Authors: Allyson Young
“KarLynn nearly died tonight,” he finally said.
Lacey tensed. “Oh God, Greg. What happened?”
He sighed and pushed up to sit beside her, staring down at the carpet. “We were called out to a homicide. The scene was secured, the usual. Except the perp came back, and KarLynn thought he was a gawker and intercepted him. You know how she gets.”
Lacey nodded. KarLynn Price was an obnoxious, malicious bitch, who treated everyone she met with abrasiveness that bordered on not-so-casual cruelty. And God help the person who got in her sights for some slight, imagined or not. No one wanted to partner with her, but Greg was the most laid-back of the detectives and had also drawn the short straw. Somehow he was able to let KarLynn’s vindictive and bitter attitude roll off of him. Lacey suspected he tuned her out most of the time and that KarLynn secretly lusted after him, so their partnership had endured. She had met KarLynn at one of the staff parties, although never at the club, and once had been enough. The fact that the other woman had never been invited to the club spoke volumes. No one in their right mind would trust such a nasty person with their secrets or well-being. The only redeeming quality the other woman possessed was her connection to the city councilor who lobbied for more money and better equipment for the force to quiet his niece’s whining.
“Anyway, KarLynn bitched at him and got a little physical to get him out the door. He pulled this huge fucking knife out and stuck her with it. He must have had it in his sleeve, and it was still bloody from before, from the first vic. I rushed him, but he got her again in the neck right up where the little vertebrae are and ran out the door. I had a choice between staying to help my partner or chasing the asshole…” Greg’s tirade trailed off, and Lacey again waited. KarLynn was still alive, so there was more, and it was worse.
He continued, “I ripped off my sleeve and packed it into her gut wound and used her scarf to try and stop the bleeding at her neck. He got her spinal cord, nicked it, and chances are she’ll be paralyzed from the neck down. Once the paramedics arrived, I found out that the asshole also took out a kid, Lacey, a little kid, right when he hit the street, and then the fucker fell in front of a bus.”
“It was a gong show. High on PCP, a horse tranq I didn’t know was still a drug of choice for Christ’s sake! He probably didn’t even know what the hell he was doing. Probably wouldn’t have remembered later. Shit.”
Lacey carefully put her arms around him again, shifting on the bed to do so. Greg leaned into her for a moment and then dragged himself to his feet. He pulled off the towel and started to rummage through the middle dresser drawer. “I have to go back to the station. IA wants a statement, those pricks, and then I need to go see KarLynn.”
“I’ll come with you,” she offered, jumping up to head to the closet for some clothes.
“Thanks, baby, but it won’t work. They won’t let you sit in at the station and KarLynn, well, she’s kind of insane right now. More than usual. I think I’ll take this one by myself.”
Lacey obediently curled up on the bed and watched Greg dress quickly, and then run a comb through his hair. He brushed a kiss across her lips and left. And things hadn’t been even close to the same since.
Oh, Lacey knew that Greg suffered from survivor’s guilt, and guilt that he hadn’t protected his partner, guilt over the child who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was a dominant, competent, able man, and things had been beyond his control that particular time. Greg was always in control and had taken a metaphorical shot to both his ego and his sense of self. Probably the worst thing for him was the realization that he would have willingly left KarLynn to bleed to death rather than sacrifice a child, had he but had the knowledge. Greg was in an impossible situation, not to mention being placed on desk duty until the investigation had run its course. He made himself visit KarLynn each and every day, and Lacey believed that the other woman would see it as her due and the best form of some kind of weird revenge. She didn’t much care how cold that made her seem. The bitch had brought this on herself and taken Greg down with her.
He had become a different person overnight. Her big strong, capable man had been diminished somehow, not that it changed her love for him. She admired him for being able to still feel, still be affected by the terrible things he witnessed every day in his work. But he withdrew from her both emotionally and physically and wouldn’t let her in, even as she waited for him to do so, patiently, never pushing him, just as she always had done, for he always wanted to come to her first. It was like living with a stranger, and nothing she did changed that fact. Greg got up in the morning, hit the shower, shaved, dressed, and took a travel mug of coffee with him out the door. He was exquisitely polite to her, refusing breakfast, assuring her he was fine, thanking her for doing his laundry, and all those things set her teeth on edge because they went on and on with no variation.
Lacey went to her accounting job every day, came home and made dinner, a meal Greg now rarely made it home for, although he would thank her nicely when he did show up to push the food around his plate, and urge her not to worry about cooking for him given his erratic schedule. A schedule that should have been predictable. It was as if he was hiding an affair from her, and perhaps he was, except it didn’t involve sex, and his partners were grief and guilt. She never knew what he was working on anymore and only learned about the fact that he had returned to active duty because her friend, Alex, had told her. Alex was married to Jeff and Devon, two of Greg’s cop friends, and Lacey had met her at the club over a year and a half earlier. Lacey had gone to see Alex some weeks after she had delivered her baby, taking the infant boy a gift, and had hoped to talk with Alex about Greg and babies both.
“Come in, Lacey!” Alex’s lovely face looked even more beautiful with the glow of motherhood, although there were dark smudges under both of her silvery-gray eyes, and her pale-blonde hair was drawn carelessly into a simple knot on her neck. “The little tyrant is sleeping right now, so this is a wonderful time for us to have coffee. It’s either that or I’m going to have a nap!”
Lacey laughed at Alex’s rueful grin, laughed for the first time in a long time. She hadn’t laughed since that fateful night as a matter of fact, and if it sounded pained to her ears, Alex didn’t seem to notice. She followed her out onto a nice little deck where a pitcher of iced coffee sat on a redwood table surrounded by matching chairs with striped cushions on each seat. A baby monitor rested beside the tall, ice-choked glasses and a hot tub bubbled in the far corner. A high cedar fence with lattice work and a bench in front of it afforded privacy.
Lacey saw Alex looking at the hot tub with a wistful expression, and the other woman flushed a little before confiding that they never found time to use it anymore. Little Aiden apparently commanded much of everyone’s time, and Lacey marveled at how a mere infant could monopolize his mother
both fathers. She wondered how she was going to manage on her own.
“It’s good news that Greg is back on the street, Lacey,” Alex said. “I’m sure he chafed being behind a desk.”
Lacey didn’t pretend. “I didn’t know he was, Alex. Back on the street that is. In fact, I don’t know much of what Greg is doing, or thinking, for that matter. We live together, but I’d know more about a roommate. I’ve tried everything I know to reach him. I’ve kept to the same routine, I’ve varied it not a bit, and I’ve been patient. Greg just won’t engage with me. It’s like I’m a ghost.”
Lacey couldn’t share that Greg rarely looked her in the eye and flinched a little whenever she touched him or even moved into his space. It felt like a slap in the face every time he did it, but Lacey persevered, albeit to no avail. She was moving past feeling worried and hurt into not being able to push the resentment and not a little bitterness away, and didn’t much like herself because of it.
Alex looked troubled and shook her head slightly but didn’t say anything. Lacey appreciated the younger woman’s sensitivity and the lack of platitudes. She gathered her courage and decided to confide. It was the kind of news that should have been shouted from the rooftops, shared with her parents and family, celebrated with Greg, but instead she had only this shy, intelligent woman who had gone through her own version of hell to tell. Lacey hoped she could borrow some of Alex’s strength, because she wasn’t certain she was strong enough on her own. She was worried how it would impact her job. She doubted Greg would even hear her, have her news register, and he wasn’t in any kind of state to deal with it in any event. Her mom and dad disapproved of her living in sin, dour Presbyterians still living way in the past, who thought she should have stayed at home until she married an appropriate man, a suitable man, not a cop, and certainly not a Catholic. Not that Greg practiced or likely even believed anymore. She would have to tell them, but wasn’t up to the task yet. She might never be, although didn’t know how she would be able to avoid it. Talk about crossing bridges when one came to them.
She opened her mouth to tell Alex, but something else came out, something that she hadn’t been able to share with anyone else either. None of Greg’s friends seemed approachable, being as flummoxed by his behavior as she was, and the only one who had really reached out to her with any authority was Alistair, and he made her nervous. He drew her, much as Greg did, probably by the very nature of his “profession.” He owned and ran the club, and Lacey didn’t dare connect with him. She felt too vulnerable.
“Greg won’t touch me,” she said. “He’s dominant, like Jeff and Devon are, Alex, as you know, so you must see how strange this all is. I mean, you met me at the club with Greg. It’s like he can’t stand for me to be around him, let alone have sex with me, or do a scene with me. Alistair came over and offered to set something up at the club, an intervention probably, and Greg looked at us as if we were aliens. If we had a bed in the office, he’d be sleeping there, and as it is, he’s on the couch more nights than not. I feel like he’s shut me out, cut me off, and is just waiting for me to tumble to it and figure something out. He walks away when I try to talk to him, yet he’s totally civil.”
Alex put her hand over Lacey’s and the dam broke. She wept within the shelter of Alex’s quiet support until the baby monitor squawked, and Alex jumped in a Pavlovian response. Lacey pulled her hand away and accepted the crumpled napkins Alex offered her.
“I’ll go get Aiden and be right back,” Alex advised. “Have some coffee.”
Lacey managed not to run out the door. That wouldn’t be fair to Alex after the other woman had heard her out, and she did want to see the baby. It was just that she felt so humiliated, being so powerless in the situation. It was Alex’s historical response to her own terrible betrayal that gave Lacey the idea to come and talk with her. She had managed somehow. Lacey chose to forget that in the end Alex had not had to do it all on her own. When she returned with a dark-haired cherub who stared at her out of his mother’s eyes, Lacey dissolved into another spate of tears. Alex held Aiden out to her and she took the child to hold him closely, rocking him until he protested loudly and then began to cry.
“He’s hungry, Lacey.” Alex freed one white breast in a totally un-self-conscious move and took Aiden and helped him latch on. He began to feed, and Lacey was moved from tears to laughter at the welcome silence aside from the greedy suckling noises. Alex looked like a Madonna, and her next words were prescient.
“When are you due, Lacey?”
Lacey shrugged. “I’m just over three months along, Alex. I conceived the same night as KarLynn got herself stabbed. Great timing, eh? It was the last time Greg got close enough to actually touch me, and he did me like he was affirming life itself, and created one. And now he’s not even one of the living. It’s freaking ironic.”
“Have you told him?”
“Nope. It wasn’t like we were planning to have a child yet. It was just one of those things that happen when little old me doesn’t like to use certain other kinds of birth control. So I guess I partly own it. Pretty hard to tell the father of your baby that he’s going to be a dad when he won’t look me in the eye or have a frigging conversation with me other than to say thanks for ironing my shirt.” Lacey fought tears again and managed a trembling smile. “No way do I want Greg to add resentment or even the thought of yet another burden to the other crap he’s feeling. I still care enough about him not to do that.”
“Anyhow, Alex, thanks for letting me vent. I’m going to leave Greg and will probably leave the city if I can get a job transfer. If not, I’ll move closer to the office and won’t be able to visit you very often. I’ll have to sell my car seeing as my savings are tied up in the house. Greg will eventually want to straighten that out, but who knows when, so…”
Alex suddenly interjected. “I think you should tell him, Lacey.”
Lacey stared at her friend, noting the perfect picture she made, baby at her breast and compassion and concern lighting her beautiful, oval face. “Why, Alex?”
“It’s hard to raise a child. Expensive, too. And a baby might give Greg a different outlook on life. Maybe it’s too soon to give up.”
Lacey heard an ugly sound emanate from her own mouth, and Alex heard it, too, because she flinched. Lacey gave it words and a voice. “Right. Greg gets the shock treatment, takes a baby to do it, never mind that he’s thrown us away. And what if he’s not stable? I’ve heard that he won’t see a therapist, although he clearly can’t handle things on his own! What if they fire him? What if he fucks up on the job because he’s so messed up and somebody kills him? What would that mean for a child?”
She grabbed a breath after her tirade and managed to calm down because Aiden was stirring, trying to nurse and turn his head to look at her all at the same time. “I’ll manage, Alex. I have a good job, and I’m hoping they’ll give me some time off when the baby comes, and there’re lots of single moms out there. Thanks for the coffee, hun. I’ll see myself out.”