A/N: Hello readers; I've been dabbling with this idea for awhile as I've dealt with real life stress that was hindering me in other writing projects. Working on this was/is an escape from things I was dealing with. This is an AU for Apologize; instead of Johanna being gone and coming back, it's Jim. The time frame is the same; end of season 4. This will not be a case heavy fic; it's more relationship centered. Kate, Jim and Johanna still have the same backgrounds and families that I gave them in Apologize (if you haven't read Apologize, I believe you'll be able to follow along easily enough). There is a family member who is deceased in the Johanna verse stories that is alive in this one (you'll find out who as you read this chapter). Like I said, this is just an AU of Apologize; I liked the idea of dabbling in the flip side; it's not replacing my original verse; I'm also still fully committed to those stories and I'll get them updated soon (I am starting a new job this week so bear with me) I have a few chapters of this story written in advance because it's my ficathon entry. I hope all of you will enjoy this story as much as I'm enjoying writing it. If you have any questions, let me know.
The early morning breeze of late May held warmth but Johanna Beckett felt cold inside as she stared down at the headstone that marked her husband's grave.
James Robert Beckett
July 6, 1949 – January 9, 1999
Beloved Husband, Father, and Son
"Do you know where I was thirty-nine years ago today?" she asked softly, her gaze on the letters that spelled out her husband's name. "It as my first day of work at Stanford, Myers, and Roche; I was in the hallway…meeting you for the first time…looking into those blue eyes of yours…losing my heart without even really realizing it. Thirty-nine years," she murmured; "It's hard to believe, isn't it? Tonight will be thirty-six years since we became a couple…and before long, August will be here…our thirty-fifth wedding anniversary…and you're not here to help me celebrate any of them."
She breathed deeply. "What I wouldn't give to go back in time, honey…to go back to when you were here…when I was happy…when Katie wanted a law degree, not a badge and gun. Thirty-nine years ago I didn't know I was meeting the man who would make my life better…and I didn't know that the universe would be cruel enough to rip you away from me long before we were ready to be parted."
Tears filled her eyes. "Thirty-nine years since the first time I heard your voice…and thirteen years and four months since the last time I heard it outside of my dreams…thirteen years and four months since the last time I saw you…the last time you kissed me goodbye. Thirteen years…it feels like an eternity," she whispered, tears slipping out beneath the frame of her sunglasses and sliding down her cheeks.
"I miss you," she said quietly; "I miss you so much every day. The world just isn't right without you, Jim. I do the best I can…but it's not easy. Everyone said it would get easier as the years went on…but it doesn't…I feel like it's only gotten harder. I think of all the things you've missed…Katie's graduation from college…your mother's ninetieth birthday…your brother Andrew's daughter being born…Gabby's going to be thirteen in October. You've missed us becoming great aunt and great uncle to several nieces and nephews. You've missed the blowouts between Katie and I about her becoming a cop. She did it for you…had to find the reason why you were taken away from us…thirteen years and a bullet later, we know now…but you already know all of that, don't you? Because I've already told you before...and I'm sure you watch for yourself…Bracken's in prison where he belongs…and while I'm glad to finally know the truth and have some of the danger removed from Katie's life…it feels like a hollow victory…because it didn't bring you back to me…and that's all I've wanted is for you to come back to me. That's not possible…and answers and justice…well, they're nice but they don't fill the hole in my heart; nothing ever will."
Johanna swiped at the moisture on her cheeks, the breeze ruffling her hair as she allowed silence to wrap around her. If things had been different, she had no doubt that she and Jim would have been lingering over breakfast as long as their schedules would allow…they would've made plans to go out to dinner to celebrate the anniversary of the day they met…and the date they became a couple. They would've stopped somewhere to hear a band…start plotting their summer vacation over a drink…they would've gone home and spent the rest of the night wrapped up in each other, not caring if they were late for work come morning.
But he wasn't there with her…she had plenty of time to get used to that fact and yet she could never stop thinking about what would've been…about how she was going to grow old without him there to reassure her that he still loved her. That he wouldn't be there to walk Katie down the aisle one day when she got married…that one day, if she was lucky, she'd be holding their grandchild…but he wouldn't be there next to her.
Her chin quivered, the tears coming more rapidly…the words she spoke on every visit slipping through her lips. "Why? Why did this have to happen to us?" she murmured.
Kate Beckett raked her fingers through her hair after she pulled her jacket back on that she had shed moments ago when she had arrived at her desk at the precinct. She glanced toward the desks of Ryan and Esposito and saw that they were already getting on the elevator as she gathered her keys and phone. "Come on, Castle," she said as he approached her desk, two cups of coffee in hand.
"Body?" he asked.
"Yeah; apparently they didn't want our day to start off slow."
"Apparently not," he quipped as they headed for the elevator. "I hope it doesn't interfere with our movie night tonight."
A shy smile touched her lips; they were moving slowly toward changing their relationship…the misunderstandings of the past few months being smoothed away in the aftermath of her father's case being solved…and Jacinda the flight attendant being sent on her way. "We'll do everything we can to keep our movie date," she said quietly so that they wouldn't be overheard.
Castle smiled; he liked the sound of the word date falling from her lips. "What shall we order for our movie marathon? Pizza? Chinese?"
"Let's do Chinese," she replied as the elevator doors slid open and they stepped inside. "I haven't had Chinese in awhile."
"Chinese it is," he remarked; a feeling of warmth spreading through him as her phone rang in her pocket.
She sighed a little, pulling the device from her pocket, seeing the name of her mother's boss on the screen. A small measure of worry filled her but she pushed it away as she swiped her thumb across the icon, accepting the call. "Hello?"
"Katie, I hate to bother you," Mark Montgomery stated.
"What's wrong?" she asked.
"Well…it's probably early to be worried…but your mother is usually here between seven-thirty and seven forty-five…and she hasn't shown up yet. I called the house at eight and no one answered. I'm probably just jumping the gun but I thought maybe I should call you."
Her stomach clenched a little but she forced herself not to panic; after all, it wasn't the first time she had gotten this call. "She's probably just running late," she said, keeping her voice steady. "She's probably on her way but I'll see if I can track her down."
"Alright, if she comes in before I hear back from you, I'll let you know."
"Please do," Kate said before ending the call.
"Something wrong?" Castle asked.
Before she could answer, her phone rang again; her mother's secretary's name on the screen this time. "Hello, Sharon," she said as she answered.
"Katie, your mother hasn't shown up for work. I just tried to call her cell phone and she didn't answer," Sharon said in a flurry of words.
"I know, Mark just called. I'm sure she's fine…I'll find her," she promised while her stomach churned.
"I hate when she does this," Sharon stated.
"I know…so do I," Kate muttered. "I'll see if I can track her down and I'll call you back in a little while."
"Alright, Katie. I'll keep watching for her."
Kate ended the call as the elevator doors slid open. "What's wrong?" Castle asked.
"My mother hasn't shown up for work yet," she answered.
He glanced at his watch. "It's still early…she might just be stuck in traffic."
"It's possible," she replied as they stepped off the elevator and headed for the door. "She might've overslept too…she turns off the landline sometimes…."
"I'm sure she's fine," Castle consoled as they headed for the car.
"Yeah…I'm sure she is…and I have a feeling I know where she is…because it's where I find her every time she's late to work or has dropped off the radar," Kate said gruffly as she jerked her car door open. "I'll call her once we get on our way…she knows by now that they're looking for her since Sharon called her cell…she'll answer for me."
He nodded as they got into the car; he had only met Johanna Beckett twice…three times at most and only briefly each time. He had a feeling she hadn't been all that impressed with him; she had told him that she enjoyed his books but she hadn't given him the star struck routine most women did…but of course Kate hadn't given him that routine either. Perhaps that was just the way of the Beckett women…they did seem to be a special breed. "What if she doesn't answer your call?" he asked without meaning to…but he did recall times when mother and daughter ignored each other in a vicious game of phone tag.
"Then she'll be very sorry when I find her," Kate said with certainty as she got into the car. Her stomach felt queasy as it always did when her mother pulled her late for work routine…or her late for anything routine really. How many times had she yelled at her about not being where she was supposed to be when expected? How many times did she have to be told that people worried about her? How many times did she have to be told that the death of Jim Beckett had sent shockwaves through more people than just the two of them…that it made everyone a little more wary even after all these years? Kate breathed deeply as she buckled her seatbelt; she was sure nothing was wrong…her own years of paranoia and fear of losing her last remaining parent always laid heavy on her shoulders but in her gut she felt that her mother was just off somewhere…the location probably no surprise…at least she hoped that was all it was.
Awhile later, her crying jag behind her, Johanna declined a call and dropped her phone back into her pocket. "That was Sharon," she said, glancing at Jim's name once again. "She's discovered that I'm not at work yet. I'll get there when I'm good and damn ready. I don't have any clients until ten anyway."
Silence wrapped around her and she took a breath, her fingers curling into the cuff of her soft pink blazer as she watched the wind ruffle the silky petals of the red roses she had placed on Jim's grave. "I've been thinking about retiring…it's hard to keep working for a system that you lost faith in long ago. I guess I've lost my passion for the law but that's not surprising. It's hard to have faith and passion for a job that took your husband from you…and the system that took too long to tell you why. For a long time, work was all that kept me going. I tried to drown in it…and I succeeded…a little too much. I didn't enjoy the stay in the hospital…or the yelling Katie did…or the eight weeks off Mark forced me to take. People have treated me differently ever since then…well…they were already treating me differently…they have been ever since you…," she trailed off. "But it's been worse since then…Mark polices my case load; deciding how much he thinks I can handle…we've had a lot of fights about that. Sharon's always trying to make me date…and that's never going to happen. I don't like how they all look at me…and I know it's not new…but it's just…I'm tired, Jim. I'm just tired of all of it. Especially tired of people telling me I'm living my life wrong…like it's some sin to remain a widow. There's no replacing love like ours…you're my soul mate, there can't be anyone else. I don't want anyone else…and every year people harp on it more and more. I just want to be away from it, you know? But if I give up practicing law, what would do I with my days? We had all those things we were going to do once we were retired…I can't go do them alone; it wouldn't be the same without you. I don't need to work…we saved and invested and I continued to do that…not to mention the fact that you left me well taken care of…but I feel like can't quit because I don't have anything to take it's place. I have your mother to take care of…Gabby to look after when Andrew is away…but Gabby's in school all day…and I…well…Liz likes to feel she has some independence so I don't want to infringe on that by being there even more than I already am. Katie has her own life. So I can't quit…can I? If I didn't have work, I'd just spend more time dwelling on things I can't change. But I just don't know if I want to do it anymore. I wish you could help me make up my mind…I wish I had some sign."
Johanna paused for a moment, taking another breath, feeling a little bit of the weight lift from her shoulders as she laid her troubles down. "That's part of why I don't care if I'm late for work…the other part is that I don't like to be too early anymore. When I'm early or don't have much to do then I have to put up with that Calvin Stonebridge. Remember, I told you he started working at the firm a few months ago…he's still trying to date me. Don't worry, that's never going to happen."
A soft breeze wrapped around her, the sun slipping out from behind a cloud, warming her back and she smiled, feeling as though Jim was letting her know that he was there and listening. "I keep telling him no…that I'm still a married woman in my mind and I have no interest in him or any other man. Eventually he'll get the hint…if not, I'll show him the gun in my purse…that's all it took to scare off the last one who didn't want to take a hint. He even left the firm…good riddance in my opinion. I'm not so sure Mark agreed…but if he'd hire married men then he wouldn't have to worry about his female colleagues threatening to shoot people. Of course if that piece of scum hadn't taken you from me, I wouldn't have to scare men off with a gun. You could just stop and scare them off…if you could arrange some measure to scare them off from where you are, please feel free to do so…it would make my life easier."
Her phone rang again and she pulled it from her pocket, glancing down at the screen. "That's Katie, Jim; Sharon must've reported that I'm not at work," she said before accepting the call. "Hello?"
"Where are you?" Kate asked.
"Why?" Johanna inquired.
"Because I've already gotten two phone calls telling me you're not at work."
"Two?" she asked; her brow furrowing.
"You're a creature of habit, Mom. You're usually in your office between 7:30-7:45. Mark called the house at eight, you didn't answer; he called me. Sharon called your cell phone, you didn't answer; she called me. It's 8:20; where are you?"
"I just lost track of time, Katie. Don't worry."
"Mom," her daughter said in exasperation. "I'm on my way to a crime scene; I don't have time to play games with you. Where are you? What are you doing?"
Johanna sighed a little; she hated when she had to tell her…knew before she even said a word that her answer would be followed by her daughter's sigh and a slight admonishment to move on. "I'm at the cemetery…I had to visit my husband. I've been here for awhile…longer than I realized I guess."
Kate sighed deeply and Johanna closed her eyes, waiting for the response.
"Mom…what are you doing there this early in the morning? It's not his birthday or your anniversary."
"It's the anniversary of the day we met…we always celebrated that in some small way," Johanna replied. "I just wanted to bring flowers…talk to him a little."
"Mom," she sighed once more.
"Don't say it, Katie," Johanna said; her tone low and even.
"Fine, I won't say it…go to work, okay? Don't sit in the cemetery all day for the simple reason that it's the day you met him. He wouldn't want that."
"You don't know that."
"Mom, Dad loved you more than anything…he wouldn't want you sitting there all day. He would want you to be happy. How many times do we have to have this conversation?"
Johanna breathed deeply. "Do you want to come over to your grandmother's tonight for dinner? She hasn't seen you in awhile."
"No, I've got a case; I told you I'm on my way to a crime scene."
"It's not even nine in the morning; I'm sure they'll let you eat dinner tonight."
"I have to work."
"If the case is easily solved, will you come to dinner?"
"No, I have plans."
"Oh? What kind of plans?"
"It doesn't matter what kind."
"Katie; are you dating him or not?" Johanna asked; knowing that her daughter's plans most likely included Richard Castle.
"Yes, it is a date…why don't you go out with that guy at work who keeps asking you."
"Are you crazy!" Johanna asked; "I'm standing here in front of your father's grave and you're telling me to date some other man!?"
"It's been thirteen years, Mom…I think maybe you need to. You need to find someone who can fill your time…because I can't and Grandma isn't going to be here forever. Give the guy a chance, you might like it."
"No, I won't!" she said sharply. "I'm not attracted to him. I don't like him. I don't want him. I've done told him ten times that I'm not interested. If he asks me again, I'm showing him the gun."
"Mom!" Kate yelled; "You can't keep pulling that gun on men who ask you out."
"The state of New York says I can…that's why they gave me a permit."
"No, the state gave you a permit because you said you feared for your life due to your profession. They didn't give it to you to run off men who want to take you to dinner."
"It works though; the last one even left the firm."
Kate huffed in exasperation. "You need to give someone a chance…no one is saying it means that you don't love Dad anymore; I know you do and you always will…but Mom; you're a person who needs someone in her life. I can't be there all the time so find someone who can be. I know it would be hard for you at first but I think you need it."
"No, what I really need is grandchildren…maybe if I had grandchildren, I could retire and babysit while you're at work and then my life would be full. So why don't you get on that and get those kids in production, you're not getting any younger, baby."
"Okay, you're getting mean and I'm at the scene so I got to go. You need to go to work too, please don't pull your gun on anyone…please be careful."
"I'll be fine," Johanna replied. "You be careful. I love you."
"I love you too," Kate said before hanging up the phone.
Johanna put her phone back into her pocket and returned her gaze to her husband's stone. "She hates when I bring up grandchildren," she told him. "That's always a good way to get her off my back. I did lose track of time though, I have to get to work…we'll talk later, honey," she said, kissing her fingertips and pressing them against his name. "I love you…always."
With one last glance and a hard swallow, Johanna forced herself to head back to her car. She probably wouldn't get to the office until nine or a little after if she stopped for coffee…and she probably would. There would be questions…she wouldn't lie about where she had been…and her friends would just give her that smile of sympathy and that look of knowing she was a woman who couldn't let go. They pitied her…it wasn't something she enjoyed…but it was the life she had known for the last thirteen years.
"Is your Mom okay?" Castle asked as Kate shoved her phone into the pocket of her jacket.
"Yeah, she's fine…or at least as much as she can be when she's standing in a cemetery all morning."
"I'm sure she has a reason."
"It's the anniversary of the day they met," Kate replied; "They had anniversaries for nearly everything."
Castle gave her a small smile. "That's sweet."
"Yeah…it was when he was alive to share it with her," she said quietly; "But he's not…so mostly it's just sad now. He wouldn't want her standing around there all day."
"Maybe it's how she copes."
"No, she just can't let go, Castle. The past thirteen years have been full of spirals that I've had to pull her out of. She's better than she used to be…but she still hasn't really moved on."
"You hadn't let him go either," he reminded her gently.
"I know," she said as they got out of the car; "But that was because I needed to know why it happened…now I know and we've caught the person responsible. I'm ready to move on…but Mom isn't. She wants me there all the time and I can't be…it sometimes causes discord."
"You still wear his watch," he said with a nod at her wrist.
Kate rubbed her fingers against the face of her father's watch. "I've been wearing it so long that I feel strange without it…it doesn't mean I'm not ready to move forward."
"No, it doesn't…it just means the watch is a part of you…like your Dad is a part of you even though he's gone," Castle said; "Maybe that's how your mother feels about her anniversaries…they're a part of her that she can't ignore."
She shrugged; her mother wasn't always an easy topic for her to discuss with him for some reason; maybe she worried that he'd think she wasn't the best daughter to her…or that she'd somehow be breaching her mother's privacy if she said too much about certain topics. "She's there all the time though," she said as they moved into the high rise building they had been called to. "Back when it first happened…she was at the cemetery every day…it took a little over a year to get her to scale back…and then it was three times a week. It took ten years to get her down to once a week…and then she's there for at least an hour…sometimes more."
"A lot of people do that."
"I know," she said, pushing the button for the elevator; "It's just…"
"It's just what?"
She sighed a little as they stepped onto the elevator. "I had hoped after we knew the truth and Bracken was arrested that maybe it would change something in her…that maybe once we had answers, she'd have some peace…closure…but it hasn't been that way at all. When I told her…she cried of course…and she wasn't herself for a few days but I expected that…and then she just went back to being how she's been since she got pulled out of her last spiral. She's never fully been herself since Dad died…sometimes it peeks out…but it never really stays. It's like she'll suddenly remember that she can't completely be that person anymore."
"You don't talk about your Mom much," Castle commented as the elevator continued to rise.
"I talk about my Mom."
"You talk…but you don't really say much while you're doing it…like when you talk about how she's had spirals…what exactly does that mean?" he asked; "I mean, I'm not trying to pry into her personal business…I just know how important it is to you that she's doing what she's supposed to be doing…for lack of better words."
The elevator stopped and the doors slid open. "We'll talk about it later, Castle…for now we have to work."
He nodded and followed her off the elevator, wondering if she really would open up to the full extent about her relationship with her mother. He couldn't help being curious about the whole story; it was a part of her that he still didn't know as much about as he would like. Perhaps there at home date that evening would give him a chance to learn more about the segments of her life that she kept somewhat concealed.
Johanna stepped off the elevator at work at 9:15, coffee in hand, the doughnut she had treated herself too devoured in the car and her emotions back under her control. She moved down the hallway, seeing that Mark, Sharon and Calvin were congregated outside of her office. She sighed a little; she was sure she was the topic of their conversation…and it wouldn't be the first time.
"Johanna," Sharon stated as she caught sight of her. "Where have you been?"
"I had something to take care of," she answered. "I don't have any appointments until ten."
"You had us worried," Mark replied. "It's not like you to be so late."
"Oh I wouldn't say that…you all have called my daughter before when I didn't walk through the door the second you thought I should."
Her boss eyed her warily. "I called Katie because you're always here before eight; I was worried that something was wrong."
"I'm sorry," she replied; "I had something to do."
"I'm sure it worries Katie when we have to call her," Sharon remarked. "She worries enough about you as it is."
"Then don't call her. I'm her mother, she's not mine. I'm fine."
"We just worry about you," Calvin said smoothly. "Maybe I could start driving you to work…I don't live all that far from you."
Johanna eyed him. "How do you know where I live?"
Calvin shifted on his feet. "Sharon told me."
"Uh huh, well I wouldn't advise you to use the information, Calvin. I drive myself to work; I've been doing it for a very long time and I assure you I'm still quite capable of doing so."
"Well I just thought it would be a nice change of pace for you…so you'd have someone to talk to."
"I have people to talk to. I'm not riding to work with you."
"I don't see why not."
"Look, Calvin, it's not going to happen. We've been over this a hundred times; I don't want to ride to work with you. I don't want to have lunch with you. I don't want to go to dinner with you. I don't want to see a show with you. I don't want to do anything with you."
"I don't know why," he remarked; "You act like I'm asking you to cheat on your husband…he's dead…don't think it's time you start acting like you know that? You're a widow…a free, beautiful, single woman who is allowed to get on with her life. Why do you insist on being alone when you don't have to be? Your life would be so much better if you'd just let go of the past…you can't bring him back."
Anger flooded her veins. "Believe me, Calvin; I'm acutely aware of the fact that my husband is dead. I was aware of it when I found myself at a morgue, seeing them pull back the sheet. No one on this earth, with the exception of his mother and daughter, is more aware of his death than I am," she said, her gaze an icy glace. "I'm well aware of the fact that I can't bring him back…that I can't trade places with him…that there's nothing I could've done to save him that day…and that's not easy for me to admit, but there it is…so I don't need you to remind me that my husband is dead and that he's not coming back…I'm aware of that every morning when I wake up and he isn't beside me. Yes, I am a widow…a widow with a gun in her purse. Would you like to see it? Because if you keep going…or have the audacity to show up on my porch, you're going to see it up close and personal. I've told you before, in my heart and mind, I'm still very much a married woman. If I can't have the man I want, I won't have anyone. I suggest you learn to accept that. I choose to be alone because I know that there's no one on God's green earth who can love me like Jim Beckett did. No one. Now get that through your head and leave me alone…or I'll do to you what I did to the last person who didn't leave me alone. You can ask Sharon about it since she's so big on telling people things."
"You're going to be alone the rest of your life with that attitude," Calvin said, a touch of anger in his voice.
"That's fine with me," Johanna said as she pushed through the group and into her office.
Mark followed her into the office and through the inner door as she made her way to her desk. "Jo," he said, a touch of firmness in his voice.
"I'm sorry I'm late, Mark; I didn't have anything on my schedule until ten and I wanted to stop at the cemetery for a moment, okay? I'm sorry. I lost track of time."
"It's not the lateness…it's the fact that you can't keep threatening to shoot everyone I hire!" he exclaimed in a quiet voice even though he had closed the door behind him.
"I only threaten the ones who won't leave me alone," Johanna replied. "Why don't you tell the men you hire that your female colleagues aren't here to be their call girls?"
"I think that's a little harsh, Johanna. No one has done anything to you but ask you out."
"They don't take no for an answer."
"Of course not; you're a challenge...but you still can't be threatening people with that damn gun. You already cost me Quinn Parker when you stuck that gun in his face. You've managed to offend most men in this building who have taken an interest in you…they don't even want to work with you on cases."
"Good; I prefer to work alone."
"I'm serious," he said sharply; "Now you're starting on Calvin all because he's interested in you."
"Well I'm not interested in him," she said sharply as she unpacked her briefcase. "He needs to get that through his thick skull."
"I'm sure he's probably gotten it now…and I don't think he meant to hurt you with what he said; I just think he really cares about you and wishes you'd give him a chance."
"Well I'm not and I haven't given him any reason to care for me. I'm not in the breakroom leading men on, Mark. Maybe you should hire more young men who will look at me as a mother figure…I can handle that…that's why I bake brownies once a month for Katie's team; Ryan and Esposito look at me as a mother…because I'm old enough to be their mother and that's very nice; I like them and they respect me. So maybe you should hire some younger men and then they'll chase the younger women here who want to be caught. If you want the older guys, for God's sake, get some married ones who have wives who keep them on a short leash."
Mark sighed deeply. "Johanna…maybe you should give someone a chance."
"I said no," she said, her voice low and angry.
"It's been thirteen years," her boss said quietly; "I know how much you love Jim…I know how much he loved you…but he's gone, honey…"
"I know that," she retorted angrily; "I just got done telling all of you that I know that…and don't call me honey."
"Sorry," he replied; "But it's been a long time since Jim passed…you're still wearing your wedding rings."
Johanna glanced down at her wedding rings. "They're my rings, why shouldn't I wear them? I'm not divorced, I'm widowed…a lot of widows still wear their rings."
"I know…but Jo…you've never learned to get over this…you've never let him go."
"And I never will," she replied; her tone low and seething. "You all want to judge me and you don't have the faintest idea what it's like to be in my shoes. You still wake up beside the person you love every day. You still have Cathy. Sharon still has Phil. I don't have my spouse…and it's not like he died from some disease…some piece of scum that you voted for decided that my husband shouldn't live. That scum you voted for took my husband from me; it wasn't God's choice…he made the choice. You don't just get over your husband being brutally murdered…knowing he died alone in a filthy alley littered with trash. You don't get over the police not doing a damn thing about it. You don't get over seeing your world crumble, your child chase something you don't understand and getting shot in the chest in the process of trying to find justice for her father. You don't just get over being on your knees in a waiting room begging God to let your child live…begging someone to do something, to solve this thing so she won't be in danger anymore. You don't just get over it because thirteen years later, it gets figured out and the cuffs get slapped on the scum. You just don't wake up the next day and be over it. I'm never going to be over it, Mark. You don't know what it's like…I pray to God you never know."
Mark chose his words carefully. "I know you've been through unimaginable pain and terror…but you've got to find a way to move on, Johanna. Let someone in…you've been angry for so long that I don't think you remember how to love."
"I love plenty of people."
"Yes; your family and friends…but maybe it's time to try loving someone else. Maybe if you tried…you wouldn't spend your mornings in a cemetery."
Her lips pressed into a thin angry line as she dropped her briefcase in its spot beside her desk. "Don't worry, Mark; the next time I'm late I won't tell you it was because I was at the cemetery. I'll tell you it's because I overslept after a night of hot sex with the produce guy at the market, okay?"
He smiled a little. "Jo…we just want what's best for you. I think a relationship would help you a great deal if you'd just give it a chance. I don't think Jim would hold it against you if you wanted to put yourself out there...he'll understand. I think maybe you need to take the chance…because, Jo…the next time you pull the gun on someone you're going to have to be the one I let go."
"I only pulled the gun once and that was years ago," she retorted.
"You just threatened to do it to Calvin!"
"Only if he doesn't leave me alone!"
"He's not the problem here, you are!" Mark replied. "Johanna, you're one of the best lawyers I know…but you alienate everyone that isn't already in your circle. Every man who shows you any interest is instantly an enemy and I just can't keep putting up with it. Maybe if you went out on a few dates, you'd feel better…you'd see that it's not a betrayal and that it's what you need. You're bitter, Jo…you've been that way for a long time. We've been patient, we've ignored things, we've supported you, we've all done everything we can think to do…but you're the one who needs to make some changes…or I'm going to have to ask you to leave."
She nodded, maybe that was the sign she had been waiting on…the one that helped her make up her mind. "You don't have to worry, Mark," she said quietly; her mind finally made up. "I plan on retiring at the end of the year. I can go sooner though if you prefer…I can have my caseload wrapped up by August."
Mark stared at her for a long moment. "What are you talking about? You've never mentioned retiring…a few months ago when Cathy was talking about it you said you wouldn't know what to do with yourself if you retired."
"I know…but I've been thinking about it a lot lately," she said as she drifted to the window and looked out over the city. "I think it's time…I don't want to do this anymore. I lost my faith in it a long time ago. I hate walking in here every day," she went on, tears in her eyes; "Knowing that people are always judging me, telling me how to think, how to feel, what to do…I've been putting up with it for thirteen years and I just don't want to do it anymore. So you don't have to worry about firing me…I'm taking myself out of the game, Mark. The date I go is of your choosing…I can finish out the year or I can finish out the summer; whichever you prefer."
"Jo, let's not be hasty," Mark said as he joined her at the window. "I think you're just upset today…I don't think you've really thought about this. I don't think anyone has meant to hurt you…I don't think anyone judges you…we all just want you to be happy again."
"I'm never going to be the same person I was, Mark," she replied softly. "I accepted that a long time ago…but no one else does…and it's hard to deal with that every day. I'm tired…I'm tired of the job, tired of people telling me to get over things…tired of men not wanting to take no for an answer and me being the bad guy for it when I have to get mean about it. I'm tired…very tired. If you had come in here and fired me today, I wouldn't have given a damn…I would've packed up my stuff and walked out the door."
Mark breathed deeply. "Maybe you just need some time off…everyone gets burned out once in awhile…you've been there before. You have a good bit of vacation time, why don't you juggle your schedule and see if you can take some time off…take a month off and see if it helps. If it doesn't…then I'll accept that you're ready to retire."
"You're ready to fire me if I don't give in and date people who ask me at work…but you won't accept that I want to retire?" she asked; "How does that make sense?"
"You know I'd never fire you…I just want you to quit bringing up the gun…it scares people…hell it scares me knowing you walk around with a gun….you do have a bit of a hair trigger temper, Johanna."
"My daughter already lost one parent; I'm not going to let her lose another one," Johanna replied. "That's why I have the gun."
"I know…you were scared that what happened to Jim could happen to you. I understand that…that's why I didn't fight you when you said you weren't taking criminal cases anymore. But seriously; let's put the retirement talk on hold…just try to be a little nicer to your male colleagues…you're a beautiful woman, they can't help but want to know you."
She rolled her eyes. "I'll mind my manners, Mark; God knows I wouldn't want any man to have to say to himself 'you know, she just might not be interested'. I mean how dare I expect them to leave me in peace and respect my wishes? Silly female, aren't I?" Please forgive me for my life choices."
"Okay," he said with a smile; "You're doing the sarcastic feminist thing and that scares me more than the gun so I'm going to let you be. Just think about what we talked about…it might be good for you."
"I'd rather be fired than go on a date…so, you know, if you change your mind and want to fire me, I'm okay with it."
"If you keep asking me to fire you, I'm not going to do it," Mark replied; "It's supposed to be a punishment, not a gift…maybe I should threaten to make you accept a date."
"Please leave," Johanna sighed; "You're giving me a headache. Why don't you all just stay out of my business? I don't stick my nose in your love life so quit sticking yours in mine."
"You don't have one."
"That's right, so there's no need to discuss it. I'm here to be a goddamn lawyer, not to be a damn whore just because my husband died and you all think I need to get over it by crawling under someone else."
"I never said that!"
"You don't have to, you make it clear…and Sharon makes it clearer every time she tells me 'the best way to get over one man is to get under another one'…well that's not how it works in my world."
"Okay," he said as he headed to the door. "If you want to be alone the rest of your life, that's your business…but memories don't keep you warm at night, Jo."
"I've got plenty of blankets," Johanna stated as she walked to the door and opened it for him. "Thanks for your concern. I've got a lot of work to do and I'd like to get to it."
Mark nodded and stepped out of her office. "And before you start," she said, glancing to Sharon; "Don't. I don't want to hear a single word about anything other than work...and don't you ever tell someone where I live again."
"He was just going to drive over and look for you if Katie didn't call back soon," Sharon
"If someone needs to come by my house, it can be you," Johanna retorted; "Don't you ever give out my address again."
"I won't," Sharon replied; "But he is a nice guy, you should give him a chance. Just tell him you're sorry and he'll forgive you for today…just go to lunch with him and see how it goes. You might like it…I think that's what you're afraid of…that if you give in and go out with someone you'll like it."
Johanna turned away and slammed her office door shut. She was definitely retiring at the end of the year…she'd find something to fill her time. Maybe she could teach a class at Columbia…she could reach out to them…test the water. She'd find something…because she just couldn't do this anymore.
At four-thirty, Johanna packed up her briefcase and then picked up her phone to call her daughter.
"Hello," Kate said.
"Do you have a minute?"
"Yeah; I'm just waiting on a report," her daughter replied; "What do you need?"
"I just wanted to see if there was any chance that you'll change your mind about dinner tonight," Johanna said. "I know your grandmother would love to see you. I'd like to see you too; it's been awhile…you bailed on me last weekend."
"Mom, I can't be at your beck and call all the time. I have a life," Kate exclaimed in a hushed voice.
"I know you have a life…I just like to see you once in awhile. I just…I'm sad today…and I know you think all of the anniversaries your father and I had are silly but they're not to me…and I'm just feeling down today. I just want to have dinner with you and Liz. I thought maybe if work allowed you might come."
"I told you I have plans."
"Bring Rick with you," Johanna replied. "It's probably past time for him to meet your grandmother. I don't know him all that well either."
"No," her daughter stated. "We're not doing that tonight."
"Why not? If you're going to be in a relationship with him we should know him better."
"Mom, we're just watching movies and eating take out tonight if all goes well here. We're just testing the waters, okay? I'm not subjecting him to family dinner already."
"You've had dinner with his family…several times if I recall correctly."
"That's different," she huffed.
"How do you figure?"
"It just is."
"They see you more than your own family."
"Mom, don't start."
Johanna sighed. "Okay; tonight is out. Can we have dinner tomorrow?"
"What?!" she exclaimed. "I just want to see you. Tomorrow is Andrew's evening with Liz…I hate eating alone."
"That's why you need to find someone," Kate replied; "You need more than one person can give you and I can't be there every time you're lonely or sad; you need to find someone. I'm trying to move on with life now that Dad's case is settled. It's time…you need to do it too. If you don't want to eat alone, then let someone take you to dinner. I know you don't lack for offers. You don't have to marry the guy…just let someone help fill the void because it can't always be me."
Her heart shattered a little; shame burning her cheeks. "I'm sorry, Katie. I won't ask anymore," she said softly. "I didn't mean to be needy…I just feel better when I see you on bad days but I understand that you can't always be around. I'll let you go now. I need to get out of here and get over to your grandmother's to get dinner started; she likes to stay on schedule. I hope you have a good time tonight; be careful."
"Mom," Kate said softly. "Just think about it okay? I know you're lonely…and I know Dad wouldn't want that for you. He'd want someone to take care of you."
Anger flickered in her veins. "I can take care of myself," she said sharply. "I don't need a man to do it."
"I didn't mean it that way; I just think…"
"Goodbye, Katie," Johanna said softly before she ended the call, her daughter's voice still filling the line. She shoved the phone into her purse and gathered up her belongings as her gaze fell on the family photo that graced her desk; you'd think that after all these years she'd get the point that nothing could ever be as it was. Katie was moving on…as she should…and she would have to find more ways to fill her time so that she didn't ask her daughter to be there when she didn't want to be.
He stretched a little, his office chair creaking as he did so, making him grimace in response. The chair was old…but of course he wasn't getting any younger himself. He breathed deeply and exhaled slowly, his gaze darting toward the window and the view of a Virginia sky outside. He frowned a little; that wasn't his city outside the window…but he'd had plenty of time to get used to that. Still, he missed the more familiar views of New York…the noise, the lights…the people…a few residents in particular. Another sigh crossed his lips, a longing to pour a drink but they frowned on that during office hours.
"Hey, Rob," a voice in the doorway said, making him flinch as he was pulled from his thoughts. The name he was used to answering to now a stark reminder of why he was missing the city of New York.
"What is it, Chuck?" he asked as he glanced at his co-worker.
"A bunch of us have decided to go out and have some beers, watch the game. Do you want to come?"
He shook his head; any other time he probably would have…but not today. Today he couldn't play his role as well as he usually did. Today his mind was in New York where the rest of him should be. "Not tonight," he answered; "I've got a lot of things to finish up; maybe next time."
"Are you sure?" Chuck asked. "It's supposed to be a hell of a game."
"Yeah, I'm sure," he said; "Next time though…I've gotten behind this week; I need to catch up."
"Alright," his colleague said with a nod; "But if you change your mind, we'll be down at Gus's."
He smiled. "Okay; I'll see if I can get done in time, maybe I'll stop by."
Chuck nodded. "You should; you seem like you could use a night out."
Chuck gave another nod and caught sight of someone in the hallway, hurrying away with a quick goodbye. Chuck was a good friend…but he wasn't up to socializing tonight. His eye caught on the date on the bottom of his laptop screen, the memory of its significance rolling through his mind as it had been all day. He rose from his chair and moved across the small office and closed his door before returning to his desk. He minimized the tabs of work that he couldn't fully concentrate on and opened up his browser to open the Facebook tab he kept bookmarked. A smile touched his lips as the page belonging to Johanna Beckett filled the screen.
His heart gave a small kick as he clicked on her profile picture to enlarge it; she had changed it since the last time he had looked; before it had been a photo of her and Katie…today it was an old photo of him and her; one taken at a law firm party long ago. He studied the image; they looked so young…but of course they had been, he mused. The rose colored dress she wore in the photo told him the picture was from the night of their first kiss. He closed his eyes, the memories flooding his mind, his heart aching in response; longing flooding his body.
He forced his eyes back open and clicked the back button to see the rest of her page; she didn't post much publicly…but sometimes he could gleam some tidbit about her life…see a few photos of her…of his daughter…his mother. He breathed deeply as he scrolled down her page, spotting a photo of Johanna at his mother's ninetieth birthday party. His wife had a smile on her lips but it didn't reach her eyes like it used to…it rarely ever did in any photo he saw, he noted. He continued looking through the page, holding his breath as always in hopes he'd never come across a photo or hint that she was seeing another man. She would be within her rights to do so…but that selfish side of his heart always hoped she wouldn't. It wasn't fair of course…he shouldn't want her to be alone…and the absence of evidence on a Facebook page didn't necessarily mean that she wasn't seeing someone…but he hoped she wasn't. She was still his girl…still the love of his life…still his wife.
Jim scrolled back to the photo of Johanna taken at his mother's party. He stared at it for a long moment…he had met her thirty-nine years ago today…and thirty-six years ago on this same date, they had become a couple. The ache inside increased; another one of their anniversaries missed…but it would be the last one. "Soon, sweetheart," he murmured to her image. "I'll be coming home soon…just a few more weeks to get everything squared away and I'll be home."