Jamie thought he'd made up his mind. He was going to back off. It was his only choice, really. They'd agreed to date other people, and nothing good was coming out of him being hung up on her. He felt everything he'd been mulling over the past few weeks. He was annoyed that she had Barry, but still came to him when the chips were down like he was supposed to take all the bad shit so she could go back to her happy life with Barry. Frustrated that she had Barry in the first place, who could get her the most sought after tickets in all the burroughs like it was nothing. Regret for not doing something when he had the chance, his job be damned. Shame for not being able to let her go, let her be happy. Disappointment that she'd really moved on, and he was left pining. Anger that he'd let his job dictate his personal life. A job that could end with one injury that benched either one of them for their career. Then what would he have? Nothing. But she'd still have Barry. No. He'd vowed to give some space until he could get himself through this. They'd talked about it, and he could be happy for her. He would be. Eventually. But until that time, he'd take time to lick his wounds and learn to handle it. He was going to stick to his guns. That was, right up until she cracked that watery smile and her voice faltered.
"If we do go, we gotta talk about it the whole time," he asked. He knew full well that if she wanted to, he'd listen to her all night. He fought a momentary impulse to wrap her into his arms right then. He even resisted putting his arm around her as they left the building; something he'd done dozens of times before.
They'd split up to gather resources. He placed the order to their favorite Thai place near her apartment before he even started his car. Jamie would get the food, and she'd pick up a growler from the new microbrewery that opened a few blocks over. They'd both agreed that most of the brews weren't that good, but they had one barrel-aged variety that was really underrated. Within 45 minutes, he was ringing her buzzer. An action that left a sour taste in his mouth based on his last visit. He tried to swallow down the doubt that had softened when he thought about her vulnerable moment that made him agree to this.
She buzzed him in almost immediately. Jamie climbed the stairs and attempted to match his breaths to his foot falls to release his tension. At her door, he knocked lightly. He could hear voices inside, as though Eddie were listening to a talk TV show.
"It's open," he heard her say from the living room. Jamie kicked off his shoes, locked the door, and saw Eddie with a pile of laundry in her arms. She plucked the final sweater from the couch, then ran the pile back to her bedroom. He glanced at the TV but saw a blank screen. It was only then he realized the two female voices were coming out of the speaker on her coffee table.
"Are you listening to a ...podcast," Jamie asked, his surprise evident.
Eddie reentered from her bedroom, cheeks pink. "You're always going on about how they can be so informative and broaden your understanding or whatever, so I started listening to a few." She shrugged as she reached for her phone to pause the recording.
Jamie felt himself soften a little. He'd made mention of it while she was on recovery when she complained about the monotony of paperwork while she rode the desk.
She continued, "it's no Epic History or TED Talks or anything, but," she shrugged, "I still think it's okay."
Jamie brought the food to the coffee table. "Good," he said, deciding not to correct her misstep in the name of his recommended podcast. As he opened the bag he asked, "So what's that one then?"
She pinked again. "Oh, it's probably dumb. It's these two women who read a self help book then live by it for two weeks. You know, like The Secret or that tidying up book they talk about on the radio. Anyway," she rushed on, "they stick to what the book says for 2 weeks to see if it's even possible to live that way and then, you know, if the lifestyle does what it claims to do." Jamie nodded. "Plus they're pretty funny, so that helps. It's a nice break, ya know?" She shrugged again as she grabbed the beer from her fridge. And just like that, Jamie felt all the walls he'd been trying in vain to build for his protection crumble.
Edit Janko was nothing if not true to her word. They did not talk about their week. They shared the Crab Rangoon and spring rolls while Eddie let him prattle on about a recent podcast he'd listened to on the Williamsburg Bridge and how it's construction changed Brooklyn. She took generous portions of the Massaman and Pad Thai while he claimed the cucumber salad and Basil Chicken. Much to his surprise, there was no sign of Barry that Jamie could see in the apartment. Not even a toothbrush hiding in the medicine cabinet-a glance Jamie might've sneaked when he used the bathroom.
Eddie talked about her dad a bit. His lawyer had contacted her a few weeks back to say they were going to start preparing a petition for parole. The conversation at the beginning of the week clearly had rattled her, but she tried to seem nonplussed by the whole thing. She told him about a feud she was having with an older lady in her building who would take other residents clothes from the dryer, still wet, in order to dry her own. They got dangerously close to talking about it when Eddie mentioned the new baby in the apartment above her, but she carefully sidestepped it with an anecdote about the change to their walking patterns as they paced the apartment late into the night.
When they both began to pick at their food, Eddie suggested the TV. Out of habit, Jamie started to clear their empty containers to the kitchen. He saw the exam application open near the coffee pot, a thick book beside it. Jamie disposed of the takeout and flipped the pages of the new book. For just a moment, he questioned whether his decision was the right one. He didn't miss law school or spending his days pouring over books, but there was something about the promise of a new book like this; of learning and mastering the content that still gave him a thrill. He opened a page toward the back of the book. As he anticipated, he found a practice exam. He skimmed the page for a short question. He cleared his throat and began to read. "A newly assigned police officer asks you, his patrol supervisor, what he should do if he is the first to arrive at the scene of a bomb threat in a building. Your most appropriate response should be to-"
Eddie, who was scrolling through the channel guide, turned to him and groaned. Her face read embarrassment and a touch of fear. She rolled her eyes. "Know someone undercover with previous ballistics experience who can defuse it and tell your partner to run like hell?"
"Is that your final answer?"
"Probably not," she said and turned away from him. He sensed a change as she focused her attention back to the tv.
Putting down the book, Jamie moved back from the couch. He'd clearly hit a nerve. "You okay? Sorry if I-"
Eddie shook her head. "No, it's fine. I just don't even know where to start. It's like you have to have some encyclopedia in your head of the right way to do something according to the department, not what could happen in the moment. I haven't even finished the application, and I don't know if I should even bother." She looked at him. "It should be you, you know. You have the whole damned patrol guide memorized already. I practically break out in hives just reading the back of that stupid study guide."
Jamie chuckled at her ability to simultaneously compliment and take a jab at him. His brain started turning. This was just like the preparations he'd done for the Bar. Before he could really think about what it would mean- the time, the proximity, the commitment, his mouth was already moving. "I can help."
"You can?" Her eyes were hopeful as she turned to him. He knew he couldn't backpedal now.
"Sure, yeah," he answered, less certain than he hoped he sounded. "We'll break it down and tackle it one topic at a time. You'll be at the top of that list."
"You know, we could both be at the top of that list," Eddie said after a pause.
"Nah," Jamie replied, refilling his beer, "I already told you, I'm happy where I am, and I'm not interested." Eddie rolled her eyes and took another sip of her beer. She looked like she wanted to say more, but she finally settled on a show.
"Oh man, this is old school," she said with glee, turning up Storage Wars. "You know I love me some Dave. Yeeep," she imitated. Jamie smiled as she settled into the couch next to him.
They continued to watch and traded occasional jibes about the bidders and the lockers. Jamie barely noticed when he felt her body weight lean into him, and it wasn't until his arm was settling into her that he realized he'd wrapped it around her. He thought about leaving, but it was so easy to stay, his line in the sand slowly eroding. Before he knew it, they'd watched two episodes and were both nodding off on the couch.
"C'mon," he whispered to her as he shifted under her, "I'll tuck you in."
Initially, Jamie mistook her response for a grumbled protest and helped her off the couch. He started to tidy up the glasses and growler while she brushed her teeth. He was rinsing a glass when something clicked. Stay. She'd said it before standing up. He tried to piece it all together. He even went back to the couch to replay the scene in his head. Something, something, something, stay. Jamie thought again. Was it a question? Why don't you stay? A suggestion? You could just stay. A request? I want you to stay. He was sure she said it. He was sure that was the word she used. And no matter how she phrased it, the fact remained: Jamie had a choice to make.
Jamie waited to hear her pull the covers back after she changed for bed. He felt his heart thump in his chest and the blood rush directly to his ears. He tried to regain his breathing, but felt like he was about to burst. Could he risk missing another opportunity? Could he risk being shot down again? Jamie took another deep breath and entered her room. Eddie was curled on her side, seemingly asleep. As he got close, she patted the space next to her. "Your stuff's in the bottom drawer," she mumbled. For a moment, Jamie panicked. Did she think he was Barry? With a knot in his stomach, he made his way to her dresser.
Much to his relief, Jamie found a pair of his NYPD sweats and an old Harvard t-shirt of his, the only folded items among a tangle of yoga pants and leggings. He didn't remember giving them to her, but he vaguely remembered wondering about the whereabouts of the shirt some time ago.