you mean you don’t remember?” Lester asked, his expression as hard as the
moment he first recognised me without my fake spectacles, making my chest
contract and my throat constrict.
Swallowing several times, I managed to find my voice, though it was not as strong as it usually was. “I mean, one moment I was drinking the bar out of liquor, the next I was waking up in my bed. I have no memory of anything that happened in between.”
“Did you ask the cop what happened?”
I sighed and shook my head slowly, diligently avoiding his gaze. How many times over the last six years had I regretted not finding out what happened that night? Too many. I’d been too ashamed to even think about seeking out Morelli directly after the event. I’d just endeavoured to forget it ever happened.
“What did you tell Ranger?” Lester questioned, concern in his voice as he moved his chair closer to me, laying his hands on top of mine in a show of support that almost brought me to tears considering the last three weeks of heated stares and snarly words. That he could put all those feelings aside and try to understand why and how things ended up the way they did instilled a brand new hope for our future. Wherever we went from here, I could count on Lester being by my side.
“I told him I was sorry,” I said, taking a deep breath to force myself to go on. “I told him that I’d panicked. I confessed some of my concerns and he assured me that he would never tire of me. I tried to ignore the rest of my doubts and things seemed to have returned to a state of normalcy until -.”
“Until you started getting sick?” he guessed when I suddenly lapsed into silence with thoughts of what had occurred a few short weeks after that night. I nodded that he was correct, but said nothing, allowing him to continue. “You never suspected you might be pregnant?” he asked gently.
I rolled my eyes, knowing he was thinking of the full three weeks of what we now knew was morning sickness and thinking how blind we’d all been that we hadn’t caught on. Hell, it was my body, and my life, and I hadn’t the foggiest clue as to what was going on. At the time I’d just assumed I’d contracted a stomach bug. That is until I started cramping and bleeding two weeks ahead of schedule. Concerned, I’d paid a well over due visit to my GP only to find out that it was too late.
Naturally, I’d been shocked. I’d been on birth control since I was eighteen and always insisted on a condom when I was intimate with a man. There was no way I could have possible gotten pregnant. I’d flat out denied it at first. Spent twenty four whole hours pretending nothing had happened. That I hadn’t lost a child I didn’t even know existed. After that I withdrew for a few days with the excuse that I wasn’t feeling well, which had lasted approximately two days until Ranger came back from a week in Miami and decided I needed taking care of. I couldn’t handle it. It was worse than before because...
Realising I’d been quiet a long time, staring at my empty milk glass, I shook my head and launched back into external explanations. “Anyway, when I found out about the miscarriage all I could think about was-.”
“The night you got drunk and couldn’t remember,” Lester finished for me, his voice barely above a whisper. “You didn’t know whether you’d slept with the cop. So you didn’t know for sure whether the baby you’d lost was even Ranger’s. That’s why you didn’t tell anyone. Not even Ranger?” He said the last as a question, clearly asking for confirmation on the assumption he’d made. I nodded. “You didn’t tell Ranger because you didn’t want him to mourn a child that may not have been his,” he said in a hushed tone. “You were feeling guilty.”
“Wouldn’t you?” I asked, finally lifting my eyes to meet his. “On the one hand, I was sad that I’d lost the baby. But on the other, I knew I wasn’t ready for that kind of development yet. And then there was the small relief that, if I had slept with Morelli, I’d dodged a bullet by miscarrying. I owed Ranger more than the possibility that he’d conceived a baby. I wouldn’t have been able to handle the way he’d have treated me if I’d told him, knowing that there was always that possibility that the baby wasn’t even his.”
I stared into his face for a long moment, waiting for the anger to return to his features. Any minute now he was going to stand and walk out Tank’s front door and go back to ignoring my very existence out of indignity for his cousin. But he didn’t. Instead, all I saw was a small sorrow, and a lot of thinking face. I’d been on enough cases with Lester to recognise when he was turning facts over in his brain.
“For all we know,” he started, speaking slowly as he continued fitting the information together. “You didn’t sleep with anyone that night. Maybe you just came home, started stripping to get into your pyjamas and couldn’t be bothered getting dressed again.” I opened my mouth to protest, but he cut me off. “You’re assuming that the night your argued with Ranger and got blind drunk was the night of conception, are you not?”
I nodded wordlessly, unable to follow his logic. There was too much we didn’t know to come to any definite conclusions like he was trying.
“But with your relationship with Ranger, it could have been any number of nights. Or mornings. Or afternoons.”
Furrowing my brow, I finally recognised what he was trying to do. He saw my guilt and was trying to ease it. “So what you’re saying is,” I clarified. “The baby was probably Ranger’s?”
“Exactly,” he grinned, sitting up a little taller. The pride in his eyes was almost enough for me to simply believe his logic. “What’s one night versus every second of every day?”
“Still a possibility,” I said sadly. Try as he might, his words were not enough to clear the doubts from my mind completely. They had eased a little, yes, but without the solid knowledge that I had or had not slept with Morelli that night, I would never know one way or the other and the guilt would forever rain down on me.
“Alright, fine,” Lester said, picking up the last cookie from the plate and breaking it in two to hand me half. “You leave this with me. I’ll find out exactly what happened that night.”
“But Ranger forbid any employee to continue searching for me,” I pointed out, recalling what Tank had mentioned in one of our many Skype chats when I was still in Mexico.
“I’m not searching for you,” Lester countered. “I’m just investigating a lead.”
At that moment, the back door opened and shut and Tank’s heavy, booted footsteps could be heard clomping up the hallway toward us. I glanced at my watch, noting that the hours I’d requested of Tank were up and he was returning from wherever he’d been. Just in time.
“Besides,” Lester continued, ignoring the fact that we were soon to be interrupted. “I’ve already found you. Speaking of which –“ He turned toward the doorway as Tank entered, wiping grease stained hands on a purplish rag. “If Ranger forbid us to look for Steph, how did you find her?” he questioned.
“Right place, right time,” Tank shrugged, crossing to the table and staring down at the empty plate. “Did you eat all the cookies?”
I held up my half of the final one. “Almost.”
His shoulders slumped as he tossed the rag down. “I was hoping to sample your baking prowess,” he said. His tone was just shy of pathetic, which was just enough to make me laugh.
“Maybe I’ll make more after dinner,” I suggested. Turning to Lester I asked, “Will you be staying?”
Tank was looking between us, assessing the situation. “Everything’s okay between you two?” he asked cautiously. “I can call off Operation Separate?”
“Operation Separate?” Lester and I asked at the same time.
He shrugged, moving to the sink to wash his hands. “I may have ordered a few key men to run interference to keep the pair of your from dissolving into fisticuffs three times a day,” he mentioned casually.