We Didn't Notice

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Downhill From Here

We expected Tessa to get back to normal but we were wrong. Instead, she grew more and more withdrawn. She no longer jumped in on our conversations, no longer dished out harsh comebacks. She just sat there and either flashed us a look that told us to grow up or she didn’t hear us at all; like she was locked away in her own mind. That mysterious, I-know-more-than-you look disappeared and she stopped hanging out with us in the bar; no more awesome Top Gun pick-ups lines. She stayed at home. Away from us.

She also grew even clumsier, if that was possible. Before, she usually had a new injury, or battle wound as she called them, every two months but now we saw a new bruise or cut every set. One from falling down the stairs, another from tripping with a knife in her hand, being hit by a runaway cart at Costco. Shit like that.

We all missed our girl, but Nathan was affected the most; they were partners and were inseparable at one point, being able to speak without words. But now they were planets away and Nathan hated it. At first, he tried to get her to talk but she just snapped at everyone who asked. Then Nathan just waited it out hoping she would bounce back but that didn’t happen either. Then Nathan would switch partners for the set; everyone would usually jump at the chance to spend the day with Stark but it was now filled with a horrible, awkward silence.

She even got in more trouble with the brass. Her reports were being sent back for bad grammar, missed details, and stuff like that. When I first started, she had the best reports and was the picture girl for the perfect employee. Mark, other sergeants, and Chief loved her but she was quickly falling out of favour. She was the subject of many complaints about bad language, and not being empathetic or understanding. She stopped caring; even for abuse cases. Now she just wrote the information in her notebook and left without as much as a pat on the back.

We were losing Tessa but we didn’t know how to bring our girl back.

Meanwhile, more time had passed and otherwise, they were some good times. Greg was now a grandfather of two kids and loving it. He was considering retirement once he was eligible. Nathan and Taylor also had a kid, a little boy named Shane. He was two years old right and he was adorable. Derek was married to a chick named Chelsea; she was kinda odd but pretty cool. And we got a new guy named Craig, a skater kid from downtown Calgary. He was really cocky at first and had the biggest crush on Tess; but, after he calmed down, he was a pretty cool kid, or dude as he would say. Meanwhile, I was living the single life and loving my life as a cop.

We were sitting at the bar on our days off drinking and having a good time when Tessa approached us. The booth got quiet as we glanced at the kid. During those years, she kept herself presentable and professional but never dressed herself up as much as she could. She wore minimal makeup and always wore sweatpants whenever she wasn’t in uniform. But tonight she was a knockout; her hair waved gently down her body as it gleaming in the light. Her eyes were darkened with makeup, making her eyes pop and giving it that mysterious look she had lost. She wore tight jeans that showed off every curve and a low cut tank. I wasn’t the only one not immune to her charms as Derek and Craig whistled in appreciation.

“Hey, guys,” she muttered looking down at her feet, “I know I’ve been a real asshole these past few years and you didn’t deserve it. I have no excuses, only an apology. I’m sorry, and it won’t happen again. You are great guys, and you are fantastic cops. I missed you guys.” She looked up and flashed us that small, sad smile. She gave a nod and slapped a brown 100 dollar bill on the table and began to walk away. “Next round’s on me. Goodbye.”

“Kid,” Nathan called causing Tess to pause, “we missed you too; now get that fine ass of yours over here and have a drink!” She bit her lip and looked around anxiously.

“Nathan, I have something I need to do,” she muttered playing with a silver necklace that hung at her throat.

“Well, as you said: you’ve been an asshole, now make up for it,” Nathan called back with a sly grin. Tess sighed as a smile broke across her face and she sat down next to Nathan. Nathan grinned, passed Tessa a drink, and wrapped his arm around her shoulder, to which she grinned and leaned into him. She was back for the first time.

“Alright, Tess, we need your help,” Nathan began causing her to roll her eyes.

“You just realized that now?” We all laughed; man, we missed her sassy remarks!

“Thanks, sis, anyways; look around the table all of us are married except Craig and Alex, but Craig is a lost cause. Alex has been with us for what four, five years? He needs to settle down before he gets old and wrinkly.” All eyes turned to me as my ears burned.

“Hmm,” she began looking around before grinning ear to ear. “Alright, twelve o’clock there’s a blonde girl sitting at the bar alone. Her name's Clarissa, she’s your age, and you’d get along with her; she’s sassy, smart, and funny.” We looked and found the girl she was talked about- Clarissa.

She had long sandy blonde hair with bright, intelligent baby blue eyes. She was drinking a rich, amber liquid and wore a tough, don’t mess with me face. I knew she would have a gorgeous smile. Dang, she was beautiful.

“Alright, Tess!” Craig hooted wanting a piece of her himself.

“Okay, Parks, now go in with an awesome pick-up line and she’ll follow you home!” Nathan encouraged with a laugh. We all looked at him; Tessa, Greg, and Mark in horror and Derek and Craig in admiration.

“Really?” Mark muttered.

“Yeah, what if someone said that to Taylor? What if your son said that?” Greg asked causing Nathan to shrug.

“I’d love to see someone try that with Tay; she’d kick their ass, and if Shane did that I’d congratulate him and get him ice cream,” Nathan answered with a shrug. He was a husband and a father but acted like a single guy who saw a girl for the first time, but we all knew it was an act. Nathan would protect his family to the end, both his families.

“No,” Tessa grumbled facing me, “Alex, look at her; she’s intelligent; if you say some smart ass pick-up line she’s going to beat you up and make you feel like a fool. Just be yourself and it’ll be fine.”

“Nah, man that’s how I picked Taylor up,” Nathan argued shaking his head.

Tessa shook her head, “No, she took pity on you because you were going from girl to girl muttering the same 80s pick-up line. She felt bad and decided to talk to you, then she drank that extra shot and the rest is history; we’re girls, dude, we talk about this stuff.” Nathan’s face dropped as the rest of us laughed.

“My marriage is built on a lie!” He cried dramatically but eyes glittered with comedy.

“You’re a good kid, Alex,” Tessa continued, “just be yourself and you’ll be fine.” I took in a deep breath and stood to my feet and walked towards the pretty girl. Nathan was smart and I trusted him, besides he was married with kids.

I walked over to the girl- Clarissa and leaned against the counter.

“Excuse me, miss, but are you religious because...” I looked into those baby blues of hers and found them clouding with anger, disappointment, and annoyance. I sighed and glanced back at Tessa who shrugged as if saying, it’s your choice. I shook my head and stood tall.

“You know what, you have probably had at least ten guys in the last hour feed you dumb pick-up lines and you look too smart for them to work. I’m sorry to have wasted your time, miss. I just wanted to say you are the prettiest girl I have ever seen. Goodnight,” I muttered and stepped away feeling my ears burn but a soft voice sounded.

“Only ten?” She muttered with a grin. I paused and faced her, smiling like an idiot.

“You’re right, that was a bad guess: twenty at least. Well, twenty-one now,” I said back with a laugh; she chuckled in response. I was right: she did have a beautiful smile. “I’m Alex.”

“I’m Clarissa, but call me Claire,” she introduced shaking my hand. She had a firm handshake, not wimpy like some and her hands were warm.

“So, Claire, what do you do?”

“I’m a paralegal,” she answered as I sighed in response.

“I’m a cop; this can’t work.” She laughed and we began talking some more, and the more we talked the more I liked her. We ended up rejoining the guys and they loved her, and she liked them.

“So who’s the moron who suggested that horrible pickup line?” She asked with a grin.

“Greg, shame on you; I told you she was a classy one,” Nathan scolded. “I am sorry, Claire, I just needed to get even with this one.”

“Thanks, Tessie,” I muttered as we left the bar. Tessa faced me with flashing eyes like that of a wounded animal.

“Don’t call me that!” She hissed biting her lip as blood sprung from the soft skin. I stepped back with wide eyes.

“Sorry, Tess, I meant nothing by it.”

Her eyes softened as she nodded glancing back at her feet, “I know, Alex, you’re a good kid. I’m going home; I’ll see you guys later!” We said our goodbyes as Tess stepped into a cab. I noticed a new bruise on her stomach.

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