Part I - Alex
She should have been happy.
There was plenty of reason to be after all. They stood on the brink of exciting opportunity. A new chapter. A chance to try something different, explore uncharted territories, flex idle muscles. It was going to be a positive change, for both of them. Deep down, she knew that, knew that it was overdue, knew that all good things must come to an end. And at the very least, she should have been happy for him. That would have been the selfless thing to do.
It bothered her that she couldn't even do that.
Instead, as she pushed through the front door of Prima, Alex felt only an amorphous sense of loss and sadness. An emptiness that hollowed out her insides. An unpleasant heaviness in her limbs. As she shrugged out of her tan overcoat and handed it to the hostess, she couldn't even bring herself to smile or return the polite greeting, responses that were typically automatic. After she had been directed to the back room, it took a full minute and several deep, grounding breaths before she could compel her disobedient feet forward. Her heels clicked against the vinyl plank flooring as she squeezed between occupied tables, wiping sweaty palms on her corduroy skirt.
The sign outside of the Italian restaurant's back room read "Reserved – Private Party" but otherwise gave no indication of what type of celebration lay in wait inside. Laughter drifted out through the doorway and sent butterflies aflutter in Alex's stomach as she mentally prepared herself to step inside. There were appearances to be maintained, no matter how unsettled she felt.
The room was spacious, with a standing capacity of one hundred people, if not slightly more. It had recently been renovated; she could tell from the smell. The walls on three sides were restored limestone, the fourth a retractable glass partition that opened onto a terrace, complete with raised firepit. A small bar ran along the back wall, the bartender flanked by a display of liquor bottles of all shapes, sizes and colors. To its right, a long table held trays of assorted appetizers. Sprinkled around the room were several high-top tables and a cluster of plush armchairs.
And in the center of it all was the man of the hour - Bobby.
It had taken her longer than anticipated to get ready and she wasn't the first to arrive. It immediately became clear she needn't have worried about attendance. There were a fair number of people in the room already. Most of them she knew by sight if not by name - a "who's who" of law enforcement colleagues past and present. Judges, lawyers, cops, forensic analysts, IT specialists. It was a distinguished crew, proof that for all Bobby's eccentricities he had earned the respect of many over the course of his career. The visual reminder did bring a smile to her face, albeit briefly. It was respect well-deserved.
The downside of the crowd, of course, was that the likelihood of getting some time alone to talk was slim. And that was disappointing.
On her way into the space, Alex stopped to chat with a few familiar faces – Deakins, Rodgers, Carver, Hannah – and waved at more than a few others but she struggled to escape the pull of Bobby's gravity. While the others were talking and laughing, she found herself distracted, eyes constantly migrating over to where he stood and lingering there until she forced them away. She tried to contribute to the conversation but her attempts were half-hearted. If any of her colleagues noticed (and she was sure they did), they mercifully kept the observation to themselves. She fought for what felt like an eternity to maintain her focus on Rodgers as the other woman shared the latest examples of morgue humor but his draw eventually overpowered her and Alex excused herself to give her regards to the guest of honor.
Bobby looked good, healthy, handsome. Years seemed to have melted off his face over the last six months, ever since he announced his pending retirement from the force. His complexion was clearer, eyes brighter. That evening he wore a blue suit jacket over a black dress shirt, open at the collar, and a pair of jeans. His hair was just long enough to curl slightly and the stubble he had sported for most of the day was absent. He stood off to the side, ever the humble honoree, talking to a detective from the Cyber Crimes division whose name she couldn't recall, a glass of dark stout in one hand. She was too far away to hear what they were saying but the smile on his face, that brilliant, toothy Bobby smile, spoke volumes. He was happy.
She had had lots of time to come to terms with his impending departure and thought that she had. It wasn't like this was his first "last day" after all. That time was different though. That time, she had instinctively known that he would be back, that they both would. This time it felt . . . final. Watching him pack up his stuff at the end of the day, reality had hit her, hard. Next week, when she walked into the squad room, he wouldn't be there. He wouldn't be there ever again. After twelve years, that prospect seemed surreal. The anchor of their partnership had lifted and she felt adrift, floating out to sea, without clear direction. She would figure it out, find land again regardless, but in the cab on her way to the restaurant she found herself wishing that one of them had had the courage to acknowledge aloud that things were going to change between them and inquire about what was next.
It was an important question because the answer wasn't clear.
Something had shifted in their relationship over the last year. It was subtle, and not overtly acknowledged, but she felt it. Bobby had changed. She had sat across from him and watched as he gradually started to gain more control over the demons that had haunted him for most of his adult life, thanks in large part to his commitment to therapy. The peaks and valley of his moods evened out. He let down some of the walls that had previously kept her at arm's length. Talked more openly about his mom, his dad, his brother. He smiled a little more freely, laughed a little louder. He was still unconventional, awkward, peculiar Bobby who managed to rub people the wrong way but more grounded and less angry. In response, she had let down her own guard and allowed herself to poke around in her buried feelings for her partner.
What she had found there had opened up possibilities beyond friendship. At least on her side of the street.
She was probably about ten feet away when Bobby glanced over and caught sight of her. An unidentifiable emotion flickered on his face and she was surprised and disappointed to see his smile dim ever so slightly. He watched her approach for a moment before returning his attention to his conversation partner. They spoke again briefly before Bobby clapped the other man on the shoulder and started off in her direction, meeting her halfway.
His use of her surname made something inside her twist painfully. It shouldn't have. She could count on one hand the number of times he had called her Alex over the last twelve years. It just seemed like tonight, that should be different. They weren't partners anymore. She had watched him greet others with either a handshake or a hug, but she didn't get one of those either. Instead, he slipped his free hand into the pocket of his jeans, broad shoulders straining his suit jacket, while the other hand clutched his beer glass.
"Bobby. How's it going?"
He shifted his weight back and forth, eyes darting around the room before settling back on her.
"Good. Thanks for coming tonight."
Another twist in the gut.
Did you really think I wouldn't? I told you I would be here.
Alex nodded stiffly and modulated her tone until it was flat.
You want to treat me like a distant acquaintance? Fine, two can play that game.
"Of course. Wouldn't have missed it."
They both fell silent again, Bobby chewing lightly on his lower lip as he stared at her. The intensity of his intelligent brown eyes was aggravatingly unnerving. Folding her hands in front of her, Alex laced her fingers together and waited, eyebrows raised.
Your move, Goren.
He opened and closed his mouth a few times as if to say something, but no words emerged. A fish out of water, gasping for air. After a full thirty seconds of silence, she watched his shoulders rise and fall as he took a deep breath and let it out slowly, his face serious.
"I, uh, should keep making my . . . my rounds. Catch up with you later?"
Stunned yet again at the abrupt dismissal, Alex nodded her head robotically. "Sure."
Averting his eyes, Bobby quickly brushed past her and disappeared, leaving her standing there, alone and more than a little confused.
What the hell just happened?
Ah, fuck it. Time for a drink.
A quick stop at the bar later, she had a bourbon in hand. The ice cubes clinked against the side of her glass as Alex took a long sip and let the liquid swirl around in her mouth, burning as it slid down her esophagus before pooling warmly in her stomach. The immediate wave of alcohol-induced light-headedness reminded her that she hadn't eaten since lunch. She prowled the length of the table of appetizers and made a few selections that she devoured without actually tasting before finding a quiet stretch of wall to lean against and collect her thoughts.
She had seen him literally three hours before and everything had been fine. Normal, or as normal as anything ever was with Bobby. His sudden aloofness stung more than she cared to admit. On this night, the culmination of their twelve year partnership, the interaction felt highly anti-climactic. From her little corner of the world, she could see him circulating through the crowd, greeting people with far more animation than he had reserved for her and devoting far more time to connecting.
She resented that.
She resented the fact that these other people were getting the best of him and she was getting blown off when it was her that had stood by him, even during his darkest days. Her that had sacrificed for him. Surely she had earned something a little more from him than these other people, an acknowledgement that she was different, special to him in some way?
Take it down a notch. It's his party and these are all his friends. It's ridiculous of you to be acting so jealous.
But jealous she was.
It dawned on her then that maybe the distance he had just thrown up between them was entirely intentional. Maybe he was drawing a new line in the sand, now that the line of their professional partnership had washed away with the changing tide. Maybe he was setting the stage for the next act. Perhaps this was his way of gently communicating what was next for them, offering that closure, that direction that she had come seeking, without hurting her feelings.
Except it did hurt.
It hurt a lot.