like a frightened child when Ezra had inadvertently walked in on them.
Suddenly, the phone rang and Mary leapt out of the bed. She had been in the process of scraping the last fragments of Ovaltine from the bottom of its tin and had been watching 'the Young and the Restless' when she heard its shrill tone and quickly picked it up, hoping that it was Julia and not anyone else.
"Darling, you've been calling," Julia's smooth tones came over the phone.
"You're damn right I've been calling, where the hell have you been all night?" Mary demanded as she nestled back comfortably into bed now that she finally had Julia on line.
"I had a few problems," Julia replied not wishing to elaborate. "Now what is the emergency?" Julia who had spent the night with Ezra who was at this moment was procuring them brunch after a night spent in carnal bliss, was aware of the emergency without Mary telling her the details.
"It's all your fault!" Mary gushed. "You had to tell me that stuff and then made me get mad at him! Do you have any idea how goddamn sexy that man is when he is being an utter pain in the ass!"
"Obviously not," Julia said innocently. "What happened?"
"I'll tell you what happened," she stammered. "He said...and then I said....and then he kissed me and it was good. God, it was one those kisses that you know make your toes curl.....I need more chocolate. Anyway, he was kissing me and you wouldn't figure that the bastard could do it so well and then my t-shirt came off and his mouth....oh wow anyway Ezra walked in and caught us!"
"So I'm not clear on how this is all my fault again?" Julia inquired innocently.
"You!" Mary accused, aware that she sounded like a teenager on the phone but she could not help it. She had not felt this flustered and uncertain of herself in too long and each time, she tried to think of the words to explain herself, she became more tongue tied. "You started all this. Why did you have to tell me what he said to Gerard!"
"Because I wanted to make the asshole squirm and because it is so obvious he's in love with you for pulling such a juvenile prank," Julia answered, seeing no reason to hide anything. Mary needed to hear the truth even if her mind was racing incomprehensively with fear and doubt at present. Despite her frantic flurry of speech, Julia could tell over the phone that Mary was as in love with Chris Larabee as he was with her. She was just too afraid to admit it, while he had been too stubborn.
"He doesn't love me!" She said defiantly. "How could he love me? I mean we've been tearing each other apart since we've met. I'm surprise none of us have drawn blood!"
"Hey don't knock it," Julia replied. "At least you're not beating the crap out of him every time you see him. Now that's a weird relationship."
Mary felt silent for a moment. "Julia, I'm not ready."
Julia let out a sigh and responded in a gentler voice, devoid of amusement or sarcasm. "Yes you are Mary. It's been two years. I loved Stephen, he was a wonderful man and a good friend but he wouldn't want you to stagnate the way you have been. You've put your personal life on hold for the past two years by burying yourself in the work. You've neglected Billy and you've neglected yourself. It's time Mary, long past it when you have to accept that Stephen is gone and he is not coming back." She paused a moment and spoke her next words carefully. "Things change. Sometimes, in not the way we imagine it would but invariably life goes on and you have to accept what comes at you, no matter how strange it might be at first."
Mary had a feeling that Julia was not talking about her present situation with Chris but something deeper. Mary suddenly felt ashamed because she had been doing nothing but speaking about Chris every time she and Julia had conversed the past week. Obviously something was taking place in her best friend's life of which she had no idea. "He probably won't even speak to me after I ran out on him," she said after some reflection. "I was like a frightened kid and I then I didn't show up there today," her voice trailed off. "I can't even imagine what he must be thinking."
"Well call him," Julia prompted firmly. "There's only one way to find out instead of moping around the place."
Mary pulled the covers over herself and decided that everything would be alright if she just did not have to leave her bed for the next month. Unfortunately, Julia was right, she had to be an adult about this. "God, why is this so hard?" She groaned with frustration.
"Because you make it that way darling," Julia returned sweetly.
"You're supposed to be my best friend," Mary grumbled, surfacing from under the quilt to respond to her friend's comment.
"I am and right now, I'm giving you the best advice that I can, call the man," the redhead said good naturedly, more than accustomed to handling Mary when she was in this sort of mood. Mary really hated that.
"Alright!" Mary whined, aware that she had not choice but was force to surrender to good advice, no matter how much she loathed to admit it. "I'll do it."
"You know it's frightening to me that between the two of us, you're the one with the eight year old," Julia teased.
"Eight year olds are easier to deal with than Chris Larabee, you can smack them when they behave badly," Mary pouted.
"Well you still can," Julia's smile could be seen even though she was miles away from Mary. "Depending what you're into."
"You have no shame," she nearly laughed but managed to cling to her bad disposition a while longer. Besides, her mood was not going to improve when she was forced to call Chris a short time from now.
"This from the woman whose suave Latin lover was so wrecked after one night that he followed her around the entire of the week we were in Rio." Julia deadpanned.
"You are not helping," Mary retorted.
"And you are stalling," Julia said knowingly. "Now quit doing that and just call him."
+ + + + + + +
Chris had not expected to hear from Mary.
When the clock struck 5.30 that evening, he had spent the entire day snapping at everyone that the rest of Team 7 had decided to call an early start to the weekend just to escape his mood. All day, he had tried to ignore Buck's words that he ought to go find her and talk this out but could not find it in himself to make that effort, since he was still vainly hoping she might still come into the office on her own. However, as the day progressed, it was obvious that Mary was not going to appear. Chris had all but given up hope when the phone to his office rang after everyone else was gone and he was remained, trying to decide what he should do about her.
"Chris," Mary's soft voice spoke in his ear.
"Mary," he said simply, holding his breath at the sound of her voice and wishing more than ever they could speak to each other face to face. "Are you alright?" He asked, hoping that she knew that the inquiry was more than just about her being absent today.
"I'm fine," she responded quietly in turn. "We need to talk," she said not mincing words.
"We do," he agreed and decided that he preferred getting to the point than more dancing around. "Tonight?" He suggested, not wishing to wait
"No," she answered quickly. "I have to be at Orin's for dinner. I'll meet you at the office tomorrow."
"The office?" Chris wondered why she had selected that place as the venue for this important discussion they needed to have in order to settle how they felt about each other.
"Yes," she answered coolly. "I prefer it that way."
"Alright then," he said just as equally indifferent. Chris he had no choice if he wanted to play her game because it was her rules.
"I'll see you then," she answered finally. "Good night."
Chris hung up the phone, not entirely sure that her coming to meet him here bode well for their relationship, or what there was of it. All he knew for certain was that for the first time in God only knew how long;
He actually had plans for Saturday night.
To be continued...
Comments to: email@example.com