By Wednesday there was a pile of files on the corner of Carlton’s desk, and he hadn’t touched any of them beyond pulling the few he’d pulled himself. The rest the mayor had sent over.
“It’s not time yet,” he protested when Juliet asked. “Not until after the service tomorrow night, at least.”
“I’m not disagreeing with you; I’m just saying you can’t put it off for too long. You can’t run this place alone, and you need to be taking some time off yourself anyway.”
“I’m more than aware of that, O’Hara,” he sighed. He was at his desk and it was nearly lunch. He closed his computer and Juliet perched on the edge of the desk.
She crossed her arms. “Is the mayor being a pain again?”
Carlton sat back and shrugged. “No, actually. He sent a few suggestions but he’s not pressing the issue this time.” He glared briefly at the small mountain of files. “To be honest, they’ll probably just sit there for a while until I decide to give Dobson the job and leave it at that.”
“Why not? He’s been here forever.”
This did not sound like the Carlton Lassiter Juliet knew. “He’s been here longer than you. He’s a good cop. But—”
“He’d do a perfectly adequate job, O’Hara.”
“Yeah,” she answered, nodding vigorously. “Perfectly adequate. But that’s not what you need here. That’s not what you want; I know it’s not. And there’s a reason you were head detective and he wasn’t.”
Carlton didn’t try to answer her. He glanced at his watch and pushed out of his chair.
“It’s noon,” he said.
Which, like the last two days, meant he was going to the hospital to see his daughter. Then he’d go again after work. Lauren, Shawn, and Henry had been taking shifts sitting with her when he wasn’t there. None of them wanted her to be alone. Maybe she was three months old and she wouldn’t remember later, but that wasn’t the point.
“I’m coming,” she said. He just nodded.
If she didn’t go with him he might forget to eat, even while he spent lunch sitting with Lily and feeding her. Juliet hadn’t gone Monday, and that was what happened. She wasn’t going to make that mistake again. Certainly not while there was more than enough perfectly good food sitting around both at the station and at the house.
It started to come Monday afternoon, and it hadn’t stopped. Anything brought to the station was left out for the department or stored in the refrigerator in the break room, and at the house they were still having to label things and freeze them. Thankfully Carlton had bought Henry’s deep freeze, too, and it was still in the garage. She, Shawn, Carlton and Lauren would never eat that much food before it went bad. Even when Gus got back tomorrow they’d be hard pressed.
Juliet ducked into the break room for the bag of tupperware containers she’d packed this morning, and caught Carlton at the door before he could go out.
“Hold it! Let me check. Take the food.” She pushed the insulated bag into his hands and he gave her a look that said Really? but he did as he was told. Also not something she was used to from him.
“What?” he asked, when she came for him. “Is anyone out there?”
“No. We’re clear right now.”
They’d made it clear after Dobson gave the local media the department’s official statement on the Salamatchia ordeal that there would be no more comment, but they’d still been dodging reporters since Monday.
“Getting paranoid, O’Hara?”
She smacked his arm and took the bag back. “Looking out for you. Don’t go complaining; you knew what you were getting into when you hired me this week.”
It made her feel a little better when he smiled a bit at that.
“You know you’re getting paid,” he said, on the way to the car.
“You’re not paying me.”
“The department is not going to take unfair advantage of my personal connections. We’re paying you.”
“And on one condition.”
She waited until they were in the car and the doors had closed to answer. “Promise me you’re taking the time off once Lily comes home.”
He made a face, took a deep breath, and it took a moment for him to look at her. “Once Lily is home and I have a head detective,” he amended.
Juliet nodded. “Ok.”
Lauren was the one at the hospital when they arrived today. Shawn had spent much of the night here and he was probably at the house sleeping it off. Carlton went to find a doctor to talk to before he went in, while Lauren helped Juliet locate a microwave.
By the time they returned the containers in the insulated bag were hot instead of cold, and Carlton was in the rocking chair in the corner of Lily’s room feeding her. Juliet and Lauren found chairs in the hallway for a few minutes instead, deciding to leave father and daughter alone for a while. The bag would keep the food hot.
“Are you hungry? There’s more than enough here; I packed options.”
“I’m fine,” Lauren said. “And Shawn’s dad is coming back in a couple of hours or so.”
“As long as you’re sure. How are you doing?” Juliet asked.
Lauren shrugged. “FIne. I mean...I came here to help, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot for me to do. Not that it’s a bad thing; I’m glad Carlton has friends.”
“He’s glad you’re here. Trust me. I guess you would know even better than the rest of us that he’s not usually very good at saying those things.”
Lauren’s response wasn’t the one she’d expected. The younger woman winced and looked away. “Not much better. If I know any better.” She paused. “I’m not sure I do. I barely know him.”
Juliet shifted in her chair. “Well...you just haven’t spent a lot of time together in recent years. That’s not anyone’s fault. Life is...life, you know?” There was a pang in her chest. “I don’t really see my brother anymore, either. It’s not anyone’s choice…”
“What if it was?”
Lauren shrugged and motioned absently. “I mean...we didn’t get along badly when I was little, but he was already a teenager and he was...him, you know?”
“Oh, do I know,” Juliet agreed.
“Exactly. So it was easier to just...believe he had great things to do and to idolize him than to be upset when he didn’t have much time for me, and then I came to here to film three years ago and...everything changed. The fantasy dissolved. I didn’t know what to think anymore and I just...I think I’ve avoided him more since then than I should have.” She shook her head. “That was...awful. I only met Marlowe twice. At the wedding and right after Lily was born. I didn’t go home for Christmas last year, or...a lot of other things.”
Juliet studied the younger woman. Lauren slouched in her chair and stared at her hands, and glanced often over her shoulder through the blinds, into the hospital room where her brother sat with his daughter.
“You’ve been worrying about this a lot since you got here, haven’t you?”
“Yes. Do you know how long he holds grudges? Do you know how long he was angry at our mom after she and Althea became an item? The worst part is, sometimes he won’t even tell you if he’s angry. Most of the time he does—loudly—but sometimes he doesn’t, and when he doesn’t it’s worse. And usually when he does that it’s because he’s hurt, and not just angry. And that is definitely worse. I don’t want him to feel that way but I can’t see how he wouldn’t.”
Juliet knew what Lauren meant. She’d seen it, the first years she knew Carlton. The bad days during his separation when something had happened and he wouldn’t tell anyone and he was far too quiet. She still hated to remember those days. The end of those days were one of the reasons they’d all been so happy when he found Marlowe.
“See? You do know him,” Juliet said gently. “You just need some brushing up if you can’t tell that he’s not angry with you.”
“No. Would he talk about you and your career the way you used to talk about him and his if he was angry? Would he be kind of ticked off that he can’t cook everything he remembers you used to like this week because there’s already too much food sitting at the house?”
Lauren blinked. “He is? He didn’t say anything to me.”
“He was complaining at the station yesterday...”
Lauren looked over her again, through the window. She smiled. “It’s more than that though. He’s changed, hasn’t he? SInce I was here. I mean he’s still him—he’ll always be him—but...”
Juliet sat back. “In the last three years? Yeah...the last three years have been pretty big for him.”
They sat out in the hallway for a while longer. With Juliet working with the SBPD this week it was the first real chance they’d had to talk.
“How long can you stay?” Juliet asked.
“Just this week. I don’t have a project right now but I do have a day job. But I’m not as far as you’ll be. I can make weekends easier, when I don’t have a project. I may soon, though, so I don’t know how that’ll work out. But I’ll be here when I can…what about you?”
“Shawn and I have talked some. We’re going to try to do weekends too, when my caseload will allow it.”
Lauren nodded. “We should keep in touch. Maybe we can alternate...have someone here as often as we can for while.”
Juliet let out a breath. “That would make me feel better; that’s for sure.”
Carlton, on the other hand, while he would be ultimately happy to see them whenever they could be there, would probably not be happy to know his sister and his friends were purposefully conspiring to keep an eye on him. But what were friends and family for?
When Juliet ventured into the room to remind Carlton to eat Lily was done and asleep in his arms. He was up out of the rocking chair, pacing gently around the room with her.
Thankfully, he also seemed to be deep in thought and hadn’t noticed the muted television near the ceiling in one corner was running the news. Juliet found the remote by the bed and switched it off.
That, however, Carlton noticed. He turned at the sound of the click and saw the remote in her hand. He glanced up at the blank television screen and made a face.
“Were they running it again?” he asked.
Juliet sighed. “Everything with Petrovich and Salamatchia was news the first time around, too. You couldn’t have expected them not to follow up, especially after they reported the prison break locally. But it’s Wednesday; it should be over soon, I’d think. They’ll forget about it.”
“And it only made it as far as state, right?”
He’d been avoiding the news himself, relying on the rest of them to keep him updated, and Juliet saw nothing wrong with that. The last thing Carlton needed was to turn on a television and see his wife’s picture or grainy phone video taken from behind the tape at the crash site.
“Yeah. If it hasn’t broken nationally by now I don’t think it will.”
The one time someone let him near a TV in the station on Monday, he threw something at it. News stations had been banned for the week at the SBPD since then. At least within sight of the chief’s office.
“I’m surprised you haven’t attacked or yelled at any reporters yet,” Juliet teased. He’d kept any more such outbursts or complaining about the media confined to the station and the house. She was trying to make light of it, just for a moment. To make him feel better. A corner of his mouth ticked up, just for a second. But then he was serious again.
“Yeah, well...” Carlton came to the bed and sat down on the edge. He looked down at his daughter in his arms and Juliet wasn’t sure what the look on his face meant.
“Believe me; I wanted to more than once,” he said. “But as much as I still don’t care what they think I guess I thought maybe I don’t need any more bad press than than what’s already out there. It’s all getting so much easier for anyone to track down—stupid internet—no matter how old it is…”
Juliet swallowed. “Lily,” she said quietly.
Carlton nodded once. He glanced up at her and back down at his daughter. “I have to set an example, don’t I? And it’s...more important now. Than ever. Sh-she won’t have her mother. Marlowe won’t be here to...offset me.” He almost laughed, but it ended in a grimace instead.
“What kind of father would I be if I didn’t try to make up for that?”
Juliet didn’t have the answer, but she did what she could do. She sat down beside him and held up the tupperware container in her hands.
“You need to eat.”
Jules was thinking hard about something. This much was clear to Shawn. What she was thinking about was not, and he had his own subject to broach. Maybe if he did she’d say whatever she had to say.
Though it wasn’t a definite thing. His thing was relatively simple.
“Hmm?” she asked. He held up the covers for her as she climbed into the bed and fit herself against him.
He opened his mouth, but she cut him off.
“Oh, wait, you called Gus and told him to bring us clothes for tomorrow evening, right?”
“Yeah,” Shawn said. “He’s got it.”
“Sorry. What’s up?”
“Not...a lot.” He scrubbed at his face. “Saturday’s when we’re gonna need those clothes again now, right?”
Jules made a face at the ceiling. “Yeah. Lily’s coming home Friday, so...yeah. And Carlton wanted me to have time to get back to work for Monday.”
“Nice of him.”
“I wasn’t worried about it, and Karen wasn’t either. He insisted though.”
“Right.” Shawn sighed. “Look, Jules, I know you have to go back, and I don’t know what Gus is gonna do, but...I think I’m gonna stay here a while. With Lassie. I mean, not with Lassie if he doesn’t want me right in the way or whatever I can crash on Dad’s couch or something—”
“Oh, would you?” Jules turned into him and pushed up on an elbow. “Thank goodness, I’m not the only one who thinks—I mean, he seems ok and it’s not that I don’t think he will be, but…”
Shawn’s eyebrows went up and he sat up all the way. “So you’re getting the not-so-ok-yet vibes too then.”
She sighed and sat up with him. “Yes. I mean he’s doing a lot better than I ever thought he would if anything happened to Marlowe, and...a lot of that probably has to do with Lily. He has her. But still…” Jules shook her head. “Maybe that’s the problem. He’s too ok. Or I’m afraid he’s ok because we’re here, and if we’re not…”
“It’s not like he’d be alone, Jules. My dad is here, and he loves the crap out of Lily, and Lauren is closer than we are, and there’s, you know, Woody. And Buzz. And—wait. Holy crap, Jules; Lassie has Toy Story. We had Toy Story the whole time and we totally missed it.”
“Right. Sorry. Anyway, you know, I just want to stick around a little longer because I can, just so someone’s here a little longer, until he’s a little more ok, but after that I mean it’s not like we won’t see him. We’ve talked about this. We’ll visit. And Lassie’ll be ok...won’t he?”
Juliet nodded seriously and laid back to stare at the ceiling again. “You’re right. You’re right. He’s Carlton; he’ll be fine. Eventually. Right?”
“Who’s asking who?”
“I don’t know!”
Shawn watched her for a moment, and then he knew what she’d been thinking about had something to do with this. “What is it, Jules?”
She let out a heavy breath. “I don’t know,” she said again. “I’ve...been thinking. Especially today. Carlton said some things...made me wonder how he’s really going to handle everything, especially once Lily’s home. How he’ll balance…”
“Since when has Lassie balanced anything correctly?”
Jules glared up at him. “Not helping.” Her gaze went distant again. “But he’s going to try so hard to—to do everything right. For Lily. And it’s not like we’re parents yet—we don’t know anything—we can’t tell him how to figure that out. But...I can’t help feeling like I don’t want leave him alone while he’s doing it.”
“What are you saying, Jules?”
She covered her face with her hands and let out a frustrated sound. “Ah...ok. Look, Shawn, would you…? Would you completely hate me and think I was crazy if I said I was seriously thinking about asking Carlton for the job?”
“The head detective spot, Shawn. Here. The mayor isn’t forcing his hand this time. He can hire whoever he wants, and he won’t ask me because he doesn’t want to put me in that position. I know that’s what it is. He doesn’t want to make me feel like I’d have to say yes, because he knows I’ve done a lot of work up in San Francisco, and I love that job and I love Karen, and—”
Shawn layed back down beside her. “Ok, just playing devil’s advocate here...then why do you want to come back here?”
“Because it’s Carlton,” she sighed. “And he needs people around him right now who care about him, and-and we’ve been dreaming about running that department together for years. Mostly it was just him talking about it, you know how he is, but I didn’t disagree! I was right there with him I just...didn’t say as much. But I wanted it too.”
“So you don’t think I’m crazy?”
“You don’t hate me?”
Now Jules got up again, all the way out of the out of the bed and started pacing.
“Seriously? You uprooted your entire life for me, just a month or so ago, and you’re not angry I might want to turn around and say nevermind and come right back here?”
“Jules, have you read my resume? How could I be angry? I used be ten times worse. And as for changing half your life again just for, you know, a friend, I can’t diss that either. Gus just did that. If we come back here he’ll do it again. He may be a little more upset about it than my complete lack of upset-ness, but he’ll do it. And I did uproot for you, and I’d do it again. Because I love you.”
Shawn climbed from the bed to take her arms. “We’re all crazy, Jules. The sooner you can just accept it and move on the easier it’ll be, trust me.” Jules laughed tiredly and he pulled her to him. They stayed that way for a while.
“So what, did we just decide to do this?” he asked eventually.
“I don’t know,” Jules mumbled against his chest. “I’ll have to talk to Carlton, but not tomorrow...tomorrow’s Brannigan’s service and it wouldn’t be right. I’ll talk to him Friday.”
‘“You’re sure you’re ok with this?”
“I’ll still have to go back Sunday. I’ll want to talk to Karen in person.”
“Yeah.” Shawn tugged on her. “Can we go back to bed now?”
“You slept half the day,” she smirked.
“When is sleeping ever a problem for me?”
Betsy Brannigan had no family, and only two people from her previous post made the trip for her memorial service Thursday evening. It might have been sad, if it weren’t for the presence of the entire Santa Barbara Police Department.
“She made an impression,” Shawn said. “That’s for sure. Kind of wish you’d gotten to know her better, Jules.”
Buzz McNab and her old chief from before her transfer both said a few words. The way her old chief talked about her—fondly, but with a healthy amount of confusion—didn’t surprise anyone, and McNab thanked her for giving him a chance.
“Betsy thought I could do more, you know? I don’t want to let her down. I hope I can become the detective she thought I could be.”
What Juliet would remember was how much she’d cared. In the few minutes, really, that she’d known Betsy Brannigan, Juliet had seen her do her job efficiently and seen her care about her chief as person—a person who happened to be Juliet’s closest friend.
Brannigan had saved Carlton Lassiter’s life, and that was not something Juliet would soon forget.
When the service ended and the crowd scattered Carlton didn’t head for the cars. He moved off across the grass and Juliet hesitated on Shawn’s arm.
“Jules?” he asked.
She looked back at him and nodded after Carlton. “I think I’m gonna…”
“Yeah. Ok.” Shawn kissed her forehead. “Gus and I’ll be the house.”
She didn’t catch up right away. She waited for Carlton to break out of his thoughts long enough to know she was behind him. When he turned around with an eyebrow up she was still several yards away.
“You’re following me,” he said.
“It’s almost dark.”
“And that necessitates following me?”
Juliet ran a few steps to catch up to him, and when she was at his side he turned back around and continued walking. “What are you doing?” she asked.
He didn’t answer at first. “Dreading Saturday,” he answered finally. Softly.
She didn’t know what to say to that, but he didn’t seem to expect an answer.
“We get to pick Lily up tomorrow,” Juliet reminded him after a moment. It didn’t cheer him up as much as she’d hoped. He’d been so quiet since they talked at the hospital yesterday, and it was worrying her. “Carlton, what?”
His hands were in his pockets, but she caught his arm and gently brought him back to a stop. Around them the streetlights around the cemetery were popping on, one by one, and they could hear the mechanical humming.
Carlton stopped like she wanted him to, but he stared at the ground. When he did look up he was looking out at nothing in particular, rather than her.
“They both saved my life, O’Hara,” he said. “In different ways...both of them did. And they’re both gone. Because of me. You’re gone because of me. If I hadn’t been such an idiot maybe Swaggerty would have trusted me from the beginning and you never would have needed to leave.”
“Don’t say that.”
“It’s true, isn’t it? And I’m not that much of an idiot; I know why I haven’t seen much of Lulu since she came here to film a few years ago. I made an ass out of myself, and Spencer and Guster could only cover so much of that.”
Juliet blinked. “Did you hear us yesterday?”
“Not exactly; I figured she’d talk to someone, and it wouldn’t be me. It was you?”
“Yesterday at the hospital during lunch. She knows you’re not angry; I was able to get that much across.”
Carlton nodded and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Thank you…”
“Any time. Now tell me what you’re going on about. You’re scaring me.”
He huffed. “It seems I’m very good at getting rid of anyone I care about, or anyone who cares about me. That’s what I’m going on about.”
“Well that’s crap.”
“You can’t really believe that,” Juliet insisted.
“Have you met me?” He stuck out a hand. “I’m Carlton Lassiter. I scare people.”
She smacked his hand down. “Maybe. Sometimes. But anybody who lets that get to them doesn’t deserve to know you any better anyway. I never let it get to me. Shawn never left you alone just because you were you. And Marlowe saw the best in you from the first moment.”
“And I don’t have any of you anymore,” Carlton answered bitterly.
“You have Lily.”
“And in eighteen years she’ll grow up and she’ll leave, too. By then she’ll probably hate me, because goodness knows no matter how hard I try I’ll probably screw up enough.”
Juliet shook her head. “Carlton, stop it! Not everyone is leaving you! You’re smarter than this.” She sighed in frustration. “I’m not leaving you.”
“After this week—”
“Not even then. Not if you don’t want me to.”
He gave her the look he gave her in his office, when she was trying to tell him she was leaving, so he could be chief. “What the hell are you talking about?” he asked.
“Offer me the job!”
“Look, I’m sorry, I didn’t want to talk about this today because it was supposed to be about Brannigan, but you’re driving me crazy. Just...offer me the job, Carlton. I’ve already talked it over with Shawn.”
Carlton stared at her for a moment, confused. “But...you have a job. You love San Francisco. You and Karen built that station and—”
She cut him off, holding up a hand. “And you’re not telling me anything I haven’t been over in my own head two dozen times in the last few days, and I’ll still have to go back and talk to Karen because that’s not something I want to tell her over the phone. But...she has a lot of good detectives. She’s built a good team. Someone else will do just as good a job.”
“Don’t you have a partner there who wouldn’t be happy either?”
“Not...as such,” Juliet hedged.
“You’ve been there for months!”
“And I’ve worked with a lot of good people, yes, I just haven’t, you know...picked one yet. Maybe I didn’t want to.”
Carlton let out a long breath. “O’Hara…don’t do this just because—”
“I’m not. I know what I want. So if you still want me for the job just ask me. I’ll say yes.”
His mouth open and closed a few times, and Juliet couldn’t help herself anymore. She had to hug him, and he didn’t complain about it when she wrapped her arms around his neck.
Carlton sighed against her shoulder. “Tomorrow,” he said.
Juliet smiled as she let go of him.
“Were you really going to give Dobson the job?” she asked.
He shrugged slightly. “I don’t know I just...thought for a little while maybe if I did that I’d have to accept that it was all right for the department to be...good, not necessarily great. I thought if I gave that up it would be easier to focus on raising Lily. She deserves that.”
“And the fact that you know that means you’re already light-years ahead of a lot of people. You know that, right?”
“You can have both,” Juliet said firmly. “At least if I have anything to say about it. No, you couldn’t do it alone...but you’ll have us, ok?”
He almost smiled. “You and Spencer?”
“And Gus, probably, and I don’t think Henry’s going anywhere, and I have a feeling your sister’s going to be around a lot more, too.”
“I’m still not hiring psychics.”
“We both know Shawn’s not—”
“The public doesn’t know that,” Carlton pointed out.
But they could figure the rest out later.
Carlton looked over her shoulder, back to where the service had been and the distinct lack of cars nearby. “I’m your ride now, aren’t I?”
“We’re going to the same place.”
“Shawn, are you crazy?”
The living room was dim and quiet, and neither of them had changed yet. That was Shawn’s fault. He’d brought this up before they hit the door.
“I knew this would happen,” Gus huffed.
“Dude, then why did you go back for the interviews?”
“Just in case! I have to cover my bases, Shawn—something you’ve never been very good at. And this plan is a perfect example. What if it goes badly?”
Shawn shrugged. “It won’t! It’s perfect. It covers all the bases. I don’t know what bases you think I’m missing. Look, do you want to help Lassie, keep putting bad guys in jail, and make a living all at once, or not?”
“I accept your assessment.”
Gus sighed. “But I’m with you.”