The office was fairly plain, a sterile white paint with random dirt smudges here and there on the walls. A couple random photos were displayed, as though somebody were trying to liven up the place and make you forget where you were. One was a scene of a dock overlooking the water at sunset, a couple of birds--seagulls, she supposed--flying off in the distance. The other was of a family. A mother, father, and two kids walking along the beach. She felt a little annoyed looking at that, thinking about how it seemed to promise something that couldn't be delivered. Familial bliss. But maybe some people did live like that, taking vacations to beaches and walking in a straight line along the water, all of them dressed in white, looking incredibly happy just to be together. What did she know? The last time her father had touched her had been to grab her wrist. That was over a year ago.
On the opposite wall, next to her, was a large storage frame for lots of pamphlets. How to Do (practically anything having to do with your health), What to Expect (when you're pregnant, diabetic, just found out you're dying), Buy our (insert drug name here). For a brief moment she considered collecting them, thinking teasingly of her husband and his propensity for reading anything and everything, but quickly decided against it. Hell, he didn't even know she was here, and nothing would give it away like a stack of pamphlets from a doctor's office.
She steadied her leg, containing her restless energy, and sighed audibly. God, she hated doctor offices. She had ignored it as long as she could, but she couldn't ignore it anymore. Not now, with her jeans getting tighter and the constant nausea. She knew the only reason she'd been able to hide it from him was because he'd been so buried in his work lately. The last time this happened, right after they were married, he had suspected before she did. He was like a human stopwatch to have noticed that one...like some savant or something. Only two days late that time, and it remedied itself. Lucky. Not six weeks. She tried not to think about how upset he'd be if he knew she were here, alone and suspecting, without him. That she'd never mentioned it, never spoke a word. Maybe she'd be wrong. She'd been irregular, off and on, since her assault almost three years ago. Besides, the shot she got was supposed to be ninety-nine percent effective. And her doctors had told her she'd had damage from Forrester's kicks to her abdomen...damage to her ovaries...the reason she was irregular...
She closed her eyes, pushing the images that still occasionally reared themselves out of her mind.
She heard the door open and her eyes met the doctor's. She'd never been to this clinic before. He didn't know her from Adam, and for some reason that made her feel better. Until she read him. After all, that was what she did. She read people for a living and was goddamn good at it. Like they teased her at work, a human polygraph. Now was one of the times she wished she wasn't so good.
"Well," the doctor said, flipping through the thin paperwork, as though trying to be thorough, as though there were a possibility for some answer other than yes or no, "your blood test came back positive, Mrs. Goren. You're pregnant."
Vanessa pulled off her coat and dusted the snow off of it, hanging it up on the rack in her office. Straightening her denim jacket, she headed out into the bullpen with her latest profile.
Little was at his desk on the phone. He glanced up at her, shooting her a smile. She smiled back and stood patiently, waiting for him to finish up. Hanging up the receiver, he held out his hand. "Hey Rayden, always happy to get something from you."
She shook her head. "You're not going to like what you got with this one. You're looking at a serial, quite likely."
"Damn." He opened the file and skimmed the profile. "Thanks, we'll get this started."
She pulled up a chair and sat down. Little looked up, surprise clearly registering on his face. Vanessa took the file out of his hands. "You're blowing me off, Little. You don't have time to 'get this started'. I'm telling you, this guy is going to hit again, sooner rather than later."
He sat back in his chair. "You know, you could stand to give me a break every once in awhile. I'm not blowing you off--I got two other open homicides right now. This one has practically nothing--" he took the file from her and shook it "--I have to go where the evidence is, Rayden. And right now your serial guy might as well be the Invisible Man."
She leaned forward. "There was enough in there to build a profile. Go back over your suspects. Revisit your crime scene. Reinterview your witnesses. I'm telling you, he's done it before and he'll do it again. How easy are you gonna rest when you're out visiting another dead body, knowing you could have stopped it?"
"What do you want me to do?" he demanded. "You know as well as anybody we're backed up all over this damn department."
She sat up stiffly, angrily. "I want you to do your damn job!"
"You calling me lazy?" His voice was getting louder. She felt the room stop around them, and several other detectives looking at them. She swore she could feel Goren's eyes on her back.
Slowly, and low, she said, "I'll call you whatever I have to, to get you to take this seriously. It's your goddamn case. Do something about it."
She stood and turned, in time to see several of her colleagues put their heads back down into their work. Deakins was standing in his door, eyeing both of them carefully. She looked away from him and headed back to her office. If Goren was watching her, she wasn't about to look his way. She knew that even making eye contact might be enough for the tears to begin and she wasn't about to allow that to happen.
Despite Little's continuing infatuation with her, they never seemed to be able to have much of a civil conversation. She didn't know why this particular perp was under her skin so much, but he was. It's not like he was the first anger excitation rapist she'd come across. The fact that he slit the throats of his victims afterward--grisly, but again, not exactly an unheard of M.O. But something about him, something about his choice of victims--young women, in their early twenties and just out of college--bothered her, stuck with her. She couldn't let it go.
"What was that about?" Deakins gently closed the door behind him and sat across from her at the desk.
"One of Little's cases--the perp's a serial. I know he's buried in it, like everyone else, but they need to give attention to--"
"Rayden." Deakins' voice was firm. "You know we're completely undermanned right now. Little is following my orders, not yours."
She shook her head. "I didn't mean it that way...all I'm saying is this guy is going to strike again, soon--"
"And we have nothing other than your profile. Right now we have more pressing cases."
"Oh. You're talking about the cop's kid? The one on drugs?" She sank back in her chair. "You're right...finding the murderer of a junkie is way more important than stopping more murders of multiple young women."
"That cop isn't a junkie, and he deserves to have justice for what happened to his son." Deakins stood up. "Don't give him any more difficulty. Let him work his cases. Your job is to profile and support my detectives. Clear?"
"Perfectly," she snapped, hitting her computer button's on key.
She heard Deakins leave and close the door. She exhaled a breath she didn't know she was holding and caught her head in her hands. Don't cry. Don't cry don't cry don't cry don't cry--
Goren handed her a beer. "So what was that with Little and Deakins today?"
She shook her head at the beer. "Not tonight. I'm not in the mood."
He grinned, then put the beer up to his mouth. "I hope you don't say that later," he snickered before taking a drink. "After all, it is Friday night...and we have a routine here..."
She ignored his poor attempt at humor. "Just the politics of it all gets to me sometimes. There's a serial killer out there and they want to invest all this manpower into finding that junkie kid's murderer. What a fucking waste of time. We all already know he was killed by one of his friends. The dumbass will show up eventually. It's not like he was particularly clever or anything." She crossed her arms in front of her. "In the meantime, there's some guy out there raping women and slitting their throats, and I can't get anyone to do anything about it."
Goren was quiet, turning his beer bottle back and forth. "Are you sure it's a serial? I heard the case was really thin."
"And whose fault is that?" she snapped, and immediately regretted it, as his shoulders shrugged and his hands flew up in a 'don't shoot me' gesture. "I'm sorry...but yes, I'm sure. It is a thin case. And right now we only have one body...but I'm sure there are others. I just don't know where. I also know he's going to hit again. He's an anger excitation rapist, and now that he's killing, he's going to start getting off on that too."
His head was down, but his eyes moved up to meet hers, and he gave a slow nod. "Did you explain all that to the captain?"
"Uh, no. He was too busy giving me his 'be a good girl' speech."
"That doesn't sound like Deakins."
"Hmph." She sipped her water and grabbed a slice of pizza. This was their Friday evening ritual, pizza and beer at the local bar. Sometimes they hit it earlier, sometimes later, but they always had pizza and beer, unless one of them was called out on a case. The dessert that came after, well...that was pretty consistent too, given that they both were home.
"Is it okay to change the subject for a minute?"
"Huh?" She suddenly realized how deep in her own thoughts she had been. "Change it to what?"
"I don't know if you heard yet...I just found out today...Eames is pregnant. Apparently the implantation took this time. Four months along already--can you believe that?"
He looked so proud, like he had somehow had something to do with the success of the process. Vanessa had known Alex had agreed to be a surrogate for her sister and had wondered if she was pregnant; her build was normally so slight that any extra weight showed on her easily. But she didn't want to be tactless, so she had kept her observations to herself. "No kidding," she said, taking another bite of pizza and trying desperately to quell the knot she swore was coming from the baby inside her.
"Yeah. She told Deakins today...he took it fine, I guess...treated her like she was some kind of princess." He laughed out loud, then took another swig of beer. "I've never seen her so uncomfortable. It was pretty funny, Eames on the spot like that."
She was staring at him, watching his face. "Yeah, I bet."
He was still chuckling, picking at the cheese on his pizza. "I didn't ask a lot of questions, but my understanding is that she's just carrying the baby for them...is that what you got?"
"I think so." The knot was getting tighter. She had to tell him. It wasn't fair to him.
"Eames would be a great mom, though...I think it's a good thing for her, to be a part of this."
She thought she might throw up.
He popped some cheese in his mouth. "She's going to have visitation with the baby, how about that?" He shook his head. "Amazing world we live in."
"Yeah." She took a deep breath. "I'm pregnant."
She had never actually seen a deer in the headlights before. She was a city girl, born and raised, and the only experiences she had with wild animals tended to be from the zoo. But looking at Goren's face, she suddenly knew, just knew, that's exactly how a deer would look. Frozen to the spot with "oh shit" flashing in its eyes. Instinct to flee overcome by fear.
"It's okay." She spoke quickly, high pitched. The voice she heard didn't even sound like her own. "It's early enough. I can--I can figure something out..." The knot was moving now, moving up her chest into her throat, choking her. "I'll work it out but I...I felt like you should know."
The pizza slice slowly found itself back on the plate and the "oh shit" reading was replaced with something else she couldn't quite decipher.
"Are you sure?" he said, low.
She nodded. "Yes. Four at-home tests and a doctor can't be wrong."
He leaned closer to her across the table. "Do you want to do this? Because if you want to..."
"It's okay," she said again, trying to push the knot down from her throat, back into her chest. "I know how you feel about this. It wasn't supposed to happen..."
"But it has. And I know how you feel about it too."
Her eyes met his slowly and she gave a quick, almost imperceptible nod. "I don't want you to resent me or this baby or anything bad to--" She caught her face in her hands, feeling the tears starting to fall. The ones she'd been choking down for the last four days.
"Rayden...Rayden..." he soothed, "Don't you know by now I don't regret anything with you?"
His hand was holding hers now, running his fingers back and forth over hers, gentle, loving.
"I'm scared, Bobby." Her voice was raspy, hand still over her face. She felt his fingers stroking her other hand steadily.
"Me too." He sighed heavily before bringing her hand to his mouth and kissing it. "But we'll be okay. We always are."
He lay quietly next to her sleeping form, watching her chest gently rise and drop with each breath. She smelled like spinach pizza, he thought, and smiled as he realized that she had forgotten to brush her teeth. She was curled up in a ball, covered by a thin sheet over her cotton sleep shirt. He pulled the comforter up, over her body, and she involuntarily shuddered, then snuggled closer to him.
A baby. The thought scared him to death. The worst thing he could imagine was sentencing a child of theirs to a life of schizophrenia. Gently, he reached out and pressed a hand to her abdomen. Slightly swollen. He saw it clearly now, the slight weight gain accompanied with her nausea. He didn't know how he had missed it for so long. He wondered how far along she was. They hadn't discussed it any further upon coming home; she was exhausted and had practically fallen into bed. Now it seemed there was so much to discuss, so much to talk about, to know.
He wasn't used to anything sneaking up on him--particularly things as life-altering as a pregnancy--and the fact that he had missed it unnerved him. The fact that she hadn't confided in him unnerved him too. She was his best friend. There had been no doubt about that after her assault; they had bonded together in a way that most other couples he knew only dreamt about. He told her everything, or at least everything that seemed to be able to come out of his mouth, which was far more than he had ever told anyone before. That she had kept something of this magnitude from him, well...
She snored suddenly, then shifted in the bed. Bruce stretched against her, readjusting himself to her new position, and Goren reached down to pet the dog's head for a moment. Good dog. Smart dog. Did the dog know, too?
He trusted her enough to know she had her reasons. He could easily tell at dinner the level of anxiety, the fear she had at his reaction. He deeply regretted that. He knew it was because of his previous response, when she had been late and he had been so concerned. He had felt overwhelmed at the time, with a new wife and new responsibilities. But if he could take it back, he would. He wished she had been comfortable enough to tell him. He wished he hadn't been so buried in his damn cases he hadn't noticed. Maybe other men wouldn't notice this type of thing. But he--he knew her. He knew her mind, he knew her soul, and he knew her body too...and he should have known. He should have known she was late. But his hours had been so messed up lately, their time together so scattered all over the place...excuses, he thought to himself. A bunch of excuses.
He reached over and gently pushed a random piece of hair away from her face. She looked so peaceful tonight. Some nights were still filled with nightmares and anxiety, thrashing about in the bed, even tears. He had told her once that they were perfectly matched, since he had been battling the same nighttime demons for most of his life. It calmed him, to see her face so relaxed, her breathing so regular and soft. Maybe now, maybe since she told him, she would feel better about it. Less frightened.
The darkness in the room was still thick, and he finally felt his eyelids growing heavy. Most nights he slept less than five hours. Usually these awakenings in the middle of the night resulted in him rising, reading or going over case files. She was used to him leaving the bed but would tease him about how cold she was. Not tonight, he thought drowsily, resting his hand once more on her belly. He closed his eyes, letting his wife's rhythmic breathing lull him back into a comfortable sleep.
She was running late. It was so hard to get up some mornings, she could hardly stand it. Bobby had finally roused her at nine, reminding her she was supposed to be meeting her sister in an hour. "Shit," had been her response, and it hadn't much changed, between a quick shower and tossing on a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt.
He had raised one eyebrow at her, taking in her appearance. He knew as well as she did that Ava would be commenting--and commenting harshly--on her lack of makeup, the messy ponytail, and Bobby's old NYPD sweatshirt she was now donning as her own. But she didn't care. Already, pregnancy had changed her, she thought. "Have fun," was all he said, before going back to his bagel and newspaper.
At least she had managed to convince Ava they should meet at a diner instead of the regular upscale restaurant her sister preferred. She scurried into the diner out of the New York winter wind and glanced around, making out her sister's thin form and perfect attire nearly immediately. Seeing the pissy look on Ava's face, she muttered it again, under her breath. "Shit."
She sank into the chair opposite Ava. "Hey," she said quickly. "Sorry I'm late...I overslept. It's been crazy this week."
Ava was staring at her, her lips pursed and face pinched. "You really did just roll out of bed," she snipped. "For some of us, every week is a crazy week."
"Sorry." Vanessa picked up her menu and began to scan it quickly, as though she were still in a rush. God, she was hungry. Didn't she just eat pizza last night? Oh, God. Her teeth. Did she brush her teeth this morning? Shit.
The waitress approached the table and Ava placed her order for a coffee and a fruit cup. Vanessa looked up. "Hi, yeah...um...let me get the veggie omelet with the country potatoes and hotcakes...no coffee...wait, decaf coffee...and a glass of water and another of orange juice." The waitress nodded at them both and left the table.
"So," Ava took a sip of her coffee, "I guess you're done with that diet thing."
"I'm hungry this morning."
"You wouldn't be so hungry if you watched your carbs more carefully, Vanessa...seventy percent of what you eat should be fruit or vegetables...and not the starchy kind." She put her coffee cup down. "You sound like you're carbo loading for a marathon."
The waitress returned with her drinks, and Vanessa picked up her cup of coffee. "What's your problem today? You're in a terrible mood."
"Nothing...I've just been up since five. Justin isn't feeling well." She sniffed. "I'm not feeling well."
Me either, she thought, but didn't say anything. She wondered if her breakfast would be revisiting her in a couple hours. "What's going on?"
Ava shook her head for a moment, then glanced up. "I...I'm going into the hospital. Next week." Her eyes went back into her coffee cup. "I'm having some trouble...eating."
Vanessa suddenly found her voracious appetite leaving and the baby knot gripping her gut again. "You've lost weight again?"
Ava tossed her hair. "I'll be fine, Vanessa...it's just time...you know I've always struggled with this. Look at it as a tune up--you know, the same as when you've gone to therapy or whatever for depression."
"Ava." She didn't know what to say. The last time this happened, she had been in London, on the European leg of a ten-month tour. "What about Justin and David? Are they okay? Do they need anything?"
Now Ava's eyes welled with tears. "I'm sure they'll be fine, Nessie...you know I didn't marry David because he was incompetent."
"Is he okay with this? Is he being good to you?"
"Of course." Ava sniffled for a moment, then waved her hand dismissively. "It will all be fine. I'll put on enough weight and work on choking down more food. Don't worry about it...I just wanted you to know." The waitress arrived suddenly with their food and set Ava's fruit cup in front of her, then lay down Vanessa's platter of breakfast favorites, ending with a separate plate for the pancakes.
Usually when she ate with Ava, she felt irritated and greedy and somewhat pudgy. Ava always opted for salad or fruit whenever possible, sometimes a lean protein, but even then would pick and push her food around. Vanessa couldn't recall a time when her little sister ate normally. Of course, their father had always praised Ava's self-restraint, speaking avidly of his youngest daughter's beauty and slim, lithe build. Now, looking at their respective meals, she didn't feel envious of all their father's attention and of Ava's amazing ability to refrain from food. Now she just felt sad.
"Oh, stop," Ava scolded, nodding toward Vanessa's plate. "My idiocy shouldn't keep you from enjoying."
The smell of what had previously sounded enticing was now evoking the beginnings of nausea. "I'm pregnant," she mumbled, poking at the pancakes blankly.
Ava leaned forward quickly. "No shit!" she exclaimed excitedly. "Does Bobby know?"
"Yeah, I told him last night. He took it pretty well, considering...we haven't really had a chance to talk much about it yet."
Ava stabbed at a strawberry. "I should have known. When I got pregnant with Justin, I could barely drag my ass out of bed each day during the first trimester." She grinned. "Are you excited? I can't believe I'm going to be an auntie!"
Vanessa smiled wryly at her. "I'm still getting used to it. I guess maybe you'd like congratulations, auntie-to-be."
"Eh." Ava nibbled at the strawberry. "Aunties are the best...you get to give the kid back. You have GOT to have a girl. I need a sweet little niece to cuddle and fuss over. You know they have whole shops that sell bows now? Just bows for little girls. You should figure out which room will be hers...I'll help you decorate."
"I'll let you know when I find out." She covered her mouth with her hand, then took a sip of juice. "I don't think this is going to work, Ava...it's the smell..."
"Fine then...go wait outside. I'll have her box it up and meet you out there."
"Yeah," was all she could manage. Her stomach was rolling on itself and she rushed to the bathroom.
When she made it outside, Ava was standing alone on the sidewalk with a bag. She handed it to Vanessa. "Here. Take it to your husband." She smiled. "I had them put in a lemon meringue pie...for whatever reason, I could always choke that down." She gave a pissy glance at the diner before adding, "And God knows why, but they have good pie here."
"Thanks." She took the bags, then looked back at Ava. "I'm assuming David will keep me informed?"
"Of course." Ava glanced at the traffic, then turned to her sister. "I'll be fine, Nessie. It's just a necessary evil."
She nodded, knowing more than anyone what Ava meant. The necessary evil of being who they were. She leaned over and gave Ava's tiny frame a hug. "I love you, Ava. Get better."
She smiled. "Don't worry...next time we do this I'll be a regular butterball and so will you." They both laughed, and then Ava said, "I love you too, Ness."
Vanessa nodded, and then watched as Ava turned and headed down the street, sunglasses perched on her head, impractical white wool coat covering her slight form to her car. Only after she drove away to Vanessa turn to walk the block back to her condo, the winter wind whipping through her and shaking the food bag back and forth in her hand.
Goren pulled the fish out of the oven and squeezed on some fresh lemon. Hopefully it would be light enough that she could handle it. He still couldn't get over how he'd had his head so far up his ass for the last six weeks. He knew she wasn't eating much and had been nauseated for quite awhile. And it hadn't escaped him that she had gained a little weight. Honestly, it hadn't stuck with him either way other than a fact--hell, he'd put on some weight too in the last year. He knew her well enough to know it would have bothered her if he had mentioned it. She was always self-conscious about her body, a fact that had never sat well with him. He liked to blame it on her father, but he had enough experience with the female sex to know those doubts tended to be somewhat universal. Even his most self-confident lovers had been uncomfortable with certain aspects of their bodies. He had his own concerns too--he knew his waist was thicker, his muscles less toned and defined, but overall he didn't lose sleep over it. He was blessed with decent health and Vanessa had certainly never expressed any concerns about his body.
He plated the fish next to some asparagus he had steamed and a few new potatoes, then carried their dinners into the bedroom. For whatever reason, they had made their bed the homiest place in the condo. They slept their, watched TV there, made love there, and ate there. He had to admit it was the best bed on the planet, and a lot of their home life revolved around it.
She was sitting on top of the bed, reading What to Expect When You're Expecting. She had come home with it after visiting with Ava, along with an entire breakfast and an entire lemon meringue pie. He had eaten the breakfast and she had eaten a healthy piece of the pie. The breakfast had been completely untouched, other than a few stab marks in the pancakes. He had wondered what happened there.
"Hey," he said, handing her a plate. "I was hoping this might be light enough for you to handle." He sat next to her. "So what are you reading about?"
She set the book down. "Just stuff...it's an easy read." She began to flake the fish, and then took a bite. "This actually is really good...I appreciate it. Thanks."
He cut into his own fish, smiling. "You're very welcome...hopefully it won't revisit you, "he teased as she let out an involuntary moan. "When's your next doctor's appointment? I'd like to go, if I can work it out."
She shook her head. "I haven't made it yet." After swallowing, she put her fork down. "I wasn't sure what to do...I was still thinking."
"Well," he said gently, "now we know, right? Are you still good with our decision to go through with this?"
She sat her plate on the nightstand. "You know I would be good with it, because it's what I always wanted. The question should be, are you good with it? Really? And can you decide that fast...because it hasn't even been twenty-four hours."
He put his own plate down in front of him and turned to her. "I can decide that fast. Is it something I would have actively pursued at this point? No. Am I sorry it's happened? No. To be honest, I figured eventually it would happen, Ness. It's not like you and I are...well, inactive. Or even not very active." He could see the doubt, the cynicism all over her expression. "Look," he said firmly, "if I didn't want this, I would have taken stronger precautions. Birth control isn't all on your head."
"The last time this happened, you weren't quite so...optimistic."
"The last time there were different circumstances. We were just married and figuring out who we were as a couple, without all the drama of Forrester. We didn't know for sure that you were. And then you weren't. But now you are." She had raised an eyebrow at him, as though she were trying to understand his logic. "There's no going back, and all I want to focus on right now is what needs to be done, and the good of it. There's plenty of good that will come out of this."
She was glaring at him now. "That's very logical of you, Bobby. I'm glad to see you've kept a calm head through all of this."
He knew it came out wrong, sounded tacky and removed and not at all how he felt. But it was hard to figure out exactly how to put all of his feelings into words. And she was right--it had been less than a day. "I didn't mean it to sound so...removed. I'm sorry it sounded that way...it's not how I feel." He looked down at his dinner and sighed. "If I wasn't worried about the schizophrenia, I'd be elated. I really would." He quickly turned toward her again. "But Beth, that's not your issue...it's mine. I want this baby. I want our child and I'm excited and thrilled and scared all at the same time. And I'll learn to manage the rest of it--I swear I will."
He was looking at her with as much sincerity as she imagined he could muster. She believed him. She picked up her plate and took another bite of her now-cold fish before turning her body to face him. "I want you to promise me that you'll be honest about this. I mean, I'm scared too, Bobby. I know the repercussions of this as well as you do. And I don't take it lightly."
"I know you don't." He poked his own fish. "My biggest regret so far is how I reacted...I wish I had been more cliche...you know, jumping and laughing and swinging you around."
His response caught her completely by surprise and she laughed, picturing him swinging her around in the bar the night before. "You're shitting me, right?"
He shook his head. "No...I really mean it. I think every woman deserves that."
Her laugh fell into a quiet smile before she replied, "I wouldn't have wanted that, Bobby, and you know it." She cut into her asparagus. "All I wanted was exactly what I got...your support."
She felt his hand cupping her face and bringing it up to look at his own. "We will make this work out for the best. This baby won't want for anything...especially two parents who love her."
He shrugged. "Or him."
She snorted. "Ava wants it to be a girl too."
"Well, the order is in...make it happen." His voice was teasing.
She made a face. "Surely you have a basic knowledge of chromosomes...and the fact that you provide the x or the y makes the gender of this baby YOUR responsibility, mister."
"Well, it's good to know I've contributed meaningfully, anyway." He picked up one of her potatoes and popped it in his mouth, and she elbowed him in the gut.
Taking a deep breath, Vanessa knocked on Deakins' office door. She had mentally planned out what she was going to say the night before and ran it by Bobby. He had nodded but not given her a tremendous amount of feedback. Goren was smart enough to realize that most of the time she wanted him as an ear to bounce ideas off of and not a knight in shining armour, ready to jump in and solve her problems. His perceptions about her, his ability to read her, was part of what made them work so well together, both professionally and personally. If he had given her too much feedback, he knew she would have interpreted it as a lack of faith in her abilities.
"Come in," she heard, and opened the door quickly, stepping in and closing it behind her.
"Captain," she said, as respectfully as she could, "I was wondering if I could speak with you for a few minutes."
Deakins looked up at her. "Is this about the Stephens case?"
"Yes." She sat down across from him. "There's some information I don't think I conveyed to you appropriately the other day."
He sighed heavily. "Vanessa, I know you're frustrated. We all are. But I can't change our manpower issues. We're in a recession--"
"I know, and I understand," she interrupted, then thought better of it. "I'm sorry, Captain. Please, continue."
He shook his head and sat back in his chair. "No, go ahead. I'm listening."
"This killer--he's an anger excitation rapist. He slit his victim's throat for one of two reasons: either to keep her from talking or because it's starting to excite him. Regardless, he will continue to kill, using the same M.O. The killing--the throat slitting--will become as exciting as the rape itself for him. My concern is that he quite possibly could have dropped several vics before this one and we haven't clued in yet. The cut--it was clean, with no hesitation marks. That's unusual for a beginner. If we can spare someone--anyone--it would be really helpful to run a check on any unsolved cases in with the same M.O., probably within the last three years."
He was watching her carefully. "Did you tell Little all of this?"
"I tried. I think he's a little overwhelmed, like everyone right now." It was the most PC answer she could come up with.
"Are you willing to do the legwork? To search the database?"
She nodded quickly. "Absolutely, Captain. I can get on that right away."
He pulled his chair closer to the desk. "How long before he hits again?"
"I have no way of knowing...not until I can track a pattern on him. If I can search the database, make some calls...I might be able to give you something. Maybe by the end of today. At least a starting point."
"Okay," Deakins agreed. "I'm giving you today to work on this. But if nothing turns up, Vanessa...I know you won't like it, but we need you on other cases. Desperately."
She breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank you. I'll give you whatever I find before the end of the day."
He nodded shortly. "Anything else?"
She had stood, and turned around to face him. "Actually, yes...I need to let you know...I'm pregnant." She looked at her feet, even though she could feel his eyes on her. "Not very far at all...maybe six or seven weeks...but I wanted to let you know. Obviously, it's not common knowledge yet."
Deakins stood up. "Well. Congratulations are in order...you and Bobby will be wonderful parents."
For a minute, she wondered if he really meant it, or if it was something he just said, kind of like "Congratulations on your marriage" or "That company is lucky to have you". But he was smiling at her, that same protective-type smile that reminded her more of their friendship than their argument the other day.
"Thanks. It's a little strange but I guess we'll adjust."
He grinned. "Well, you know I have three...that's why you have nine months before the baby is born. Lots of time for adjustment." He caught the door for her. "Let me know what you come up with today."
Goren stuck his head in her office. "How's it going?"
"Well," she replied, "it's three o'clock and so far I've come up with five potential vics in the last three years in an eight-block area. I'm going to expand the search...I'm starting to think he's been hunting longer than I thought."
He glanced at the clock. "What's your time limit?"
"Five. The official end of the day." She looked up at him. "You got extra time?"
"Not really. But if you've already got five...he might at least give you an extra day to keep poking around."
Vanessa nodded. "I think someone should coordinate this with SVU...it's quite likely he started out as a rapist and graduated to killing."
"I have to go...we've got to run out to interview a couple witnesses...see you at home?"
"Yeah...oh...I made my appointment. Next Wednesday at four. It's the soonest they had and I didn't want to wait. If it doesn't work for you..."
He smiled. "I'll make it work. See you."
She turned her attention back to the screen and scanned through the expanded database, finding a sixth and seventh victim from the fourth year back. The seventh victim was an attempted murder. She had been on her way home from her second day at a new job when she was pulled into an alleyway and pushed against a building, then raped from behind. After, the rapist had held her by the hair and slit her throat before fleeing. However, the cut had been shallow and the woman had survived. She claimed her attacker had said nothing and she had never seen him. But she was alive.
Printing out the case information, Vanessa felt her heart beat faster. She had known in her gut she was right, this was a serial killer, and it looked like she had just found his first attempt at a victim.
She continued to play with the parameters of the search, expanding years, and after finding no other attempted murders, she focused on rapes within the same eight blocks in the years before the murders began. Four more victims emerged, from the same eight-block radius, reporting rapes five and six years ago. After printing out those case files, she grabbed a map of Manhattan and began to plot out the locations of each crime, complete with victim, crime, and date of attack.
Usually she received a lot of credit for being the genius of the squad when crimes were solved using profiling information. But she'd learned a lot from her husband, and one of his greatest skills was deciphering hot zones. She'd first heard of them in school, but Goren had an amazing knack for plotting out and deciphering the zones in which different criminals struck. She mapped out the eleven attacks within the eight blocks, and then took a look at where the buffer zone might be. After marking off the surrounding blocks where it would be unlikely for him to strike, she focused on establishing the area he might reside. Using a highlighter, she outlined the hot zone, then checked her watch. Five o'clock.
She gathered everything she had and headed toward Deakins' office. After giving a courtesy knock, she entered. He was standing next to his desk, talking with Carver, the ADA.
"Sorry to interrupt...but you had wanted to see what I had come up with." She handed him the folder.
He took it from her, surprise clearly in his expression. Carver turned to face her. "Dr. Rayden," he greeted, "it's been awhile."
"Yes...I hear you got a great conviction last week. Murder two."
Carver nodded. "Your husband was quite helpful."
"He was glad to do it." She shifted from one foot to the other, feeling like a child interrupting her teacher .
Carver nodded at Deakins before saying, "I'll touch base tomorrow, Captain."
"Yes...thank you." Deakins was clearly involved in the evidence she had given him, and as Carver exited the office, he wandered around his desk and sank into his chair. After another moment, he said, "You got all this today?"
"So tell me what's in here." He was still turning the pages slowly.
"Eleven victims total within the last seven years, same eight block radius, same M.O. He rapes from behind. With victim number five, he began slitting throats. The fifth victim survived. Everyone after didn't. All new college grads, within the first week of their first jobs out of school. All in their early twenties and white, petite, slim. He definitely has a type. He's definitely stalking, and he's definitely been out there a long time...flying under the radar. I did a quick map of the crimes...you can see where they all fall with crime and date--and then a buffer and a hot zone." She pointed it out on the map. "Granted, I did it pretty quickly so I can't guarantee its accuracy. Plus, Goren's really the expert on this kind of mapping..."
Deakins set the folder down and took his glasses off. Laying them on top of the folder, his fingers interlaced and he looked at her. "I owe you an apology, Rayden. At the very least, I'll get this to some detectives to actively work it. How often is he striking?"
She could feel her heart pounding in her ears. She wasn't sure if it was out of relief or adrenaline. "The best I can tell, every seven to ten months. Long enough to stay under the radar and keep us from connecting the dots."
He sighed. "You did good work, Rayden. I'm sorry I doubted you."
"No problem, Captain...I'm sorry I was...well, rude..."
He smiled. "We'll get started on this tomorrow. I'm expecting you'll want to finish with this."
"Great. Then go home and I'll see you in the morning."
"Gladly...see you tomorrow."
He was examining her map, turning it in different directions, brow furrowed and looking serious. "Your buffer zone's a little off, maybe...but it looks like it's a pretty good approximation, based on what you got today." He turned it ninety degrees to the left, and she could practically see the wheels turning. "I'm assuming you're going to take a look at the properties in that area?"
"Yeah...there's only so much I could do in eight hours, though." She took a healthy bite of lemon meringue pie. Ava had been right--there was something about that pie that seemed to soothe her stomach more than anything else.
Her fork seemed to catch his attention. "You know, not that I'm criticizing or even that it's any of my business," he mused, "but I would think that pie is not the perfect pregnancy food."
"It's the only thing I can eat without puking it back up. Even your fish the other night...it ended up in the bowl...and not the bowl it started in." She took another bite.
"Clever." He handed her the map. "You think Eames and I will catch it?"
"Hopefully." She put the map back in her work folder and slipped it in her bag. "You want some?"
He shook his head. "Not crazy about lemon, thanks." He watched Bruce cross the kitchen slowly and settle at his feet. "So next Wednesday's the big day, huh?"
"What big day?" she started, then realized what he was talking about. "Oh, that. Yeah...the big day. Are you planning on being there?"
"Of course. I already put in with Deakins." He leaned back in the chair. "He congratulated me. Imagine my surprise."
"Sorry about that...it just kind of came up." She diverted her eyes and focused on her water.
"Told anyone else?"
"Only Ava...should I not have?"
"Baby, you can tell anyone you want. We don't have anything to hide. I just don't want to be caught off guard again, if we can help it..."
"Did you tell Eames?"
"No. Not yet. She's not felt well. The nausea..." he paused. "Apparently it's going around."
"Apparently. You should give her some of this pie."
"I don't think there will be any left."
She looked at the pie plate, with only one piece left from the last several days, and sighed. "You might be right. But if it keeps me from worshipping the porcelain god, it's worth it."
He held up his hands. "Can't argue with that one. But if our kid comes out making a sour face, I'm blaming you."
She flicked a piece of meringue at him and it stuck to his cheek. He wiped it off and ate it slowly, licking his fingers as he finished.
She was lying in bed half asleep when she heard him come in. There was a time when she would have jumped, would have been on high alert, terrified that it wasn't him. But she trusted Bruce, and Bruce had always trusted Bobby. The big dog was lying at the foot of the bed, sleeping too.
A minute later he entered the bedroom and tossed his suit jacket into the chair. "God, what a miserable day." His tie hit the jacket and he was already unbuttoning his dress shirt. She looked up at him sleepily as he continued. "Fucking dead ends all over the place. Everywhere we went we got nowhere. I'm telling you, talk about spinning your wheels needlessly." He had toed off his shoes and was standing next to the bed in his boxers.
"That bad, huh?" She closed her eyes again, trying to go back to sleep.
"You don't know the half of it. Just wait until you get back in on Monday. You'll have paperwork a mile high. This is ridiculous. I feel like I'm a fucking hamster on an exercise wheel being teased by a piece of cheese. Or maybe a sex addict standing next to a bunch of five dollar hookers and running a quarter short."
She squinted at him. "That's a very creative analogy."
"You know what I mean." Suddenly realizing himself, he asked, "How are you feeling?"
She stretched in the bed, making her short body look longer, leaner. Her yawn contorted her face, and combined with the stretch, she looked like a cat, he thought. Or almost, anyway.
"Okay," she replied. "Still tired. I swear I've never been this tired in my life."
She felt the bed dip as he sat next to her and she peered at him out of one eye. He was in his boxers and a white tee shirt, sitting on his side of the bed, flexing his fingers. "You'll be pleased with me," he said proudly. "I picked up the pizza tonight."
She rolled over and opened her eyes. "Really? With spinach?"
"Yeah...it's in the kitchen." He reached over and rubbed Bruce's head, watching for the less than enthusiastic tail thump that followed. "You want me to go get it?"
"Hmm...maybe in a few." She reached over, picking up a copy of one of the pregnancy books she had purchased in the last week. "Here. I finished it. I think you'll find it interesting."
"Oh--thanks." He took it from her and leaned back against the pillow, flipping through, as she closed her eyes again. "Do you know what the doctor's going to do Wednesday?"
"Not a clue," she said, keeping her eyes closed. "I've never done this before either."
She felt his fingertips trace over her belly gently, before sliding up to her ribcage. Instinctively, her heart begin to beat a little faster. She knew where this was going, but not precisely enough for it to not be exciting.
"I missed you today," he whispered, and she felt his mouth on her ear, a soft kiss, before catching her earlobe in his teeth and sucking softly. "I spent half the day thinking about how much better my day was going to get when I came home." His fingers slid back down to her belly, then under the hem of her shirt, as he resumed the soft suckling on her ear.
She didn't open her eyes. She didn't want to. There was something to be said for sensuality, a total focus on tactile feeling. The delicate, tapered fingers ran under her shirt and danced over her skin, taking their time, stroking her softly, as though she were a pet, his pet. One hand joined the other, gently running over her belly. "Hi baby," she heard, and smiled involuntarily as she felt the hands spread wide across her midsection, thumbs meeting over her navel. "I'm your daddy." The thumbs moved slowly up and down, as though taking in the changing shape of her midsection, memorizing it, knowing it. "Your mama and I are so excited to meet you." She felt the hands move to either side of her abdomen, then rest on her hips, and a moment later the scrape of five o'clock shadow against her skin. A tentative kiss followed, and she suddenly imagined him holding their baby, kissing its head with that same loving hesitancy.
"You're going to be a great daddy." The words were quiet, and she felt his cheek resting against her belly. She reached out, finding his face, and stroked the rough stubble. "This baby will be lucky to have you as a father. I wish I could have been so lucky."
"Hmm." He hadn't moved, but she swore she could feel him smiling. "You got lucky in the husband department."
"That I did." Her hand moved off of his face and to his hair, gently stroking through the thick curls. "And since you're such a fantastic husband, you're going to get us that pizza now, right?"
He could hear the rain on the windows as he caught his breath. He was somewhat surprised that it was raining instead of snowing, given how cold this winter had been. He shook his head. The things that ran through his mind after sex.
She was lying next to him, catching her own breath, eyes closed. It had been awhile since they had made love in the morning. Their schedules had been so crazy lately that they hadn't had the time, not to mention her nausea put a limit to to how much intimacy she was interested in. He had been surprised this morning when, after kissing her throat in typical Saturday morning fashion, she had responded so enthusiastically, and so quickly. Don't look a gift horse in the mouth, he told himself, but he couldn't help asking her first, "Are you sure?"
"Yeah." Her response had been immediate, and here they were, a too-fast twenty minutes later. He had debated about dragging it out, teasing her and enjoying it longer, but she had stopped him. "Don't press your luck," she had told him. "You know the nausea could hit any time, and puking on your spouse is definitely NOT sexy."
He reached over now and stroked her hair, tangling his fingers in it, and he heard her sigh. Any time of the day she was absolutely beautiful to him, but first thing in the morning...well, it was as though his eyes and his brain had missed her while he slept.
"You okay?" he asked, moving the hand from her hair to her cheek. "You're awfully quiet."
"Ava went into the hospital on Thursday. For anorexia," she added.
He wasn't sure what to say. "When did you find out?"
"Last weekend...she told me she was going. David called me on Thursday." Her eyes were still closed, and he wondered why she hadn't mentioned it until now.
He flipped over on his side, facing her, then rested a hand on her hip. Suddenly he asked, "Is everything okay here? Between us?"
"Yeah." Her eyes flipped open and caught his. She sounded surprised. "Why?"
He shook his head. "Just...it seems that we're just not talking as much...the baby, your sister...I feel like...just a bit in the dark, I guess."
She was quiet for a moment. "I'm not doing it on purpose, Bobby. Everything was so busy, and then once we talked about the baby, there didn't seem to be a good time to mention Ava. Obviously I'd rather talk about the baby than my sister, anyway."
His fingers ran over her hip, up and down, tracing a slight stretch mark absently. "I can understand that...I'm not trying to be critical...I just--I hate feeling out of sync with you, you know?"
Her eyes closed again, and after a minute, she said, "Ava's had problems with anorexia since she was a teenager. It seemed to have stabilized for a long time but I guess she's struggling with it again. She's good at hiding it, and it's winter, so under all those clothes..." She shook her head. "I don't know anything other than she was admitted on Thursday. Usually those programs are pretty long. David says they're estimating ninety days, inpatient. I guess her weight was down to eighty-nine pounds."
He gasped involuntarily. He knew Ava was extremely thin and had a habit of playing with her food more than eating it, but he had never imagined the extent to which she struggled. "Your father--"
"Yeah." This time her eyes opened slowly, and he could read the pain in them. "Always about how much self-control she had, how beautifully tiny she was, how much like a model..." She shook her head slowly. "Have I mentioned lately how much I hate that man?"
He was quiet, listening to the rain, stroking her skin. He wondered if Ava still talked to Ryan. Probably. Giving him up, for her, would be like him giving up on his mother. Ryan was the only parental figure Ava had ever experienced acceptance from. He knew that was a powerful force. He doubted Ryan would ever figure out how much he had harmed his daughters. Not for the first time, his pity for Ava overwhelmed his frustration toward her.
"You know," she said randomly, "this baby could very well be a boy."
"Yeah. Yeah, it could."
"Our baby boy. We could name him Robert Owen junior." She suddenly grinned. "We could call him RJ."
He tickled her. "I don't think so."
She was giggling before she caught his hand and pushed it away. "RJ has a nice ring to it, I think....hey! If he went by Bobby too, we could call him BJ!"
He snorted and pulled his hand away. "There's three men in this world we will not name this child after. Your father, my father, and me."
She sat up suddenly, the blanket sinking to around her waist, and said, "What's so bad about naming our baby after you?"
He shook his head. "Because I have a horrible name...one of those names that doesn't stand out at all in any good way. Besides, don't you think one Robert Goren in this world is enough?"
She pulled the blanket up, around her chest, but not before he saw her nipples harden to points from the cold and his mind wandered to ways he could warm her up.
"Actually," she told him, "I happen to love Robert Goren. Completely. Obsessively, almost. Hell, if I wasn't married to him he'd probably put a restraining order out on me."
He laughed. "Yeah...you're quite a threat."
"Look," she told him, "we won't name the baby after anyone in either of our families. No Franks, Franceses, Avas, Elizabeths, or Ryans. Fair enough?"
"I like Elizabeth...and I think if it's a girl we should consider it...it was your mother's name, and your middle one. It might be nice to carry on the tradition."
She made a face. "It's a queen's name."
"It's a classic name," he corrected her, and she bit her tongue. "It will never go out of style." He sat up next to her, then slid his hand between the blanket and her body, gently running his fingers over her breast. "You're absolutely breathtaking. You know that?"
His body was close, face breathing softly on hers, as he leaned over to kiss her neck. She felt herself shiver, and was both irritated and in awe at his effect on her, even after all this time.
"We could," he murmured, "do it again."
"We could..." she began, but as his fingers began tracing her nipple, she felt the familiar knot in her stomach twist and the acid rise to the back of her throat. "Or not!"
He sighed, watching her race quickly to the bathroom, and the following retching. Tossing back the covers, he grabbed his boxers, pulling them on, and then headed to the kitchen to plate the last piece of lemon meringue pie.
Goren had hung the map on the wall of Evidence I, complete with labeled markers and his newly examined buffer zone. Deakins was leaning against the wall, and Rayden and Eames sat in chairs at the conference table, the file of evidence spread out between them. "So," he began, "after re-examining the evidence Rayden put together, this is our buffer zone. I've moved it over and out by two blocks. Fairly certain, after discussing the profile, this guy is working with a larger buffer than usual. That makes this--" he highlighted a three-block radius around the buffer "--our hot zone. He's in here somewhere."
"What else do you know?" Deakins shifted form one leg to the other, arms crossed.
Eames spoke up. "He's gotten more particular and more precise over time. We know his first rape was clumsy and the girl fought him. By the time he attempted to murder his fifth victim, he had perfected his M.O. to a quick three to five minutes. He got her from behind, shoved her against the wall, raped her, and then tried to cut her throat. The first victim's cuts weren't deep enough. He clearly realized this, because the second was so deep it nearly decapitated her." She paused, looking at Deakins. "Chances are the entire attack takes five minutes...just long enough to grab her, get off, and slit her throat."
"He doesn't hang around. He doesn't watch the scene...but you can be sure he's watching from afar." Rayden laid the photos of several of the cases out in front of them. "His choice of victim has become more precise as well. Originally, he chose young white women within a year out of college, employed in different vocations. The last four victims have all been white women between twenty-two and twenty-four, college graduates, within the first week of employment of their first job after graduating. One teacher, one banker, one real estate agent, one attorney."
Deakins moved toward the table and leaned over, examining the evidence. "So he's not even sticking to four-year programs..."
"No," Rayden continued. "The important like seems to be that they just graduated and are recently employed. Also, their family units are all different--one was married, one a single mother, one lived with a roommate and the other, by herself. Different weights, different heights, even different hair colors. This has something to do with the transition from college to beginning employment for him."
Deakins was scanning the photos, flipping through them slowly. "Talk to me about him. What do you know, other than his victim preference?"
"White, late thirties to mid forties, educated. Quite likely has hit a glass ceiling in his job. Feels threatened by younger workers, especially women...may have lost a job to a woman in the past, or has had a female supervisor that he experiences a lot of friction with. To cause this much stress, this much pressure, it would have to have been a significant struggle for him."
Deakins was slowly nodding when Eames stood up. "Excuse me for a minute." He and Rayden both watched her leave the room and head toward the ladies' room.
"She's been...ah, nauseous, a bit lately," Goren explained. They both looked at him strangely, then turned back to the evidence.
"Start with the living," Deakins told them, then looked at Vanessa. "I want you on this one hundred percent, Rayden. Consider yourself the third member of this team right now. You need to be part of every interview." Turning to Goren, he continued. "Start with the attempted murder victim. See what she can tell you, then move backward."
"And keep your eye on this." Deakins flicked the map with his fingers, then shook his head. "Son of a bitch has been laughing at us for eight years. I want him." He turned on his heel and left the room.
Goren and Rayden looked at each other. "Well," he said, "at least we'll get home at the same time this week."
She smiled. "You think she's still throwing up?"
He pulled out a chair and sat down. "No idea...she spends more time in there these days than she does with me. I think she's got it worse than you."
"I'm telling you, it's the pie." She handed the evidence file to him. "Here. I'll go fetch our third wheel."
Rounding the corner, Rayden pushed the ladies' room door open and stepped inside. It was quiet, but after a moment she heard the toilet flush and Eames stepped out of a stall. "Oh, hey," she said awkwardly, turning on the water at the sink.
"Are you okay?" Vanessa crossed her arms. "Goren says you've been really sick."
Eames sighed. "Yeah...probably a less than thrilling part of pregnancy." She washed her hands thoroughly as Vanessa watched her.
"You know, Ava told me this trick to avoid morning sickness that worked for her...lemon meringue pie."
Eames turned and looked at her, eyebrow raised and a suspicious look on her face. "What are you talking about?"
"I'm telling you, it works. Lemon meringue pie. The best is from Danny's on 23rd. Works like a charm."
Eames dried her hands on a paper towel, then threw it in the trash. "I'll keep it in mind." She shook her head. "You know, it's kind of ridiculous...I'm twenty-one weeks. It should be ending by now. Totally unfair. Watch me be one of those women who's sick through the entire nine months." She put a hand on her burgeoning belly. "Be happy it's not you, Ness...I think there's something to be said for being childless and enjoying it. You and Bobby have a great marriage and don't have to worry about kids crashing the party anytime soon."
She opened the door. "Right," she muttered, "No party crashers." Mental note: kill husband.
"I don't understand." His arms were crossed and he was leaning against the chest of drawers, feeling a combination of exasperation, frustration, and embarrassment. Exasperation and frustration because he honestly didn't get why she was so pissed. Embarrassed because ten minutes ago he was sporting a full salute, and now he was just standing nearly naked in his boxers, looking pathetic and feeling emasculated.
"And I don't understand either." Her voice was sharp as she dug through her pajama drawer. "If you're so thrilled about this pregnancy, why haven't you even told your fucking partner?"
He wanted to say 'because I didn't feel like it.' He also wanted to say 'because technically you're my Fucking Partner...she's my senior partner.' But he knew both of those would go over like dead weight, so he said tightly, "Because it hasn't come up."
"Well, that's easy enough to understand." She shut the drawer, hard, and yanked her tank top over her head. Already it was stretching over her abdomen. "Why in the hell WOULD it come up that I'm pregnant? Do you guys normally check in on the status of your procreational activities?"
"You are making a huge deal out of this." He reached into his own drawer and pulled out a t-shirt. "The last time we talked about this, you said it was perfectly fine to let Eames know whenever the time seemed good. You know how busy we've been. You know that she's five months along and still feels like shit." He shook his head. "We've been working this case full time. You're there for ninety percent of it. I'm sorry if you're unhappy about it, but it hasn't seemed like a good time to me."
"That conversation was almost a month ago, Bobby. I didn't realize your plan was to keep it under wraps for forever. What are you planning to do, introduce her to the baby when he's five years old?" She huffed loudly and shook her head. "Are you sure it's not that you just don't want anyone to know? Because if that's the case, please tell me...I'll be sure to wear oversized sweaters. I can probably hide it for at least a few more months. Maybe we can put it in a box when it's born and tell everyone it appeared on the doorstep."
He sat in the armchair, feeling overwhelmed and bewildered. "You know I'm not ashamed. I went with you to both doctor appointments so far...we've talked about names...I even told my mom."
"Then what's the big secret with Eames? Is there something that you're not telling me about you and her?"
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"Hell if I know!" She yanked the comforter back. "But if you don't stop dancing around the truth and start explaining soon, I'm really going to wonder!"
He hesitated. He didn't quite know how to explain it. "Her baby...that baby isn't hers. Eventually she's going to have to give it away--you know, to its parents. We don't have to do that. We are the parents." He stopped speaking, but his leg began to bounce up and down nervously.
She was sitting across from him, arms crossed, watching him carefully. Finally, her words cut the silence. "You're worried it will upset her."
He was looking at his fingers, spread on the arm of the chair. "She wanted children with Joe. She hasn't talked much about it, but I think this is what she views as her only chance." He shook his head, and when he spoke next, his voice was low and shaky. "You have to know I have never been ashamed of you. I can't imagine anything further from the truth." He paused before adding, "And I'm not ashamed of our child, either."
"I know." She lay back on the bed. "I'm sorry. I've been ridiculous here."
He didn't say anything, but she felt his knee touch hers as he sat next to her. His hand ran up and down her thigh. "I think it's just been a miscommunication. But we've straightened it out."
"You know I have no interest in hurting Eames either, right?"
She felt his hand move over her hip, then stroke her belly. "Yeah. I know."
"So tell her when you think you should, I guess...I just figured you would have said something by now. It threw me off when I found out she had no idea." His hand was now running up, under the hem of her tank top, against her ribs. "I don't like having to lie. Plus she probably thinks I'm eating enough for four, the way I'm gaining weight."
She heard him laugh softly and felt his hand cup her breast. "I think you're just amazingly soft and beautiful. You glow."
"If I didn't know better, Bobby, I'd think you were playing me." Her words were scolding, but her tone was light, and she didn't move as his fingers ran over her nipple, gently rolling it until it tightened beneath his fingers. She felt him stretch out next to her, hand still on her breast, fingers still caressing her.
"Does this mean you forgive me? That you trust me to take care of this?"
She sighed. "Yes...I guess it does. Does this mean you forgive me for being a paranoid fool?"
He kissed her forehead. "You're no fool...but a bit paranoid, maybe..." He kissed her again, this time on the mouth, slowly. "And of course I forgive you." He smiled down at her, and their eyes finally met. She could read him now, clearly, and his eyes were saying, 'you fool...I love you more than anything.' His hand moved in slow circles on her breast. "Are we making up now?" She felt his lips settle on her jaw, and in response, she ran her hands down, over his chest, to his hips.
"Mmm, I think so." His mouth moved down her chest to her nipple, still covered by her tank top, and he released it from his fingers before sucking it through the light cotton. "They say making up is hard to do...but I'm not sure about that."
"They must have said that before make up sex became popular." His hand had moved down from her shirt, to her hip, and rested in the crux of her thighs. Suddenly he stopped and looked at her.
"What?" she asked, as he eyed her suspiciously.
"Well...if we do this and it's really good...what guarantee do we have that we won't start arguing just to have great sex?"
She snorted. "I think any sex we have is pretty great...I'm hard pressed to think of a time I would turn it down."
His face relaxed and he grinned at her. "I guess there's some truth to that." His hand began to move in teasingly slow circles with the slightest bit of pressure. "I'm crazy about you, you know that?" He nipped her ear, before whispering, "I'll love you for the rest of my life."
She wrapped her arms around his neck. "You're the best thing that's ever happened to me." Kissing him gently, she whispered, "Don't ever forget that...no matter what..."
"I won't," he promised, before committing his mouth and mind fully to the task at hand.
She rang the bell a second time, jingling her car keys in her hand.
After another couple of minutes, she saw the tip of Eames' head through the glass on the door before she opened it. "Hey, Ness." She was in some yoga pants and a sweatshirt, clearly surprised by Vanessa's arrival.
"Hi," she said, then held up the bag in her hands. "I come bearing gifts...lemon meringue."
Eames chuckled, and opened the door. "Come on in. It's freezing out there."
Vanessa stepped into the tiny house, the one Eames had purchased with Joe early in their marriage. She'd been here several times before. A tiny cottage with two bedrooms in Rockaway, about an hour from Manhattan. It was an older model, but Alex had worked hard to keep it up and let it reflect her personality--clean, simple, and organized. Alex was way less of a clutter junkie than she was, Vanessa reminded herself for the millionth time. A place for everything and everything in its place.
Vanessa followed Alex down the short foyer and into the den, where a fire was burning merrily in the fireplace. "It's the winter that never ends," Alex sighed, motioning to the couch. "Almost March and we're supposed to get snow again this week. Can I get you a cup of coffee or something?"
Vanessa handed her the bag. "No...just cut that pie. I'm telling you, life will get a lot better." She sat down and slipped off her boots while Eames went into the kitchen, then curled her feet up under her legs and waited. A minute later Eames reappeared with two slices of pie and two forks.
"I'm trusting you, Rayden," she said snarkily. "If this revisits me, I'm blaming you!"
Vanessa grinned, then took a bite of her pie. "Mmm, told you."
After eating silently for a minute, Eames responded, "Well, there's apparently plenty that you didn't tell me."
Vanessa poked the meringue with her fork, bringing a small bit to her mouth. "Bobby was supposed to do that."
Alex shook her head. "You guys are crazy. You really thought I would be upset that you're having a baby?"
"I think...I think we both just didn't want you to feel...well God, this sucks..."
"Sad. Lost. Upset. Disappointed. Empty. All of which I will undoubtedly feel at some point whether my friends are having children or not." She took another bite of pie. "Damn. This is good...maybe Ava was right."
Vanessa laughed. "It's the only thing I can eat with any regularity and not puke back up." After another bite, she said, "Neither of us want to hurt you."
Alex smiled. "I didn't realize you would consider conceiving a child to hurt me. That's quite an investment...I feel so special!"
"Oh, shut up. You know what I mean."
"Yeah, I do. But seriously--" Alex elbowed her "--I don't want to take one more second of joy away from you by your thinking of this. It's ridiculous. You don't know how many kids you'll have, and if this is the only one, I would never be able to live with myself thinking that you lost time enjoying this pregnancy because you were worried about how I would respond. I made my choices based on what I felt was best for me and my family. This is, quite likely, my only shot at pregnancy. I intend to enjoy it and be thankful for it, even if it means I turn this baby over to my sister in five more months." Her smile was slight and her lips quivered just a bit, but her chin was set firm. "You and Bobby are going to be wonderful parents, and I can't wait to see your baby."
Relief flooded her, and she felt the tears wet her eyes. "Alex...thanks for that...we're both kind of scared but I have to believe it will be okay."
Now Alex's smile grew brighter. "Absolutely. I know your concerns, but look at all of the medical marvels we have today...chances are your baby will be perfectly fine, but even if he or she has anything appear later, medicine is so different than it was for our parents. Your baby will be perfect, and so will Liz and Tony's."
"You mean yours--and Liz and Tony's."
Eames averted her eyes for a minute, then nodded. "I try not to say that to myself. Like it will be easier to part with him if I don't think of him as mine. Anyway, I'm just the incubator...it was Liz's egg and Tony's sperm." She shrugged.
Vanessa put her pie down. "You know it's a boy?"
Now Alex burst into a grin. "Yeah. We found out on Friday. That's what I had to leave for--the ultrasound. He's absolutely perfect too--you should see--hold on." She got up slowly, then disappeared into one of the bedrooms. Vanessa heard shuffling before she reappeared, a picture in her hand. "Look."
It was an ultrasound photo. The baby was curled tight, and sure enough, his penis was clearly visible. Vanessa laughed delightedly. "This is the happiest I've been to see a penis in...well, a long time!"
Alex chuckled. "You see his eyes...his nose...his hands and his feet...he's perfect, they said."
Vanessa smiled and handed the photo back to her.
"Liz and Tony...they treat me like a princess. They got doubles on everything, so I can have the photos too. They've already had a contract drawn up by an attorney that give me visitation three days a week. I told them it wasn't necessary but they insisted--they wanted to make sure I never felt they could or would separate him from me, that he would always know me." She grabbed a tissue. "I'm such a fucking crybaby these days."
"Yeah, me too." Vanessa watched her for a minute. "Did Bobby tell you I ripped him a new one for not telling you before now?"
She shook her head. "Really?" She blew her nose. "I'm not surprised...he didn't tell me how far along you are...I just got the impression you've known for awhile."
"Fourteen weeks. I'm due at the beginning of September--September ninth." She patted her belly. "Trust me, you can definitely tell when I lift my shirt."
"So I'm a little ahead of you...I'm twenty-four weeks." Alex took the last bite of her pie and set her plate down. "Is Goren feeling like I'm slacking?"
"Like I'm in Goren's head." She shoveled in the last bite of her pie as well. She certainly wasn't going to waste it. "He doesn't have any concern over your workload, trust me. If anything, he's sweating the thought of you going on maternity leave." She snickered. "He's about going to die when I leave too."
Alex chuckled too. "Yeah...he definitely doesn't like change. Have you told anyone yet?"
"Deakins...Ava...his mom...that's about it. Oh, you." She ran her index finger over her plate to pick up the leftover lemon filling, then popped it into her mouth.
Alex sat back. "Have they been supportive?"
"Yeah. Everyone's been good. Bobby's mom is trying her hand at knitting. It's pretty interesting, watching her knit...she gets confused as to who she's knitting for. The other day she told him she was a new mother and knitting for her baby, Robert."
"I bet he loved that."
"Well, he's used to it. She's done a lot better in the last year, but every once in awhile..." she sighed. "Those visits are harder. He was going today. We'll see how she is."
They talked about baby names, baby clothes, and pregnancy quirks. Eames reassured her that the fatigue would pass to some extent, and Rayden insisted the pie was God's answer to nausea. Eames' baby was already two and a half pounds, whereas Rayden's was only a few ounces still. Eventually their conversation turned to the case they were working on, and they reviewed the plan to revisit a couple of their witnesses the next day.
Finally, Rayden stood. "Well, I better go...it's getting later and it's an hour drive back."
Eames pulled herself off the sofa. "Let me wrap up your pie--"
But Rayden was shaking her head. "Keep it. Trust me, it works. You haven't felt sick since I got here, have you?"
Alex had to admit she hadn't, and walked Vanessa to the door. "I guess I'll see you tomorrow...we'll dig into those witnesses then."
She nodded. "Sounds good. See you then."
Vanessa held the folder tightly in her hands and followed Goren and Eames up the driveway to the front door. She had wanted to call the victim in advance, to try to build some rapport over the phone, but both detectives had strongly discouraged it. She understood their point--that it would give her time to think of answers to potential questions, make it harder to read her clearly--but she was concerned about exactly how much information this woman would give them, so long after the crime and not knowing them at all. Goren turned his head slightly to see that she was behind them, then rang the doorbell. A slim young woman opened the door.
"Emma Crawford?" Eames asked. When the woman nodded, both she and Goren held up their badges. "I'm Detective Eames, this is Detective Goren, and this is Dr. Rayden. We're with the NYPD and were hoping we could talk with you for a few minutes."
The hesitation was immediate, and quickly followed by a call. "Mommy!"
"I'm a little busy," the woman said. "I--I really need to be focusing on my kids..."
Goren was seamless. "We completely understand. We can help...just tell us what to do. Would that be okay?"
She slowly nodded, glancing behind her. "I guess so." She left the door open and followed the call of "mommy" through the den and into the kitchen. Goren and Eames followed her, with Rayden bringing up the rear. Vanessa took her time, noting the neatness of the home, despite the obvious presence of young children. Emma Crawford could give Eames a run for her money. There were a few photos of Emma with two small children and a man who looked to be a good deal older than her. A photo of a couple that Rayden assumed might be Emma's parents, and a few knick knacks. She followed Goren and Eames into the kitchen.
Emma was picking up a toddler from his high chair. "I don't know how I can help you, detectives," she was saying. "The incident you're referring to was a long time ago...I gave my statement then and I've tried my best to forget about it."
Eames glanced at Goren, then held out her hands. "I'd be happy to put him down for his nap, if you'd like. It's good practice for me." She smiled at Emma, and after a second, Emma smiled back and handed the child to Alex. Alex held him close and left the room, as Emma watched her.
"Mrs. Crawford," Rayden said gently, "would it be okay if we sat down?"
Emma crossed her arms and sighed. "I suppose not...this won't take long, will it? My baby...he usually wakes up around now."
Goren looked quickly at Rayden, then back at Emma Crawford. "We'll be quick," he said encouragingly. "We, uh..." he sat down, folding his hands in front of him. "We're working a case that we believe is linked to your case, and we were hoping you could tell us anything you remember."
She shook her head. "There's not much...it was a long time ago. I don't remember very much." She paused for a minute, then said, "He came up from behind me...it was very fast..." She sighed heavily, then looked at Vanessa. "Five minutes, and it changed my life."
Vanessa nodded. "Can I ask...you were a teacher...did you visit an employment agency? Career services, maybe? A resume service?"
Emma shook her head again. "No...I did all the applications myself. I submitted everything myself. I did go to a career fair, just other teachers..." She looked up quickly. "I took my resumes to a local copy shop. They made copies for me and I sent them out to different districts."
Goren's brow furrowed. "Do you remember the name of the shop?"
Emma's expression quickly changed from hopefulness to frustration. "No...it was in my old neighborhood...wait! Copy it Quick...that was the name. Copy it Quick," she repeated confidently. "I remember now. They were able to do it overnight and everyone else said it would take three days or longer. I didn't have that kind of time." Her eyes met Vanessa's. "So you're saying he's still out there...raping women?"
"We're doing our best to find him quickly," Goren reassured her, as the cry of a baby echoed through the home. "You're not in any danger. Your attack still appears to be random."
"Thank God." Emma stood up and pushed her chair in, then half smiled. "My husband," she said, motioning to the photo Vanessa had been examining from across the room. "I married an older man. My attacker...he was younger."
"How did you know that?" Goren's voice was gentle but inquisitive.
"His hands. It's all I ever saw of him...but his hands--they were young. Nails clipped neatly, light hair." She closed her eyes and exhaled heavily. "I'll never forget those hands." At the baby's cry, she said, "Excuse me," and left the room.
"You can't tell a man's age by his hands," Goren said, low, to Rayden, as he gathered his portfolio.
Rayden shook her head. "Don't tell her that. It makes her feel more secure. Probably the same reason I married a cop...you just feel, I don't know, safer." She stood from the table. "This copy place--we need to track it down. It's a possible connection between all the victims, and would give him a great way to hunt."
Goren's nod was quick, and Eames entered the kitchen. "Go well?" she asked quietly.
Emma appeared a moment later with her youngest son in her arms. "I'm sorry there's nothing else I can tell you."
Vanessa smiled and handed her a business card. "If you remember anything, or even just need to talk, feel free to call me."
Emma took the card and examined it. "And you'll let me know how it turns out?"
"Yes," Goren affirmed. "As soon as we get him, we'll let you know." He glanced at his female companions, then said, "We can see ourselves out...thank you again for your help, Mrs. Crawford."
Goren and Rayden followed Eames down the hallway outside into the chilly February wind. Once inside the car, Rayden shivered, then said, "So...we know we need to check this copy place...Copy it Quick, if it's even there any more. Anything else we learned?"
"Yeah," Eames said, turning on her blinker to merge onto the highway, "soo not ready to raise a kid."
Rayden and Goren looked at each other, and Goren shrugged. Thank goodness for nine months.
"So, I guess I'll go read in the other room, " he was saying. She had just pulled her blouse off and stepped out of her trousers.
"Why?" she asked, unhooking her bra and tossing it to the floor.
That got his attention, albeit briefly. His eyes ran over her slowly but she made no attempt to cover herself. "Well...it's only eight...you said you're tired and I don't want to disturb you while you're sleeping..."
"I said I was going to bed," she clarified. "I didn't say anything about being tired."
"Oh," he said, at first offhandedly, then the light seemed to go on behind his eyes and his gaze moved from her breasts up to her face. "Oh!" There was a pause before he continued. "So you want me to...ahm..."
She grinned and put her hands on her hips. "I just knew there was a reason everyone called you a genius."
He smiled at her, then moved to pull his own shirt off. "You know, you could have just said--"
"I know," she replied, "but what fun would that be?"
He stepped out of his jeans just in time for her to reach him, running her fingertips over his ribs, then his hips, and back to his ass. "I was reading some women get horny during the second trimester." She stood on her tiptoes to reach his neck, then slipped her tongue gently against the hollow of his throat. He made a sound, somewhere in between a purr and a growl, and she could feel him hardening against her leg.
"And this is different for you how?" he teased, before running his palms from shoulder to belly, watching her nipples harden.
She wrapped her arms around his neck and made a face. "Very funny...you make it sound like I'm some kind of nympho. Anyway, I just thought you'd like to know."
He slipped two fingers against her hips, under the waistband of her panties, then kissed her ear. "I was only teasing you. We both know it takes two...and I have never been less than a completely willing participant. I will do whatever you would request of me." He sucked on the tip of her earlobe until he heard a soft moan, then he pulled on the waistband of her panties one more time. "Let's get you out of these...unless, of course, you'd prefer I tease you for an extended period like they do in those romance novels."
She snorted. "Teasing is overrated. Anyway, tonight I'm more goal-oriented. I just want to come."
"Practicality. That's my girl." He sat on the edge of the bed before giving her a playful smack on the ass and grinned, then pulled her panties off. "We should be done in what? Fifteen minutes?"
She sat on his lap, over his boxers, and combed her fingers through his hair. "We're rushing. Didn't we do it like this just a couple weeks ago? You know, all fast...a race to the big finish?"
His fingertips were running up and down her sides, touching the soft skin there. "What's wrong?" he asked quietly, kissing her forehead.
"I don't know," she sighed. "It just seems like we used to have all the time in the world, and now...now it's not the journey, it's the destination. I mean, you always like the destination, but remember when the journey was the best part?" Seeing his expression, she quickly clarified, "Well, a really good part, anyway...I guess I'm having second thoughts about my 'goal'."
"Yeah. I remember." He kissed her shoulder gently, first with his lips, then his tongue touching the skin, tasting her. A minute later he nibbled the soft flesh before bringing his mouth back to hers. "You know...if you get there, then you can park your car and take some time to look around...get to know the area..."
She laughed. "Do you think everyone else talks like this, in weird analogies?"
He shrugged. "Probably not." Then, slyly smiling, he continued. "If you've got the time, I do." His fingers caught in her hair. "I've got all the time in the world. Or at least until seven a.m." They grinned at each other, and suddenly he tilted her over in the bed so that she was on her back, flat and giggling and completely naked. "This I like," he said, eyeing her from top to bottom. "I like very much."
She stretched out, long in the bed, and watched Goren settle down next to her. His eyes were warm, sleepy, with just a hint of lust. "Beautiful," he murmured. "I told you, you glow."
"And you lie," she teased him, watching his grin move closer to her breast and slowly encircle her nipple.
His suckling was slow and gentle, rhythmic. She closed her eyes to the sensation and ran her hand leisurely down his spine. His skin was smooth and warm, and she could feel the pleasure shooting from her breast all the way through her body. She sighed softly.
He released her nipple from his mouth and leaned up to kiss her, tongue tracing her lips before venturing in to touch hers. She opened her eyes to watch him. His eyes were piercing hers, darker now, focused, but still playful. He gently pulled her body closer to his and rolled over. She was now on top of him, and could feel the thickness of his erection.
"You want me on top?" she murmured, moving her lips across his stubble to his jaw.
"No," he replied. "I want you to touch me too." His fingers drew small, slow, uneven circles on her back. "And take your time with it...I'm in no hurry."
She chuckled low in her throat before pressing her body fully against his and sucking just below his jaw. She heard the moan rising immediately from the back of his throat and knew how pleased he was with her choice of kiss. Her hands slid, flat palms, down the front of his body, taking her time. She twisted her fingers in his chest hair, gently pulling it as she nibbled on his neck, his ear. His hands were wandering over her back now, over her ass, back and forth, firm squeezes and gentle rubs. "Mmmm...love you..." he moaned. "This is nice...very, very nice..."
She had to agree. Of all the lovers she'd known in her life--and there had been a lot before she had gotten sober--Bobby was the most thoughtful as well as the most responsive. Her other lovers had been completely focused on climaxing. In the last two years, she'd suddenly come to an intense realization as to what the phrase "making love" really meant. Given the opportunity, her husband could keep her in bed and occupied for hours. He enjoyed touching her in a different way than any other lover had. He was by far the most sensual man she'd ever known, and would willingly stroke and pet her for hours, as though her skin were the most beautiful thing he'd ever felt. When she'd asked him about it, he had responded, "You know, the skin is the largest sex organ on your body...and yours just happens to be incredibly beautiful..."
She knew he enjoyed long foreplay as well, and she could literally stroke and kiss his chest for nearly an hour, listening to him moan and sigh and watching his erection grow. He hardly ever rushed her. Instead, he spent his time caressing her in turn. She swore he knew her body better than she did. Sometimes he would bring her to climax early in their foreplay, then pet her all over before finally entering her, eliciting a particularly pleasurable session of intercourse for both of them. Regardless of their position, their intensity, his words always inflamed her. They were passionate and heartfelt and so, so good. Sometimes she swore it was his words that brought her to climax so easily.
Not that he didn't know what he was doing with his body. He was beautiful and sexy and used all of his physical presence to overwhelm her. From his touch to his scent, moments like this were incredibly erotic to her, and she liked to believe they were for him, too. He certainly acted as though they were, and never wasted an opportunity to tell her exactly how sexy he thought she was.
She sucked his bottom lip, then kissed both of his eyelids. "Regular old quality time," she murmured. "Feel good?"
"Mmhmm." His eyes were still closed but he hadn't stopped the massaging of her backside. She lowered her lips to one tiny nipple and grazed it gently with her teeth before catching it fully in her mouth and suckling. A soft moan followed, and she moved to the other side, repeating the process. His hands had slid up her back to her hair, twisting and enveloping themselves fully.
She straddled his hips, resting on her shins on either side of him, pressing her front fully against his before kissing him deeply, sexily, daring his own tongue to dance with hers. "You're so sexy," she finally whispered into his mouth when she caught her breath. "So incredible."
He let her hair go and she sat up, straddling his erection through his boxers, and his hands moved over her nipples, gently stroking and tugging for several long moments until she finally gave up, closing her eyes and letting her head drop back. Only then did she hear his soft, gentle laugh and feel his palms move to her belly. As she felt his fingers stroking over her waist, she lifted her head back up to watch him, and his eyes met hers.
"Our baby," he said softly. "The most beautiful baby in the world."
His eyes were so heavy-lidded, so lovely, her breath caught in her throat. Entranced, she pulled herself away from him and gently, slowly, lowered his boxers. Laying next to him, she caught his erection in her fingers and began to stroke him as he tangled a hand between her legs as well, kissing her heavily, fingers against her, taking her breath away. The touch of his fingers was delicate and rhythmic, and a moment later he was on top of her, pressing himself into her intimately and purposefully.
His weight was absorbed by his forearms as he sank into her slowly, fully, giving long, sensual kisses that aroused her almost as much as his gentle thrusting. She locked her ankles around his thighs and rocked back and forth with him, letting the moans in her throat come to the surface so he could hear how pleasured she was.
He was murmuring to her--words like "beautiful", "lovely", "soft", "wet"; she followed his rhythm, feeling intense and vibrant and so gloriously alive. He caught one of her nipples in his mouth again, this time sucking and pulling with his teeth until he heard her gasp. He let go of her, smiling into her eyes and readjusting himself slightly, using one arm to reach the headboard and brace himself a little more before increasing his pace and the intensity of his thrusting.
"God," she heard herself as she felt him moving powerfully inside her now, having taken complete control of this act. His passion was incredibly sexy, and she instinctively pressed back against him and rocked against his hips, feeling the excitement and pressure building in her body. He was kissing her jawline, sweet, small kisses that didn't match the intensity of their lovemaking. He was whispering to her in between kisses, how much he loved her, how good she felt, how this was heaven on earth. She heard him groan, a desperate sound, felt his thrusting increase, his face bury in her hair, and his soft moan of "Beth...Beth..." She clutched his body, knowing how close he was, and rocked hard against him, wanting his release as much as her own. So close...so close...
"Beth!" he cried loudly as he came. She responded to the last of his erratic thrusting, holding him closely, clutching him, rocking harder, until the pleasure coursed through her body in the fulfilling contractions she had been waiting for. This. This was who they were when they were naked and their most vulnerable. Overwhelming, raw, intensely pleasurable beauty. God, she loved him, everything about him from the gasping in her ear to the salty sweat against her skin to the unintelligible sounds coming from his throat. Their bodies rocked together for another moment before slowly relaxing against each other. Bobby's face was pressed in her hair but he was still trying desperately to support his weight on his arms and his feet.
"Here...let me move..."he moved off of her body and she was almost sorry to feel him go, to feel the cold air touch her sweaty skin. She was so vividly remembering why she loved sex so much with him; why the two of them still were so sexually active, as though they couldn't get enough of one another. They truly couldn't.
He gently moved a stray bit of hair out of her face. "Better?" he asked, still catching his breath from his orgasm.
She laughed softly. "Yes...and you?"
He sighed loudly. "I'm incredibly awesome...you were right. Journey, not destination." He turned to her. "You're incredibly sexy. For a woman with child, you're pretty damn hot."
"With child? I didn't know anyone used that phrase since biblical times."
"Heh...pregnant? Knocked up? Carrying a baby?"
She grinned at him, then kissed him. "Pregnant works just fine, I think. And I owe you...that was the best hour I've spent in a long damn time."
His hand ran listlessly over her back again, before he said, "I'm glad...I'm really glad, baby." She was lying with her head against the pillow, but felt him watching her. She finally rolled over to face him.
"You okay, Bobby?"
He smiled, a slow, shy smile. "I will be, as soon as you come lay with me."
"I'm right here," she said with slight annoyance, but moved closer to him and rested her head against his chest. "Better?"
"Yes," he said, sliding one hand down to her belly and resting it there. "Much, thank you."
They were silent for several long minutes, until she said, "Making love with you is always an amazing experience..I hope we can figure out a way to fit it in regularly after the baby is here."
His nose buried into her hair. "I'm sure we will...can't much imagine it any other way." He nuzzled her. "Love you, baby...love you."
She approached the nurse's station. "Hi...I'm here to see Ava Winters..."
"And you are..."
"Vanessa Rayden...her sister. I'm supposed to visit her today."
"I see," the nurse said. "I just need to check your I.D."
Vanessa pulled her driver's license out of her wallet and handed it to the nurse. A couple minutes later she was directed to the "day room". She followed the nurse's directions and entered a large, bright room with several couches, chairs, and tables. Ava was sitting in one of the overstuffed armchairs, legs drawn up against her body, watching the television.
"Hey," Vanessa said, slipping onto the couch beside her chair. "How's it going?"
Ava's face was drawn and pale. Without her makeup, Vanessa could clearly see the dark circles under her eyes. "Fine..I'm fine," she said quietly. Her eyes scanned up and down Vanessa's growing belly before asking, "How are you?"
"Doing okay." Vanessa's hands automatically went to her belly. "Almost sixteen weeks...we go for the ultrasound next week."
Ava forced a smile. "That's exciting, Nessie." She began to pick at her pajama pants, plucking imaginary lint off of herself.
Vanessa felt lost. Ava looked terrible, the worst she could ever remember seeing her, and she didn't know what to say. "So...what have you been doing in here?"
Ava raised one eyebrow, looking at her sister. "Well, I'll tell you what I'm not doing. I'm not eating this crap food they serve. I'm not giving up my vitamin water that they keep telling me I can't have. I'm not writing in this goddamn journal they've given me because it's stupid. I already know why the hell I'm here. And I'm not participating in any more group therapy. It's a waste of my goddamn time."
Vanessa eyed her curiously. "Why did you come here again?"
"Shut up," Ava growled, pulling her knees to her chest. "Just. Shut. Up." She closed her eyes as if to shut Vanessa out, and pressed her head to her knees.
She didn't say anything, just continued to sit with her hands resting on her belly, watching Ava curled in a ball. The television was on, turned to CNN or some news station, and Vanessa found herself staring at it avidly, as though the story on the financial crisis was the most interesting one she'd ever seen. As long as she kept watching the television, she didn't have to watch her sister, wasting away in front of her, with anger seething from every pore.
They sat there in silence as the clock ticked. The news story moved on from finances to entertainment, then to natural disasters. Ava said nothing and Vanessa didn't either. Both sat silently as the time went by.
Finally, Ava spoke, her voice flat. "Daddy came to see me on Tuesday. He said to tell you congratulations and he'd love to see you and the baby."
Vanessa felt her head turn toward Ava in slow motion. She bit back her immediate response. "Oh? Did you have a good visit?"
Ava shrugged. "It was fine." Her eyes darted up to Vanessa's before settling back down on her stomach. "He came for therapy."
Vanessa snorted. She didn't mean to and regretted it immediately.
"Can you not drop anything, Vanessa? Does everything have to be a big fucking deal when it comes to Daddy?" Ava was still examining the lint on her pajamas, but her tone was bordering on vicious.
"I guess not, Ava. For some reason I just can't let it go. Maybe I should be in therapy."
"Maybe you should." Ava angrily tossed a piece of lint to the ground. "For whatever reason everyone thinks I'm the one with the problem. You're the one who's lived her entire life being angry and on the edge. You're the one who can't have a single civilized conversation with our father. You're the one who turned depression into a full time job."
The words cut through her, painfully, and she sniffed, trying not to let on exactly how much she wanted to cry. Instead, she swallowed and said, "Maybe it would be a good time for me to leave."
"Why not?" Ava's tone was brutal. "It's what you're good at, isn't it?"
Vanessa sighed. "Ava, I'd be happy to talk with you anytime on the phone...but not when you're being so...angry."
"So I'm not allowed to be angry. Has it ever occurred to you--to anyone--that maybe I have very good reasons to be angry? That maybe I'm entitled to a little anger?"
"Yeah. We all are. But we're not entitled to beat the shit out of people with it." Vanessa stood up, picking up her purse. "I hope you'll call me in a couple days. I miss you."
"Fuck you, Vanessa."
She headed toward the elevator. She didn't look back, didn't turn to make any eye contact at all. She knew if she did, she'd be in tears and she couldn't handle it right now.
When she got home, Bobby was reclined on the couch, reading one of the several books he had purchased on pregnancy and childrearing. He was leaning back on the corner of the couch, long legs stretched out across the cushions, ambling through the book. He glanced up at her briefly. "You were right," he said casually. "It does say hormones in the second trimester can increase sexual desire in some women."
"What? Did you think I'd lie to you?" Her voice was snappish and she turned away from him, ashamed, and headed to the bedroom to put her things away.
She was in the middle of pulling one of his long-sleeved tees over her head when she heard him pad into the room quietly and sit on the bed. "What's going on?" His voice was gentle but tense, and she knew that he had already figured out everything had to do with Ava. She finished pulling the shirt on, shaking her head repeatedly, until he stood up and moved next to her. She felt his hand on the back of her neck, and her head collapsed into his shoulder, body-shaking sobs immediately following. She couldn't look at him, couldn't stand to see his sweet empathic face looking back at her, so she kept her face buried in his shoulder as he guided her down to the bed, next to him, holding her close.
After a time, when the sobs began to quiet themselves, she felt his hand move from her back up to her hair, stroking gently. "Ava's a really angry person," he commented. "You're a safe target. You've got to know that."
She caught her breath. "Yes," she eked out.
He sighed. "None of this is your fault. You know that, but both of us know that you're going to blame yourself. Because you're a good person. Because you're a good sister, and you want something better for Ava than what she has." His fingers tangled in her hair for a moment. "But you can't do this for her, Beth. And you don't have to torture yourself like this, forcing yourself to go visit a person so furious with life."
"I- I owe--" she choked on the words.
"You owe her love and acceptance, the same things you've always owed her and always given her." He pulled her closer. "You can't fix her relationship with Ryan. And there's a part of her that is always going to want to go back to that. You have to know that...to understand that." She felt his head shake next to hers. "That doesn't mean you have to invite Ryan back into this."
They sat in silence for several minutes, the gentle stroking of Bobby's hand up and down her back calming and comforting.
"She told him." Her voice was shaky. "She told him about this baby. She had no right to do that. I don't want him to know."
Bobby brought his other hand around to her waist and rested it on the growing bump. "Ava has the right to talk about whatever she wants, to whomever she wants. Ryan can say or feel however he wants. It doesn't mean a damn thing, and unless you feel otherwise, he will never see or touch our baby. We have control over that. Complete control. Ryan can't hurt our baby, sweetie. I promise." She heard him pause before he muttered, "Or Ma, for that matter."
She sniffled. "Your mother can't help herself...she's got schizophrenia."
His hand was drawing small circles on her back. "That may be true," he said softly, "but it doesn't lessen the reality that she could be harmful to our child. I would love for her to know this baby, but only in small doses when we're relatively sure that she's stable." She felt his forehead rest against her. "Your father will never be stable because he doesn't realize he's unstable."
"Bobby..." she pressed his hand to her abdomen. "Why can't we just have a normal life? Even when it's normal, it's so not..."
He was breathing in her hair, her scent, resting his hand flat against her belly. He knew exactly what she meant. "I don't know," he admitted. "But we have a life together, and that's better than either of us ever did before. And now this little one..." he patted her belly. "It doesn't get better than this, does it? I mean, really...how many people are in marriages where they can't stand each other, or have children they never wanted, or aren't understood by anyone? I married my best friend. I get to come home to her every day. I get to laugh with her, cry with her, watch bad TV with her...make love and make babies with her...that's really, well...better than most, anyway..."
For the first time since she got home, she turned to face him. "You know how people say that they found their other half, when they get married? You're not my other half. I couldn't live with somebody just like me...you're so much better..."
He cupped her face in both of his hands. "Are you going to listen to my wisdom and let this go?"
"No. You know I can't let it go...but I did listen to you. Every word you said."
"That's all I can ask for, sweetie. It's enough."
Rayden once again found herself following Goren and Eames, this time into Copy it Quick. Honestly, she didn't know how Eames managed to move so quickly. Somewhat of a small miracle, given how obviously pregnant she was. Ten weeks farther along and she moved so quickly Vanessa felt like a snail. Hold it, she thought, the lovechild of a snail and a tortoise. Yes, that was it.
She hung back, watching the detectives do their thing. The store was a typical copy store, with a self-service area as well as a professional copy area. She scanned the employees, looking for the one who would stand out. She was sure he still worked here. It was his hunting ground, his lifeline; he needed it as much as he needed food and shelter.
Goren and Eames were talking with the manager about the types of customers they had, who handled what. She knew her role in these situations was almost always to listen and observe, and so she waited. Eames was thanking the manager for his cooperation, and she and Goren had turned to move away from the counter. She slipped her wedding ring off, dropping it in her purse, then stepped up to the counter quickly.
"Excuse me." The manager turned back to her, looking surprised. "Hi," she smiled, doing her best to look inconspicuous. "I had kind of a...well, personal question...I'm an intern with these guys and have just finished up my degree...do you have anyone here who works on resumes?"
"Sure." The manager smiled at her and nodded. "You'll want to talk to Eric. He's the one in charge of the resumes...let me go get him." He turned to move toward the back, calling, "Hey Eric...I got a customer out here for you..."
She could feel her husband's eyes boring a hole in the back of her head, could feel his possessiveness and protectiveness overshadowing her, but she brushed it off and waited patiently. Eric appeared a moment later, and approached the counter, smiling. "So...I hear you're finishing school and looking to get out your resume?"
Vanessa smiled shyly, feeling her emotions string tightly. She was standing next to a serial killer. A man who would rape her and slit her throat if given the chance, and do it quickly. "Yes...I'm interning right now but I really need some assistance in putting it together. A friend of mine recommended you guys...Emma Crawford? She had her resume done here years ago...said you guys were super helpful."
She watched his expression carefully, trying to note if he recognized the name. There was a slight glean in his eyes but she couldn't determine if it was out of recognition or the hunt. He was definitely hunting her--smiling fully, moving closer across the counter, cocking his head to the side flirtatiously, as though she were the most interesting woman in the world. Then he laughed.
He laughed. He actually laughed, she thought, the bastard, at the recognition of Emma's name. "Yeah, that was awhile ago...I remember her. How's she doing? I didn't know she was still in the area."
"Hmmm...pretty good, I think," Vanessa responded, resting her head in her hand and watching Goren and Eames move closer. "She's good...married. I guess she didn't need her resume so much after all...I didn't know her back then, but she seems to be doing well now."
"Too bad it wasn't useful to her." He shrugged. "I made it really nice for her, too." He looked up and winked at her. "I can make yours real good....I guarantee you'll get a job from it. You choose your paper, and you and I will sit down together and talk about all your experiences. How's that sound?" His smile was ear to ear, and his eyes shone as though she were the only woman in the world. Like Forrester, she thought, smiling back
"Sounds terrific, Eric," she replied demurely, drumming her fingers on the top of the counter. "So can you give me the same deal you gave Emma? How does it work...I meet you here, right?"
He grinned again. "Absolutely. Let me get your information...here, I'll fill it out...you just tell me...your name, sweetie?"
"Vanessa," she told him. "Vanessa Goren."
He was writing, a cool smile on his face. "Give me a phone number, Vanessa, so I can get up with you."
"Sure...555-2621." She figured that Adalia at the front desk of One PP wouldn't mind dealing with a call from this guy. "Anything else?"
"Well, I can go ahead and pencil you in...when's a good time? I like to work in the evenings, if that's good for you...usually around five or six."
She smiled. "Five sounds great...how about tomorrow?"
"Terrific." He was looking down, still charming. "So Vanessa, what's your major, sweetie?"
"Oh!" she replied, sounding surprised. "Forensic psychology. Criminal profiling."
His eyes darted up suddenly to her face, looking suspicious. "Okay...we'll see what we can do." He started to turn from the counter when she called him back.
"Hey Eric?" He turned around slowly to face her, and she could see the anxiety in his face growing as Eames and Goren approached the counter as well. "I was just wondering...after we work on my resume...are you going to treat me to the same thrill you gave Emma? Or were you thinking more along the lines of what you did to Gayle Stephens?"
Before he could respond, Goren had rounded the counter. "NYPD. Eric Morrow, you're under arrest for the rape of Emma Crawford, and the rape and murder of Gayle Stephens."
Vanessa felt the smug smile crossing her face, but it disappeared quickly when Morrow lunged across the counter toward her. "Bitch!" he screamed. "Bitches like you deserve everything they get! You goddamned bitch! You set me up!"
She had backed up quickly, stepping into an envelope stand and knocking its contents on the floor. Bobby quickly yanked him back across the counter and took him to the floor. Eames joined him on the other side of the counter with her gun aimed at his head. "You have the right to remain silent..." Goren nearly growled at him, "but please continue if you'd like...don't let your rights get in your way. Oh, and you have the right to an attorney...if you can't afford one, one will be appointed to you by a court of law."
"You tell that bitch she's got it coming. Both of those bitches--"
Eames' voice cut through his screeching. "Put your head down, genius, before I put a bullet through it to help you."
After a tense moment, Vanessa saw Eames lower her gun and reholster it as Bobby pulled Morrow to his feet. "Resisting arrest, threatening a police officer...you can consider those added to your list of charges too," he muttered angrily, handing him off to the four uniforms who were now in the store. Bobby pointed to him. "He's been mirandized," he called, "But feel free to do it again."
She hadn't moved from against the envelope rack. For the first time in a long time on her job, she was petrified. She had seen the look in Morrow's eyes, and she had seen that look before. It was the same one Forrester had worn we he had beaten the shit out of her.
Her eyes flitted up and caught Eames' sympathetic expression before moving to her husband's face, full of fear and anger. "You okay?" he asked, reaching for her. He gently guided her away from the envelope rack.
"Yes," she said shakily. "I'll be fine."
"Good," he returned with hostility, "because I'd hate to tell you how fucking furious I am with you right now, if you weren't."
She closed the door quietly behind her and tossed her jacket into the chair.
Deakins had ordered her home for the rest of the day after getting the report of Morrow's arrest. Too much stress for her condition, he had insisted. When she had started to argue that Alex was farther along than she was, he simply held up one hand. "We're not talking about Eames here. She wasn't the focus of a death threat today and she isn't an assault survivor. Go home, Vanessa. You're done for today."
Goren hadn't even looked at her when she left. She knew he was furious and figured he'd blow when he came home, unless, of course, he decided to blow before he came home. If that was the case, she might not even see him tonight. She lay down on the couch and closed her eyes, reviewing the morning's events. If she had chosen to stay quiet, they would have never gotten Morrow to admit he knew Emma Crawford. They'd have no more on him than they had when they walked into Copy it Quick. She had known it was him as soon as he began to flirt with her. Narcissistic, exactly as she suspected. God's gift to women. It had to be done and she was the most likely candidate. Yeah, she baited him. And yeah, she pissed him off royally. But that was part of her job. Unless he was a complete moron, she was perfectly safe, right?
Her mind raced back to Forrester and how safe she had felt in his arms earlier that night. How comfortable she was, how she had been absolutely willing to make love with him when they had been in the car. It hadn't been until they got to her place and he became aggressive that she began to get irritated. She remember thinking that he was in it just for himself and wasn't interested in her enjoying it. That had been the original reason she had started to reject him. His aggression had grown from then, until there was no turning back. For a moment, she wondered if that was how it had started with Eric Morrow too.
He hadn't wanted to watch his victims. Most perps enjoyed seeing the pain and humiliation on their victims' faces. Not this one. He wasn't visually focused. It was the sound, the crying, the begging, that this guy liked. Hearing his victim in distress, and then the ability to shut her up permanently by severing her vocal cords when he slit her throat. She shuddered involuntarily.
She thought about her visit with Forrester, the last time she saw him alive; how he had apologized to her and she had told him she didn't give a shit if he died. She had meant that. After he killed himself, she had wondered for months if he had done that to spite her, or to give her what he thought she wanted. For months it had been a daily analysis in her head until one day she realized it didn't matter. Not only did it not matter, but she didn't really care what the answer was. He was dead, and she was glad.
She heard Bruce's old body collapse on the rug next to the couch. His collar jingled softly and she heard him exhale. She reached down and tangled her hand in his fur. At least, no matter how she fucked things up in her marriage, she still had her dog.
"Ness." His voice was quiet. She slowly opened her eyes. It was dark, with the exception of the lamp on the end table. Bobby was sitting on the edge of the couch. "It's late. You should go to bed...this can't be very comfortable for you."
She pulled herself up to a sitting position, fuzzily remembering the events of the morning. "Morrow is booked?"
"Yes...he's booked and will go up for arraignment tomorrow. Carver wants to meet with you first thing, so it would be good for you to get to bed."
Her eyes met his. She didn't see anger in them; for that matter, she didn't see pleasure or pain or anything. He was devoid of emotion. "You're still upset with me."
He gave a slight nod. "That's not important right now...you need to take care of you and the baby....can you get up?"
She stood sleepily and stretched for a minute. "I don't want to go to bed angry."
"I don't think this is going to be resolved tonight....it's best for you to get some rest."
She began to walk to the bedroom, then stopped and turned. "You're not coming to bed, are you?" she realized, and felt the tears coming to her eyes.
"Not now," he said softly. "In a bit...when I'm tired..." His arms were crossed and he sighed. "I'm angry at you...I'm not out to punish you, Beth. Please...get some sleep."
She nodded, then turned to head to the bedroom, hoping to get there before the tears fell. She didn't make it.
He sank into the armchair across from their bed, watching her sleep. He could tell she was dreaming, listless, uncomfortable dreams, by the way she was shifting in the bed. Off and on he heard a soft murmur and wondered who she was talking to. What she was saying. If she was jumping away from Eric Morrow again, reliving the assault with Forrester. Maybe fighting with her father over Ava or the baby. Or possibly defending her actions to him.
When she let Morrow approach her, he hadn't known what to do. The detective in him knew how critical the moment was, how this was their big shot, but the man in him was going primal. The fact that a serial rapist and murderer was hitting on his wife made him sick. He didn't know whether to watch her or her belly. There were two of them now, standing at that counter. His whole family, within reach of a monster.
She was good at her job. Hell, she was excellent. But she had underestimated Morrow's anger. She had forgotten the key components of an anger excitation killer--the amount of rage always boiling just under the surface. Maybe five years ago she could have pulled that move off without a hitch, without a nightmare for both of them. Not now. Not four months pregnant with their only baby. And not after living through the nightmare she had emerged from with Forrester.
She tossed in the bed to her other side, pulling the blankets closer in her sleep. He knew she thought he was angry with her. He had been. He had been furiously angry. He had wanted to shake her, to slap her beautiful face, to ask her why in the hell would she risk everything, everything that meant anything to him, on Eric Morrow. And those feelings came just a tad too close to his memories of his father. When she left work he hadn't been able to look at her. His anger and shame were too strong.
He continued to watch her, thinking about the time she had shown up at his apartment in the rain. She had acted so surprised that he wouldn't kick her out, or act as though she were nuts. She hadn't realized he knew nuts, and she wasn't it. She was normal, he thought. Intensely, amazingly normal. He had watched her sleep that night as well, watched the tears on her lashes as she drifted off; the tiny involuntary jumps she gave every time she heard the thunder outside. He had taken to stroking her back gently, like a child, and she seemed to settle under his hand. It was then that he realized his feelings for her went far beyond those of a friend. He felt a kinship with her, a responsibility, a need to be a meaningful part of her life. In short, he realized he was falling, quick and hard, and if he was honest, he didn't want to stop.
He heard her whimper, saw the tears on her cheeks. She was crying in her sleep, disturbed or distressed by her dream. He quickly moved to the side of the bed, wiping her tears with his thumb. She jerked up quickly, eyes large and breath shallow.
"It's okay," he whispered softly. "It was just a dream. Go back to sleep, baby."
Her large eyes focused on him, then she lay back down and closed her eyes.
It was quiet again, and he stayed next to her, running a hand gently against her back, until she said, "I dreamt you didn't come home. You were so mad you never came back."
His hand hesitated for a moment, then resumed its motion against her. "I love you...I came back...I always will."
He felt her shudder and wondered briefly if Ryan had ever given a shit when she had cried as a child. He hoped to God he could do a better job than that. As a husband and a father. He hung on to that thought, and stretched his body out next to hers. She instinctively moved closer against him, clutching his shirt in her fingers, and he let those motions push out his anger, and for the first time that day, relaxed against her.
Eames met her as she was stepping off the elevator. "How'd it go with Carver?" she asked, handing Vanessa a latte.
"Decaf?" she asked, and at Eames' nod, she said, "Fine...he just wanted my account of what happened. He's adding charges of resisting arrest and threatening an agent of the police to the charges. I guess he's going to load it down as heavy as he can. Have you and Goren generated any more evidence off of the murders?"
Eames took a sip of her own cup, then nodded. "We're getting a pretty good case together. The ME has been running tests like crazy. I think they're going to be exhuming bodies left and right."
"Sounds like it." They rounded the corner to the bullpen. "Is Goren around?"
"Actually, that's why I'm here...he said to tell you he'd meet you at the doctor's office around one...he's at the ME's."
Vanessa checked her watch. "Great. I have, oh, five minutes before I need to leave." She glanced up at Eames, who was rounding her desk and taking a seat in her chair. "Did he seem, uh, okay today?"
Alex looked up at her. "He'll get over it, Vanessa. It just scared him."
She snorted. "That made two of us." She sunk into Goren's chair across from Eames. "I have an amazing gift in scaring the shit out of people."
Eames smiled. "It comes with the job. Like I said, he'll get over it. If you hadn't done it, Morrow wouldn't be locked up right now. Carver's going for remand, and he'll probably get it."
Vanessa ran her hand over her belly absently. "I hope so." Then, as if suddenly realizing where she was and what was going on, she said, "I have to go...I've got to get to the doctor for the ultrasound."
"Good luck...it's very cool."
"I hope so. I really could use something good today."
She was chewing on her nail when he came in, rushed, his brow furrowed and his face stressed until he saw her there. Then it--and he--relaxed.
"Hey," he said softly, taking the seat next to her in the waiting room. "I'm so glad they haven't called you back yet...I'm sorry I'm late."
She smiled as reassuringly as she could, knowing he was still pissed at her. "It's okay...I guess they'll know why my blood pressure is up when I finally get back there."
Thirty minutes later she was in a hospital gown, feet in stirrups, with the ultrasound tech applying the cool jelly to her abdomen. Bobby was on a stool next to her, holding her hand as though they had never fought and examining the screen carefully.
"There...there's your baby," the tech said, pointing out the fetus.
"Oh my God." Bobby's hand unexpectedly squeezed hers, and his lips brushed against her forehead.
She could hear the swoosh, swoosh, of the amniotic fluid in her womb and the faint heartbeat underneath. If she stared hard enough, she could see arms and legs and a very large, almost alien-like head on the screen. She felt shocked, overwhelmed, other-worldly.
"Ah, here we are." Dr. Ramirez joined them. "So you've seen your baby, huh?"
Bobby's face was filled with awe. She didn't know when she'd ever seen him look so, well, amazed. "Can you point it all out? The arms, legs, head? Is everything healthy?"
Dr. Ramirez smiled, then gave what Vanessa could best describe as a thorough tour of the baby's body. They both watched the screen carefully as the doctor pointed out the tiny arms, hands, head, and feet. "Here is the torso," she said, pointing to a solid, round area. "And are you interested in knowing the gender, or would you rather wait?"
Vanessa turned to look at Bobby, and he smiled at her. She looked back at Dr. Ramirez and nodded. "We'd like to know."
The doctor smiled. "Well, I can't guarantee anything...basically the way we make these determinations at this point is by what we can see...but I'm not seeing a penis, so I'm fairly certain you're having a girl."
She heard Bobby's breath catch and felt her own heart skip a beat. "Really?" he asked. "A girl? How sure are you?"
"Relatively sure...it could be hiding behind the leg here, but I'm fairly certain."
"A girl," he repeated, then squeezed her hand again. "A girl, Ness...a baby girl." His face broke into a grin, as though he'd just been told he'd won the lottery. She couldn't help but smile back.
They left the office, hand in hand, with digital photos tucked safely in her bag.
"Bed," he ordered, pointing toward the bedroom. "It's been an exciting day and your blood pressure was up a bit...you heard the doctor. If it doesn't come down in the next couple weeks, they're going to put you on limited bedrest. So go rest before it drives you nuts."
He shook his head. "I've got it all under control. Dinner will be ready soon...your job is to rest and take care of you and our little girl."
Deciding it was easier to follow his directions than to argue, she headed to the bedroom and toed off her shoes. Sitting on the edge of the bed, she pulled out the ultrasound pictures to study them. She had seen Eames' pictures a month ago, and they were interesting, to say the least. But looking at her own, seeing the baby growing inside her, was the most amazing thing she'd ever experienced. She could hardly believe this was their baby. That not only had they conceived this baby but it was growing, and growing healthily, inside her. She had seen its baby feet and baby hands and baby head. Even its baby bottom and baby belly. All its baby parts, growing just how they should, inside her. A tiny miracle of their own making.
She spread the pictures out across the bed, taking her time to examine each one with the care and attention she usually saved for profiling. In one photo she could actually make out all the fingers on one hand, and she counted them over and over. Five. Five fingers, all perfectly formed, on her baby. Their baby. She picked up another photo, one of the baby sucking its finger. Not its thumb, but its first and second finger together, and she smiled. She remembered being a thumbsucker herself as a child. Her mother had teased her when she was little, telling her she had a thumb made of chocolate it was so good, and snuggling her close with her blanket. Vanessa closed her eyes, relishing in the memory she had forgotten until just now. Memories from before her mother got sick. Few but precious to her.
She heard footsteps nearby and opened her eyes. Bobby was making his way over to her quietly, a plate of food in one hand and a glass of water in the other. "Hey," she said sleepily and sat up. Glancing at the clock, she suddenly realized she'd fallen asleep.
"Hi." He put the plate and glass down and sat on the edge of the bed next to her. Picking up the pictures, he smiled, a content and peaceful look. "Can you believe it?" he murmured. "She's absolutely perfect. We made something perfect."
"I know." She pulled herself up to a sitting position. "I was thinking the same thing...I even counted her fingers. Five on one hand, just like they're supposed to be." She chuckled softly, and so did he. After another minute, he said, "It kind of puts things in perspective, doesn't it? What's important, I mean."
She caught his eyes staring at her. "Yes." Reaching over, she took his hand in hers. "I was wrong. I shouldn't have done what I did with Morrow. I'm sorry I scared you, Bobby...I really am." She shook her head. "I-I got too cocky...I should have known better. He was narcissistic and I knew that...I just couldn't resist...it was like an opportunity to goad him on, and I wanted it...I wanted to goad him on."
He was watching her carefully. She knew that he understood almost everything she told him, but he didn't understand this. Especially with a baby in the mix. She knew she had been foolish, been reckless, but she had felt she had no other choice. It was part of gaining herself back. She hung her head and wished she could convey her thoughts more accurately.
"It's like Forrester, isn't it?" His words cut through the silence, and suddenly she knew he understood more than she gave him credit for.
She looked up at him. "Yes. Yes, it is." She nodded now. "It was like the chance with Forrester I never got. I had the chance to reel this one in, get him to admit what he did, catch him by surprise. I did that. I was able to do that." She reached over and clutched his hand. "I know you can't understand...and I know it was foolish, considering the baby and all." She felt the tears on her eyelashes and blinked rapidly. "I'll try to do better, Bobby. I promise."
His sigh was long and heavy. "I was so scared, Ness...a million things could have gone wrong...we hadn't planned for you to do any of that. He could have taken you hostage, or even killed you. Killed you and our baby...everything important to me..." His voice choked. "I couldn't stand the thought of losing you both."
"Oh, Bobby..."She climbed into his lap, straddling him and reaching her arms around his neck. "I don't want to leave this...ever..." Her face pressed, hard, into his chest and a moment later she felt his body shudder against her. Then his arms wrapped around her, tight, and he whispered, "Me either."
Later they would feed each other the dinner he had prepared; watch their favorite cooking shows and debate the finer points of olive oil; make out slowly and lovingly with no attempt to close the deal. But now, they relaxed in their connection, the connection that had felt tenuous over the last few days but now felt stronger than before.
Vanessa settled onto the couch next to Ava in the day room. "Here," she said, handing Ava the photos of the baby. "It's a girl...just like you requested."
Ava's thin face lightened for just a moment. "Good work," she said, flipping through the ultrasound photos. A slight smile crossed her face. "She looks perfect...what's the doctor saying?"
"Everything is good...I have a due date of September ninth."
"Pregnant through the summer...how fun for you. I bet you're already burning up."
"Not too bad," Vanessa lied. The May morning was warm, and she had already changed clothes twice, trying to find something that didn't make her sweat.
"Daddy came earlier today." Ava didn't waste any time, that was for sure. "He's been coming every Tuesday for therapy, and today he came to visit, too. Just him...he left the kids and Kate at home."
"His wife's name is Kate?" Vanessa didn't know why she would be surprised by that, except she had always pictured a Bunny or Barbie. But Kate? It sounded so...normal.
"He's trying, Vanessa." Ava went back to picking the imaginary lint off her pajamas.
She felt annoyed, watching Ava retreat again, and finally she said, "Would you like me to purchase you a new set? You know, one without all the lint?"
Ava looked up, startled. "Uh, no...I'm fine." She began to pick at her fingernail, then said, "My therapist and I would like for you to come to therapy with me if you can. Maybe Tuesday, if that would work."
Vanessa felt her heart beat faster. "Just us?" she asked.
Ava looked up at her briefly. "Yes, just us to begin with, anyway. Daddy wouldn't be there...just you and me...would four work? I know you're usually still working then..."
"I'll be here."
Ava's face showed a mixture of relief and anxiety. "Really? You think you can?"
Vanessa nodded. "Yes...I'll be here. But what about David and Justin? When do they see you?"
"Saturdays...all day...and they come for a short visit Wednesday night...for dinner."
"Dinner," Vanessa echoed. "So does that mean you're eating?"
Ava made a face. "Very funny. The food here is crap. These people have never heard of fresh fruit or vegetables. Everything is in cream and butter. Disgusting." She picked at her cuticle for a minute, then said, "I ate a pancake this morning. I didn't put butter on it, but I ate the damn pancake."
"I love pancakes," Vanessa commented. "Just not with syrup."
Ava rolled her eyes. "I also ate an egg white omelet. Yesterday. They finally agreed I didn't have to eat the yolks. I agreed to come in here to gain weight but I did NOT agree to eat crap."
Vanessa ignored Ava's food commentary. "So have you gained any weight?"
"Um, no....do I look like I've gained weight? The only one around here ballooning is you, Ness."
She rolled her eyes. "Thanks, Ava. And by the way, I've gained fifteen pounds...just where I should be, they said."
Ava looked away from her uncomfortably. "Congratulations." A minute later she looked at Vanessa. "I think it's time for you to go now...but I guess I'll see you on Tuesday."
"Okay...I'll be here...four o'clock."
"Tuesday, huh?" he said, scratching her bare back. She arched slightly, trying to get him to reach the itchiest spot.
"Yes," she replied, both to his question and to his touch. "Tuesday...yes, right there..."
He chuckled. "I don't remember you normally being this itchy. You're like a pet...wanting to be scratched and petted." He reached over and grabbed her favorite lotion, a light citrus scent, and squeezed it directly onto her back. He laughed as she squealed, then began to rub it in gently. "Better?"
"I guess...if I want to be shocked to death by freezing cold lotion!" She stretched her arms out in front of her. "Mmm...now that's much nicer..."
He was rubbing in firm circles all over her shoulders and back, feeling the muscles loosen and relax under his fingers. "So what's the therapy about?"
"Not sure." She closed her eyes and focused on his long fingers kneading her muscles. "But Ryan won't be there...I made sure to ask. I don't want to see him."
She heard him exhale and could tell he had been thinking the same thing.
"I don't think she's gaining any weight, Bobby...if anything, she's losing it. She's getting smaller, more drawn. She sits on that damn couch through the entire visit and picks at imaginary lint on her pajamas. It's only a matter of time before they put her on a feeding tube." She turned her head into the pillow in front of her. "You'd think she'd be smart enough to avoid that. All she has to do is eat something. And all she seems to be able to do is bitch about it...the veggies aren't fresh enough...the apples are too brown...they put butter on everything...Jesus."
"Butter on everything," Bobby mused, "my kind of place."
"No kidding. If they could throw in some Ben and Jerry's I'd be ready to move....oh, right there..." She tried to lay still as he applied a little more pressure to her lower back. She heard herself moan softly. He got it right. She hadn't felt this good in ages.
A minute later his breath was in her ear. "You smell good...like citrus," he told her. "And you're nice and soft...like butter and ice cream."
She rolled over as quickly as she could, given her current state of pregnancy, and grabbed her pillow. Knocking him in the head, she cried, "Thanks a lot!"
He grinned at her as he took a second hit with the pillow. "Hey! That's supposed to be a compliment!" He blocked the pillow with his arm, laughing. "Baby! Baby! Tell your mama to be nice to me!"
"Oh nice...try to get the baby to take sides," she huffed at him. "She says you should always tell her mama how beautiful she is and never, ever compare her to a stick of butter!"
He lay back beside her. "Oh really? That's what she said?"
"For sure." She lay on her back, breasts bared, resting her hands on her belly.
"Well, did she say I couldn't say you look pretty pregnant these days?"
Vanessa thought about it for a moment. "No, she didn't say that."
His smile was soft. "And did she say I can't comment on how much larger, or how beautiful, your breasts are?"
"They're not really much larger yet...just a bit..."
"Your nipples are different."
She glanced down. "If you say so." She shrugged her shoulders. "But she didn't say you couldn't comment on my lovely breasts. Just on me looking like butter." After a second, she said, "What? What's that? Ohhh..." She tapped him on the shoulder. "She says you should apologize too."
He rolled his eyes. "Apparently she's quite verbal for an unborn child."
"Yes. Yes, she is. She says that comes from your side of the family."
"Oh joy." He ruffled her hair. "Fine. I'm sorry I said you felt like a stick of butter...even though you're nice and smooth and soft."
Vanessa beamed at him. "She says thank you...and so do I."
"Hmmm. I bet." He leaned over to kiss her, then leaned down to kiss her belly. "I love you baby...I love you more than anything, except your soft as butter mother." Winking at her, he kissed her too. "I love you...and I'm sorry for comparing you to butter."
"S'okay," she murmured, enjoying his kiss. "I'm sorry for pretending it bothered me."
They both burst into laughter one more time before he buried his face in her hair, breathing deep.