I sat on the couch with Ranger after dinner watching "Olympus Has Fallen" on Netflix. In a nod to the discomfort I was in, I sat upright at the opposite end of the couch from Ranger and put my feet in his lap. He massaged them with just the right pressure as we watched our movie. When we got to the end, Ranger helped me off the couch. "You will need a pain pill tonight, Babe. I will get you one while you finish up in the bathroom." He walked into the kitchen, running a cold glass of water for me out of the fridge and dispensing a pain pill. He came through as I was getting into bed, gave me the pill, and said that he had some work that he needed to get done and he would be in bed in a while. I shut my eyes and drifted down to sleep.
Sometime later, I am not sure how long, I heard Ranger talking on the phone. I heard him say "Stephanie Plum", and I heard him say we could work around any difficulties. I woke up a couple of times more but the pain pill pulled me back into sleep again before I could hear him say anything else. It's too bad. It sounded like an interesting conversation.
The next morning, I woke to Ranger's watch alarm. "What time is it?" I asked.
"Five o'clock. Go back to sleep. I'm going down to the gym." I tried to get comfortable, finally falling back to sleep.
When I next woke up Ranger was getting out of the shower and the morning smell of brewing coffee hit my nose. I breathed deeply, wincing as my lungs expanded. I carefully got out of bed and stumbled into the kitchen to pour Ranger and myself a cup. I carried the cups back through into the bedroom as Ranger walked into the closet to dress.
"Did you have a good sleep?" asked Ranger.
"I did. I only woke up once. I thought I heard you talking in the office, and you mentioned my name."
"That sounds like an interesting dream."
"Yeah. I was pretty frustrated. I wanted to hear what you were saying, but I kept falling asleep. I woke up for a second or two, then I would fall back to sleep again. It looked like you were having an interesting conversation."
"Babe, I didn't talk to anybody last night. I did work in the office for a while, but then I came to bed. There was no one in the office, and I wasn't on the phone. It was just a dream."
"That's too bad. It had the potential to be such an interesting dream and the potential was never realized."
"It must have been the pain pills. Do you want more coffee?"
Ranger taped a plastic sandwich bag over the cut on my arm so I could have a shower. By the time I got out of the shower, Ranger had gone down to his office for the day. I got dressed, for once remembering my gun without prompting, and went down to sit at my desk, phone and headphones in hand. I went to the break room to get another coffee before starting, and ran into Raphael. "I heard you got tagged when you were wrestling with that guy yesterday", he said.
"Yup. He cut my arm, scratched my neck and fractured a rib. So much for my self-defense lessons."
"I'd say they are working. You would likely be dead otherwise."
"That's a cheery thought." I grimaced. I poured my coffee, grabbed a lemon poppyseed muffin for later, and walked back to the control room. There were no files from Ranger to search. Tank had two files for me to search. I was just completing them when I received a text from Morelli. "Are you at Rangeman? I have a restraining order for you to sign. I will bring it by. What is a good time?"
"How about now?" I suggested. "I will meet you at Reception to sign you in. We can grab a coffee and muffin together."
"See you in ten."
I then popped my head in to see Ranger. "Morelli is on his way here and should arrive in about ten minutes. I was going to bring him up to the break room to grab a coffee and muffin, then take him down to one of the conference rooms as an extension of an olive branch. You okay with that?"
"Yes. I don't have time to say hi to him today. You are doing this meeting solo. Try not to get into any fistfights, okay?" he said as he smiled. He laughed as I stuck out my tongue at him. When I turned to go he said more seriously "I will meet you in my office at noon today for lunch. I have booked the shooting range from twelve thirty to one for target practice. You got out of laser tag, but you can't get out of target practice altogether."
"I am so looking forward to it", I said with a grumpy look on my face.
"You are doing well with it. You just need more practice, that's all. You'll get there."
As I walked out of his office, he said "can you please close the door? I have an important call I have to do."
I went downstairs and waited for Morelli. I did not have to wait long. He came striding in, his too-long hair windblown and disheveled. I signed him in with the guard. We took the elevator up to the fifth floor so Morelli could get a coffee and muffin. We then walked back out to the control room, walking quietly over to my desk to pick up my coffee and muffin. Leaving just as quietly, we took the elevators down to the second floor. We grabbed the first available conference room.
"Do you like working here?" asked Morelli as he sat down. "It seems awfully quiet for you. I have trouble envisioning you working here without falling asleep."
"I have been known to fall asleep periodically. I listen to music a lot."
"But do you like working here?"
"It definitely has its perks. The food being the main one. The work itself is pretty boring, but Ranger has expanded my responsibility a bit so that it isn't so boring. A little more analysis than before. It is nice to do it part time though. It gives me stability in my income, as well as benefits, while at the same time working for Vinnie part time gives me the excitement and diversity I enjoy. Will I always work here? I don't know. But I do know for right now this is where I need to be."
"I miss you, Cupcake." He reached out his hand and covered mine on the table.
"I miss you, too. We were together for a long time. You were one of my best friends and I would like to think you still are."
"It sounds like you still think we are better apart."
"Yes. We just can't seem to get along well when we are together. I think we should try the 'just friends' thing and see where that takes us."
"You still wear the friendship ring I gave you a few years ago."
"And we are still friends, aren't we? Or do you want me to give it back to you?"
"No, I don't want it back. I'm just happy you still wear it." He took my hand and twisted the ring around and around on my finger.
"I value it, just like I value our friendship. I don't want to lose that."
"I'm finding this hard."
"So am I."
"Then why are you doing this?" he burst out.
"I am tired of having nightmares about things you have said to me. I am tired of being worried about telling you about mistakes I have made because I know you will blow up at me. I miss lots of things about you, but I don't miss everything. It has taken me a long time to get my head on straight after shooting Brodie. I am still getting there. But your behavior has made my recovery so much harder. I can't have that lack of support. My job is difficult enough without my partner second guessing me and making me second guess myself."
"What does Ranger say about all this?"
"He says you are a good guy and you are going through a rough time yourself." I didn't tell him the part about Ranger saying he was an idiot.
"I'm not happy about this."
"Is there any chance we could get back together in the future?"
"There is always a chance. I love you and I don't think that is going to disappear. But for right now, I need us to be separate. I need us to be friends, not a couple. Will we get back together again someday? I don't know. I can't answer that. What I do know is that I can't be together with you right now. I'm sorry."
"So are we seeing other people now?"
"Yes. I wouldn't hang on waiting for something that might never happen."
He sat there for a moment looking at his coffee cup, then nodded his head. "Okay." He turned to the file folder he had brought in with him and opened it up. "Here is the restraining order. There are three copies. You need to sign at the highlighted sections." I signed at the sections. He handed one copy to me. "That copy is for you. One copy is for Lundel himself, and the last copy is to be filed at the precinct." He stood and threw out his garbage. "Call me if you ever need anything, or even if you just want to talk, okay?" He leaned down and gave me a light, quick kiss on the lips, carefully caught me in a hug, and kissed the top of my head. He picked up his paper coffee cup and his file folder, and walked with me down to reception. I signed him out and, with a final kiss, I watched him walk away.
I went up to the apartment and lay down on the bed, burying my face in the pillow and sobbing. I wondered what I was doing, whether I was making the right decision. It seemed unfair. I wanted it all, and I couldn't have it all with either of the two men in my life. Yet, I loved them both. Eventually I cried so long I fell asleep.
At quarter after twelve Ranger came into the bedroom and kissed me awake. "You okay, Babe?" My eyes felt swollen and gritty.
"Tough meeting with Morelli?"
"No, it actually went okay. It is easier to be sure about what I am doing when he is yelling and screaming, though. When he is being nice and understanding it makes me confused, wondering if I am making the right decision. He was being nice and understanding today."
"Do you want to get back together with him?"
"No. There are lots of things I like about him though, and that is why we were together for so long. He's a good guy. I told him that I still want him as one of my closest friends, and I do. I just don't think we are the right temperament mix to be a successful couple. Do you think I am making the right decision?"
"It doesn't matter what I think. It only matters what you think. You are the one that will have to live with your decision."
"But I don't know if I made the right decision."
"Only time will tell, Babe. I certainly can't tell you. I have enough troubles with my own life. Did you eat lunch?"
"No, I slept through it", I said, looking at the time. "I'm sorry. I was supposed to be at your office by twelve, wasn't I?"
"That's okay. I brought a couple of sandwiches up from the break room, and some cut vegetables. I put them out on the breakfast bar if you are ready to come and eat." He helped me to my feet.
We sat down at the breakfast bar, each selecting a sandwich and some vegetables. I asked how Ranger's phone meeting went. "Well. We are almost ready to move forward on the issue. I have another phone meeting tonight in the middle of the night. If it doesn't bother you, I will do it from the office up here."
"Why all the cloak and dagger stuff doing it in the middle of the night?"
"I am coordinating with people all around the world and am having to accommodate different time zones."
"What are you working on that involves so many people around the world?"
"I am a security expert. What do you think I am working on?" he said with a smile. A couple of seconds later he said "are you ready to go shooting as soon as we finish lunch?" I think he was trying to change the subject. I let him. He would always have his secrets.
Following lunch, Ranger and I headed down to the range. Ranger sent a target down to the end of the range. I shot a clip into it, hitting many bulls-eyes. I refilled my clip as Ranger sent a body target down to the end of the range. Taking a deep breath and wincing a bit at the sharp pain, I looked up at the target and psyched myself up to shoot at it. Repeatedly muttering "it's just a piece of paper" under my breath, I took aim and shot the clip into the target. When Ranger brought the target back up for us to look at, I saw that I had hit many bulls-eyes and not many complete misses.
"Again", said Ranger. He sent another target back to the end of the range. Feeling more confident, I shot another clip into the target. Most of the shots I got in the inner rings, with many in the centre. "You have good aim", he said. "It looks like it is coming together for you again, just like it was a few weeks ago. We will shoot one more clip and then you can come down here by yourself to practice even when I am not here. I would suggest you either come every day or, as a bare minimum, every second day. Training, of course, counts as billable hours. You will get paid for it. You need to get so comfortable with shooting the idea of playing laser tag doesn't throw you."
"Are you going to be away soon, that I would come down here without you?"
"Yeah, it looks like I will be away for a week or two, starting soon. It will depend partly upon the call I have tonight."
"So I have a few days before I have to vacate your place?"
"No, you are welcome to stay at my place while I am gone. I like the idea of coming back to you when you are all warm and snuggly in my bed. You would feel comfortable with it, wouldn't you? You have done it before." It's true. The very first time I stayed at Ranger's place I acted like an adult Goldilocks. Instead of eating porridge, I investigated whether Ranger was a boxers or a briefs kind of guy. I found out he was neither. I turned red remembering that revelation.
"Yes, I'd feel secure. I don't know if I should stay, though. Your apartment is growing too comfortable and I'm starting to think of it as home. That is dangerous. This isn't my place and we are essentially just friends with benefits."
Ranger didn't say anything, but he did not look happy.