Ranger left for the office before I finished my second cup of coffee, me mentally berating myself for my inability to commit. The truth was, I loved Ranger as well. Of course, I loved Morelli, too, and look where that relationship went. Down the toilet. Truth be told, I still love Morelli, although in a more platonic-friends-with-a-rich-history sort of way. I am not sure how I love Ranger. I know I love him in a friends-with-benefits sort of way. And I know that I am hanging onto the excuse of not knowing him better to avoid getting more serious with him. Because in actuality, that is an excuse. You never truly know a person. There will always be surprises, even if you are together for a million years, even a gazillion years. I know him well enough to know that he would always try to take care of me, even if it is to his own detriment, and he would always try to do his best for me. Having said that, I was hurt and angry when I broke up with The Dick, and I was confused and hurt when I broke up with Morelli. However, if I got involved in a relationship with Ranger I have the potential of being devastated in a way that Dickie and Morelli had not been able to accomplish. My self-preservation instincts were kicking in and I was leery of getting hurt like that.
I had not finished puzzling out my relationship with Ranger by the time the water had run cold in the shower. I quickly shampooed, conditioned and soaped, avoiding using Ranger’s signature Bulgari Green scent of body wash and instead using my fruity orange one, and rinsed off in the cold water, getting out while turning blue and goose-bumpy. I could always invite him to my parents for dinner on Sunday, I thought. By the time I had toweled off I had discarded the idea. I didn’t think I was ready for the assumption that Ranger and I were together yet. I didn’t think I would want to take Ranger home for dinner until we actually were together. I shook off my introspective mood while I blow dried my hair and put on makeup, and dressed in a black tennis skirt and a pale pink stretchy girl t-shirt. I was as ready for the day as I would ever be.
Getting to the Rangeman facility, I walked down to my office and unlocked my door. Inside was a fresh rose in a bud vase on my desk. I smiled and felt my heart melt a little.
I dropped my purse into my drawer and, grimacing, put on my gun belt. I locked my purse in the drawer, smiling a little at my need for security. There were few men within the Rangeman building who would not be able to get into my drawer within seconds.
I booted up my computer while I walked down to the break room for some coffee. As I got there, my stomach grumbled and I remembered that I had forgotten to eat breakfast that morning. I grabbed a yogurt parfait and a granola bar and took my haul back to my office. Four hours later, I had long since finished my breakfast and was getting hungry for lunch. Ranger’s file was half completed and I had not seen him since my apartment this morning. I mentally castigated myself some more for being a fool. There was no reason to be nervous of a relationship with Ranger, yet I was. And besides the fear of being hurt, I was not exactly sure why.
Feeling unsure of myself, I did not go down to see if Ranger was interested in having lunch with me. Instead, I went to the break room and met up with Hal. He was sitting quietly eating his lunch when I got there. “Hey, Steph”, he said. “How’s it going?”
“I heard there was a kerfuffle last night and a fleet car got torched.”
“Not according to my standards. In my books, that car was definitely still drivable.” And it’s true. With my history of car bombings, vandalism, accidents and explosions, I have driven cars that were in much worse shape than the fleet car was after the fire crew was finished with it.
“Yeah, I remember when your car got toasted with Mama Macaroni in it. Your car was a mess then.”
“You mean cars are supposed to have floorboards in them?”
“Seats are good too, and the lack of smell of burnt human flesh is a nice feature to have in a car.”
“And I thought that was a selling point for it”, I smiled.
“Eduardo and Miguel said that Ranger has contacted their friends to do telephone interviews tomorrow for positions in Rangeman. They are really happy. They said that Ranger said last night that, if their friends work out, he will hire all four. He said that finding qualified people is so hard that he will hire them before the guys have a chance to accept another job, even though he really only needs two more staff right now. I think he is thinking that he might transfer some of the Operations guys into Sales since he also needs more staff in Sales.”
“Who is he thinking of transferring?”
“I heard Ethan and Joshua.”
“They would be good in Sales. They have good personalities for it.”
“That’s what I think as well. And both of those guys moonlight part-time as sales people in retail stores, so we know they have the skills and experience.” Hal stood up. “My lunchtime is over. I have to go back on the monitoring station to cover for Calvin. Nice talking to you”, he said and left the room.
I selected a sandwich from the tray, a cranberry juice, and a container of cut fruit. I refilled my coffee cup and took my lunch down to my office to eat while I worked.
Four hours later I stood up and stretched. My file was done for Ranger, and I was all caught up on Rangeman work for the time being. I mentally thanked Ranger for giving the Sales staff weekends off.
I took the file down to Ranger’s office. He was working on the computer as I walked in. “Thank you for the flower this morning. I’ve been admiring it all day.”
“Here’s your file. I was able to finish it today.”
“I have about half an hour of work left to do before dinner. Do you want to come up to the apartment for dinner and then head out to the laundromat to do your laundry?”
“Sounds good to me. I could use the time to review Nyetta’s file.” Ranger turned back to the computer as I left him and walked back to my office. I pulled out all the information that I had accumulated on Nyetta. There was his apartment as a potential capture site. I could canvas his neighbours to find out when he was normally at home. I could contact his doctor to try to determine when he was going to come in for an appointment. I could contact his pharmacy to identify a typical time for him to refill his prescriptions, and I could talk to his family members to identify a potential capture site. I reviewed his file and wrote down his medical contact information on a sheet, as well as pulled out the names and contact information of his mother, brother, sister-in-law, and ex-girlfriend. I put aside this information and was completing another search on him when Ranger came into my office.
“It’s nice to see you. I missed you today”, he said.
“I missed you as well.” I felt uncomfortable, not knowing where the conversation was going after our relationship talk this morning. It was a little disconcerting to know that Ranger wanted a relationship when I was used to thinking of him being just as much of a commitment-phobe as I was.
“Are you ready for dinner?”
“Just about.” Ranger sat down on one of the guest chairs while I finished reviewing the search results. “Just as I suspected. No new information.”
“What’s your capture plan?”
“Canvassing his doctor and pharmacist to see when he is next due to refill his prescriptions, and canvassing his family and ex-girlfriend to see if they have any ideas of where to look. I don’t have a lot of ideas, unfortunately.” I shut down my computer and unlocked my drawer. I picked up my purse and put my gun and holster in it. Then I turned off the lights and locked the door behind me, following Ranger up to his apartment.
“Do you want to stay over tonight?” Ranger asked as we were on the elevator on the way up to his apartment.
“That would be nice if that’s okay with you.” Ranger was quiet and, for one of the first times during our entire friendship, it was an uncomfortable silence.
We got in the apartment and smelled a creole shrimp casserole keeping warm in the oven. I took a bowl of salad out of the fridge with dressings, and Ranger took the shrimp and rice casserole out of the oven. He poured water while I put cutlery on the table. The whole time, I felt tense and uncertain. Ranger dished up a portion for himself and handed me the spoon. I dished up my own dinner and sat at the table.
“You know,” said Ranger, “our talk this morning changes nothing. We are still good friends and we are still enjoying the benefits. The fact that I want something more is not new to me. I have wanted more for a long time, long before you broke up with Morelli. I don’t think that desire is going to go away. However, I understand if you aren’t ready for a relationship or if you’re not wanting more with me. I won’t like it, but I won’t create a problem for you. I don’t want to jeopardize our friendship as, ultimately, it is our friendship that is most important to me. But if you are ever ready for more than a friendship or, if you want to take the extra step from the ‘with benefits’ designation, I will be willing and ready to do so.”
“I’m scared”, I blurted out.
Ranger took my hand in his and intertwined our fingers. “I know. I would never purposely hurt you though.”
“I know. But you have the power to hurt me more than anyone else I have ever met. You have become my rock over the last few years, and I rely on you for support. What happens if we mess that up? What happens to me if I lose your support?”
“You look like you are standing on the edge of a cliff and are looking down. I have already jumped and know that it will turn out okay. However, there are stairs to the side of the cliff and we can take baby steps down the stairs. You don’t need to jump if you don’t want to. The important thing is to not lose momentum and to keep moving forward.”
“How did you get to be so understanding?” pulling my hand back from his so that I could eat.
“I have had a long time of watching and wanting you. I am not going to do anything purposely that will result in this getting fucked up.”
“You’re totally serious about this relationship thing.”
“Yes, I am. I’ve been serious about this for a long time. I love you.”
“I love you, too” popped out of my mouth before I had time to think. I am not sure who it surprised more. Ranger has periodically told me that he loved me in the past, but I had never told him that I loved him in return. I thought for a minute, assessing my feelings, and decided that what I said was true. I did love him. I just wasn’t sure whether I loved him in a way that would support a relationship. Hell, I was so confused that I wasn’t even sure what was needed in a successful relationship.
“Then that, for now, is all we need to know.” Ranger finished his dinner and pushed aside his plate. The silence that descended was much more comfortable. “My parents have a good relationship. They are everything to each other. It was always each other first, followed by us kids, followed by grandparents and extended family, followed by the restaurant in importance. That is the kind of relationship that I want. What kind of relationship do your parents have?”
“I’m not exactly sure. They have a symbiotic relationship. My father supports my mother and agrees to stay out of household affairs and, in return, my mother treats my father as if he is the king of the castle. The whole family knows that this is just an illusion. My father is definitely not the king of the castle. My mother rules the roost but she pretends that my father is the most important person and that makes him happy. I guess my mother is happy. I am not sure who is most important in her life. I would guess that it is Val and myself, but I am not sure. She sort of spreads herself around and there is no defined pecking order.”
“What do you want in a relationship?”
“I don’t know. I never really thought about it, which is probably why I have come through two serious yet unsuccessful relationships. I know a few things that I don’t want, however. My experience with The Dick showed me that I want someone who is faithful and who is fair. I don’t want to ever live through someone cheating on me again. That makes me a little uncomfortable saying that, since I technically cheated on Morelli all those times I slept with you when I was going out with him, but I don’t think I could live with my potential boyfriend cheating on me again. My experience with Morelli showed me that I have to have someone who is willing to support me, no matter what. I make mistakes. Everybody does, but I make more than normal.”
“I wouldn’t say that.”
“I would. It seems like I am always goofing up. But I need someone who isn’t going to throw those mistakes in my face, who isn’t going to blow up, who doesn’t blame me for his heartburn, who doesn’t start popping Rolaids whenever I get within five feet of him.”
“Unwavering support and faithfulness. Sounds like we want some of the same things.” He got up and put away the leftover salad, dressings and creole shrimp. I got up and wet the dishcloth to wipe down the table. When we were finished, Ranger pulled me into a hug. He gave me a kiss and, when our tongues touched, I felt a pull straight down through my abdomen. I leaned into him and wound my arms around his neck. After a few minutes, Ranger pulled back with a smile. “You have laundry to do, remember?”
I would have gladly forgotten the need to do laundry if it wasn’t for the fact that I was wearing my last pair of clean underwear. Regretfully, I pulled back. “Damn. It is either do it now or spend more time at my parents tomorrow doing it then. Doing it now wins.” Ranger gave me another quick kiss and walked me to the door of his apartment. I picked up my purse and walked out the door, hand in hand with Ranger.