"This is so great, Erica. It's way bigger than my place."
They were standing in the middle of the living room of what would soon be Erica's new house. The place was empty. The widow had not been kidding about wanting to move. The closing was still a few days away, but she had already packed her stuff and sent it to Florida. She was staying with a friend until the closing.
"It's got one more bedroom than your place, but other than that, they're probably the same," said Erica watching Callie take in the place in all its emptiness.
Callie walked around checking out windows and touching the staircase that led to the second floor where Allie and Lucas had run to upon entering the place. It was nice and spacious. The front area was one giant room that was large enough to hold a living room and dining area. The only thing that distinguished the two rooms were the colors on the walls, which were splashed with different but coordinating shades of brown on the two halves of the room. The colors exuded warmth despite the emptiness. The back room held the kitchen. The right side of the room held the staircase and doors that led to other smaller rooms, one of which Callie guessed was a bathroom.
"Are you going to do anything to it?" she asked.
"I can't think of anything it really needs right now. It's got a fresh coat of paint and I can't see anything else that needs doing right away. Plus I think we need to just settle in."
Erica looked at Callie. "Thank you Callie. This wouldn't have been possible without you. Somehow I feel that pizza dinners aren't adequate compensation."
Erica saw Callie's face go slightly dark as she blushed and smiled.
"Well pizza is all we could do now anyway. I've just come off a 16 hour shift and you didn't give me an opportunity to shower before dragging me to your new house, so I'm pretty much a mess."
"It won't be my house until the closing. I have to return the keys tomorrow. The real estate agent let me hang on to them so I could show you and Allie." She leveled a look at Callie. "And you're beautiful even after a 16 hour shift."
Callie laughed. "Yeah, I'm sure my hotness factor is right up there with Gilligan."
Erica shook her head. "Trust me, you're way up above Ginger in the hot and sexy department," she said and she meant every word.
Despite the fact that Callie was straight, she couldn't help the things Callie made her feel. Callie's presence, her voice, anything even remotely Callie related did things to her. Callie was doing them now. Erica closed her eyes hoping Callie would take the comment in stride and not notice how Erica's tone had changed.
"Is that your expert opinion?" asked Callie with a tone of her own that surprised Erica.
"Very much so," she said trying to quell the tremors she felt. She cleared her throat lest she get stupider. "Objective, expert opinion, of course," she hastened to add.
Callie laughed again. "Okay, I understand why I'm delirious having just come off a pretty intense shift, but what's your excuse?" she teased reaching for Erica's arm.
"I am completely clear, fresh and in my right mind," said Erica. At least for now, but if Callie kept flirting with her or touching her, she might lose her perspective. She changed the subject. "Are you sure you want to do this dinner thing Callie? If you're too tired, I'll understand."
"Don't try to back out now, Hahn. We've promised those little rugrats upstairs pizza at Chucky Cheese. There is no going back on that."
Callie removed her hand from Erica's arm and Erica immediately missed it. She sighed wishing she knew what was going on with Callie. If she didn't know better she would think Callie was interested in her, but she knew Callie was straight and that necessarily meant not interested. She needed to let it go. It had been awhile since she had become this confused between friendship and romantic interest. Of course, she usually wanted neither from anyone, so the issue rarely came up for her. Maybe that was why she was confused by the whole thing. She had no experience with this and so didn't know how to react. Resolving to act like a normal person for once – whatever that was – she continued to the kitchen motioning for Callie to follow her as she proceeded with the tour.
An hour later they were sitting side by side at a small table, glancing up every now and again at Lucas and Allie as they jumped from game to game. Lucas's head was going to explode, Callie was sure of it. His eyes were open wide and his head was swiveling back and forth, slowing down and focusing just barely only when he was playing a game with Allie. The place was a madhouse. Kids were running back and forth laughing and talking, flashing lights, digital noises, all of it almost indescribable in the cacophony that was created. Callie looked sideways watching Erica watch Lucas and Allie. She seemed distracted. They had placed their food order a few minutes ago and then doled out tokens to Lucas and Allie, instructing them to stay close and not wander too far.
Callie was glad the kids were occupied. She wanted a chance to talk to Erica, to try and explain Mark's comment. This wasn't the ideal place to get into that conversation, but her choices were limited. She wasn't sure when she would see Erica again and this just seemed important somehow. She wanted to set things straight. She didn't want Erica thinking that...her and Mark... But she was having a hard time figuring out how to start the conversation. She had resolved to just start, when Erica spoke.
"So, when I'm I going to hear this sad story?"
There was a playfulness in her voice, but the way her eyes darted away from Callie as she spoke made Callie think this was significant. There was a serious undertone to this conversation. Callie smiled anyway, if nothing else at the way Erica seemed to have anticipated her thoughts and actions, asking about it just as Callie had resolved to tell it.
"Why is it that I'm always telling you about my love life over pizza?"
"I don't think twice qualifies as always and last time, I think it was over coffee after pizza."
Callie laughed and looked away. She liked Erica, really liked her. Part of her wanted to talk about it, tell someone her fears and insecurities when it came to her heart, but another part of her was afraid. She felt warm fingers settle over her hand and looked down.
Callie's eyes rose slowly to meet Erica's.
"You don't have to tell me anything," Erica said.
"No, I want to…it's just a little embarrassing and a little depressing and well, I don't come off very well in this story."
"I doubt that," Erica interrupted.
Callie chuckled. "You haven't heard the story yet."
"I know," said Erica with confidence.
"I um… I don't know where to start exactly."
"At the beginning?" suggested Erica.
Callie let her gaze wander to Lucas and Allie momentarily.
"Okay," said Callie clearing her throat. "I've had one serious, well serious for me anyway, relationship since David. His name was George. His name is still George. George O'Malley. He's a resident at the hospital. Actually he's still an intern since he failed his intern exam last year. It was short and intense and a complete and utter mistake."
Erica's eyes were on her waiting patiently.
Callie let out a breath. She wanted a distraction, something she could turn to when the things she was about to spill got to be too much; finding nothing but Erica's patient eyes, she continued.
"He was the opposite of David in every way and I liked him. He's short and kind of dopey looking, but in a really sweet way." She paused deciding to go back further in her storytelling.
"I spent the first four years of my residency just trying to get through them with my sanity intact. Between Allie and work I was stretched to the max and had no time to even think about a personal life. When I met George, I guess I realized how lonely I was feeling. He was sweet and he was nice to me and I fell so hard for him. But he didn't feel the same so nothing came of it at first. Then his father died."
"Wait a minute, O'Malley?" I operated on his father!"
"Yeah, that George." Callie gave Erica an inquisitive look and then smiled. "How did I not meet you then? You came here to do that procedure, right? I remember vaguely hearing your name, but… obviously I didn't know you then."
Erica smiled back. "I was here for the surgery, but left his recovery to Burke. That's how Burke wanted it, so I didn't hang around."
Callie tried not to think of how her life might look right now if she had met Erica sooner. She paused in her story letting her gaze wander to the kids and their air hockey tournament, before settling back on Erica's face. She tried to read it, but couldn't really decide what she saw, so she continued.
"It started being not like David and ended up being almost exactly like David. George was very sweet and very nice and I let myself get so caught up in him and the idea of us as a family that I couldn't see beyond that. But it all moved too fast for him and ultimately, he… um… He told me that he wasn't interested in a ready made family."
Erica was frowning. "What?" she asked harshly. "What the hell does that mean?"
"I don't really know." Callie paused, thinking. "I never got angry with him though, like I did with David. I was just hurt, because he seemed so nice and he seemed to like me. It took us forever to break-up. I just kept hanging on thinking he would come around and love me like I loved him. It was my fault really."
"I doubt that. He sounds like an idiot."
Callie smiled. Erica's deep frown seemed etched on her face and in some weird way it comforted Callie to have someone on her side. She hadn't really had that when it was all going on. Addison was a great friend, but she had been too caught up in her own love life to lend Callie the support she craved. Besides, Callie had chosen not to share a lot with Addison about the whole George thing, especially after it became clear that it wasn't going to work out.
"Anyway, his heart, it turned out was elsewhere. We did the whole on and off thing for awhile until I found out he slept with someone else during one of our off periods and that he continued to sleep with her when we got back together. It sounds insane I know. He had some explanation for it, said it was a mistake. I didn't know which part was the mistake, sleeping with her or staying with me, but I couldn't keep putting myself through the emotional turbulence anymore. It hurt. A lot. And I was feeling pretty down on myself and then I met Mark."
Erica stiffened a little and Callie felt it through their still joined hands.
Callie was uncomfortable talking about Mark to Erica, but he was her friend, her good friend. She slept with him after her relationship with George went up in flames and she was feeling unloved, unwanted, not good enough, and very much like damaged goods. It had not been about him or wanting something from him that she knew he couldn't give. She hadn't wanted anything more from him than one night when he made her feel sexy and wanted and very much not yesterday's trash. They had developed a friendship of sorts afterward. Even though he could get on her every nerve, she considered him a friend. He wasn't someone she could count on if she needed a sitter, but he sometimes made her face her demons, had broad shoulders she could cry on and made her laugh. Still she didn't want Erica getting the wrong idea about them.
"I wasn't feeling very good about myself when I met him and it surprised me that he was hitting on me."
"Why does that surprise you so much Callie? You're an incredibly beautiful woman," said Erica.
She gazed at Callie with an unguarded look, a look that did not hide the attraction she obviously felt. She looked down at their hands still joined loosely as neither woman had bothered to break the connection made earlier and took a breath as if she wanted to say more. Then she seemed to think better of it, her eyes remaining on their joined hands.
Callie felt something stir in her that was unfamiliar. It was a combination of excitement and anticipation and an overall giddiness that was perplexing.
"Thanks," she managed to say in response to Erica's compliment.
Erica looked up at her finally. She gave Callie's hand a squeeze before pulling back. Callie was concentrating on Erica's face but instinctually reached for Erica's hands before she could completely withdraw them. She held on, her gaze now intently on their hands.
"No thanks are necessary. It's just true," said Erica so softly Callie had to strain to hear her.
She considered Erica's statement for awhile. "I certainly could have used someone like you back then," she said finally raising her head and meeting Erica's eyes.
"I'm sorry I couldn't be there," said Erica sincerely.
"Me too," responded Callie with a smile. "But we hadn't met yet and so when I met Mark and he was flirting with me, I found myself feeling a little better. Wanted. Desirable. And so one thing led to another and we ended up sleeping together. It was only the one time, but it was…something I needed. I had been feeling so sorry for myself for most of the day and he came along and just made me feel wanted. I hadn't realized how much I was craving that until he was there."
She shook her head and looked at Erica who had a somewhat pained look on her face.
"Anyway, we became friends after that. He's a good friend despite some of his more piggish tendencies. He prevents me from getting too down on myself and he seems to understand me in ways I don't even get sometimes," she said looking down again at their joined hands.
She was afraid to look up, afraid that Erica would be looking at her with disgust or worse with that slightly pained look she had seen earlier.
"He's a friend," she continued since Erica remained quiet. "That's all."
"Okay," Erica finally spoke. "It sounds like he was there for you when you needed him. That's always the mark of a good friend. I'm sorry you had to go through that Callie. I can't imagine why anyone would not…" she stopped. She squeezed Callie's hand again and started pulling away.
This time Callie let her. She didn't want to. The touch seemed to ground her, but it would be hard to explain to Erica her desire to remain in physical contact. She hardly understood it herself; she had no logical explanation for it really.
The pizza order arrived as the two women were contemplating whether to continue the conversation and if so exactly how. They looked at the pizzas and just started laughing.
"Okay heavy conversation over," said Callie. But she couldn't help it. She reached for Erica again as Erica started reaching for plates and silverware. She held one of Erica's hands in hers, noting the warmth and softness.
"Erica, there is absolutely nothing going on between me and Mark. I know this is silly, but I just really need you to understand that."
Erica smiled at her. "Okay," she said.
She turned away intent on finishing the setting up, but seemed to hesitate. She turned to Callie and looked at her taking both of Callie's hands in hers and holding them in front of her.
"It wouldn't matter. I'd still be your friend, no matter who you were involved with Callie. My friendship is not conditional. And if you ever need reminding that you are beautiful and desirable, just let me know, okay?" she said in a light playful tone. "I may not be much of an expert, but I know a thing or two and you are very definitely beautiful and desirable."
She released Callie's hands and then continued setting up.
Callie's heart was beating a mile a minute. The touch, the words, the tone, all of it was sending sparks throughout her entire body. The words seemed to be floating in her bloodstream warming up all the dark cold places and settling in her heart producing a giddiness that threatened to burst. She almost reached for her chest for fear that it would explode; the feeling was so intense. She watched Erica turn and continue setting up the pizza, completely oblivious to the effect she'd had on Callie.
Suddenly her thoughts turned over and she knew what was going on with her. She was attracted to Erica, seriously liked her in a very romantic way. But she had no time to contemplate these new feelings or their implications as Lucas and Allie ran over for pizza. She could only stare as Lucas and Allie settled in at the table talking over each other to both her and Erica. Erica was busy pouring water into their glasses and making sure they had napkins. Callie shook her head and started serving pizza slices. She would need to watch her interactions with Erica and get a sense of what exactly she was feeling before she started freaking out about it all.