As you travel through life, you’re faced with conflict after conflict, some as simple as which laundry detergent to use, but some more difficult. And when left unsolved, they grow and grow until they haunt your every move, making the good things in life unobtainable. And unless you come to terms with your past, history is doomed to repeat itself.
The phone by the bedside rang, it's shrill sound cutting into the peaceful stillness of the night and reaching into his contented dreams. He heard it, but hoping it would go away, he pulled the pillow over his head, trying to block reality from disturbing the pleasures that were still beckoning to him in his dream. Life in his dream was perfect. There, he held the most beautiful woman he had ever known in his arms, and she smiled at him contentedly, kissing him, as she caressed his chest. "Rita" he mumbled as he willingly let himself drift back into the dream he was trying desperately to hold onto.
The phone was still ringing, and now in his dream, he could hear Rita telling him to answer it, “It could be important,” she told him.
His dream vanished, disappearing into only a foggy memory as he rolled over and sat up.
“Lorenzo, it's about time! The phone must have rung at least twenty times before you finally decided to answer it!"
"Well I was asleep, Cap...and in the middle of a dream that in no way should have been interrupted," Chris said, smiling groggily, knowing the tone in his voice would catch the attention of his captain. He glanced over to the other side of the bed to check the clock, immensely overjoyed at seeing that all his dreams had not too long ago come true. He smiled as he watched Rita pull a blanket up over her head. "Life is good, Cap... Rita and I were up all night."
There was a time when Cap had enjoyed hearing about the escapades of Chris's bachelor lifestyle, had even stood in awe of him, practically drooling over each story Chris told him, but that time had passed the moment he learned of Chris and Rita’s relationship. He was thrilled for them, almost relieved when they had finally realized their true feelings for each other and then had fought and won the battle to remain as partners, but that was where he drew the line. While he thought of Chris as his son, and was quite proud of him, he also looked at Rita as if she were his daughter. One just didn't talk about a father’s daughter in such a way.
"Lorenzo...Enough of that! Life may be good for you, but right now we have two victims - one, a woman with her throat slashed, and the other, a man... the congressman’s son to be specific... with a hole in his head. It's pretty ghastly too, from what I hear, so you might want to skip eating until afterwards. I need you and Rita down here right away... as in ASAP, not when you’re good and ready!"
"Awe, Cap...it's our weekend off, you promised!" Chris whined.
"Yeah well, that was before my other homicide team had to do a last minute undercover assignment for vice... and now I can't spare you...I want to see you down here in precisely twenty minutes...and not a minute longer, got that Lorenzo?"
"Yeah, yeah, Cap...I got it. " Chris hung up the phone with a slam. There went their weekend.
He looked over at Rita, who had managed to sink back into a deep sleep. He wanted nothing more then to take her back into his arms and cuddle with her while he himself caught a few more hours, but he knew it was out of the question.
"Sammy...Oh Sammy...." Chris trailed his finger over her smooth cheek, loving how her skin felt so satiny soft .He couldn't believe that a woman could be as beautiful as she was, even first thing in the morning. Rita rolled over, struggling to open her heavy eyelids. "Hey Sunshine...that was Cap. We are being summoned...you gotta get up."
"No, don't want to. You can just remind him I'm off this weekend, ok?"
"Sorry, Sam...he already knows, and it is not a concern for him. Come on." He laughed as he took her by both her arms and pulled her to a standing position before him. She opened her eyes halfway, looking at him with annoyance clearly written all across her face.
"Why can't murderers ever take some time off." she moaned.
Chris laughed. "Ha! Come on, Sunshine. I'll drag you to the shower..." he said, hoping to salvage at least part of this morning.
"Yeah, yeah...Wake up. I got it," mocked Rita.
Half an hour later, they found themselves in a seedy part of Palm Beach that Chris had never even known existed. He found the address Cap had given him and pulled the car along side the curb, noticing a man lounging on a bench that was in serious need of sanding and new paint. Along side him, he clutched a brown paper bag in his hand, while the other had a firm grasp on his hat, which he was using to swat away the flies swarming around his face. Chris averted his eyes, disgusted with the sight. He could smell the alcohol emanating from the man, as well as many other odors he didn't care to venture a guess as to what they possibly could be. He held his breath in order to hold back the nausea that had suddenly struck him when the wind’s gentle breeze had blown his way, and he focused his attention now on the scene up ahead. Rita stared at the man, but said nothing, as she followed Chris.
“So much for the high profile crimes, huh Sam?” Chris whispered once they were out of earshot. Rita threw him an affirmative glance and kept on walking.
Approaching the barrier of cops trying to keep away the news hounds, Chris's eyes searched for someone from the station, not quite sure where he was supposed to go from there.
Yellow tape surrounded an area of the sidewalk and street in front of an old brick apartment, with graffiti and gang names spray painted on it's side wall and all over the entrance. There were dirty windows covered with old newspaper yellowed by the sun, some with blankets that seemed just as dirty as the windows themselves. One of the windows had been broken, and in the place of glass, stood cardboard. Chris couldn't believe that people actually lived in such a dilapidated state, he thought as he shook his head slightly.
"When was the last time you had a tetanus shot, Sam?" he mumbled, placing his hand on the small of Rita’s back and guiding her in.
He glanced up at the stairs and then at the mailboxes in the wall to his left. They went up to 6D, and Chris groaned, realizing that the building must have 6 floors to it. With his luck, he knew that they would end up climbing the stairs for all six floors. Broken down buildings like this one rarely ever had elevators.
On the way up, they passed one of the few new rookies they knew these days, rushing on his way down.
"Hey, Officer Maller. Where am I headed to here?" Chris asked, relieved to finally see a familiar face.
"Oh, Sergeants Lance and Lorenzo, I'm glad you’re here. Captain Lipshitz just sent me down to look for you both. It's up on the fourth floor...apartment 4B."
"Fine... thanks." Chris waved his thanks to the young man and bound up the stairs, not noticing how quiet his partner had been since entering the apartment building or that she was climbing the stairs quite hesitantly behind him.
As Chris entered, he saw right away that they had their work cut out for them. The bodies had been found in the living room, and Chris saw Diana standing over the body of a woman somewhere in her early thirties he guessed. She was examining the woman’s neck with her gloved hands and shaking her head, a look of shock and disbelief on her usually cheerful face. Chris walked over to her. "What do ya got, Dee?" he asked solemnly.
“Oh hi, Chris...well, this one here, female. I'd say maybe thirty, thirty one years old. It's pretty obvious how she died," said Dee, looking around her at the blood that had flowed from the gaping neck wound. "Over there," she nodded, "male, about thirty-five. Head wound... self-inflicted, I think. My guess is we have a murder-suicide here. Say, where's your partner?"
Chris turned to look behind him and shrugged. His eyes scanned the room, but didn't find her. "She was right behind me, I guess she got held up with something. I'm gonna go over and take a look at him." Chris nodded his head in the direction of the dead man. "A congressman’s son?"
"Yeah," Diana let her voice linger a bit, as she raised her eyebrows at Chris. "It gets worse though. She looked back down at the body of the woman beneath her. "She was a mother. We're not sure if her little girl saw anything. If she did, she isn't talking. The poor thing is in shock, it's such a shame," Diana commented, with a single tear rolling down her cheek. "Chris, she’s only six years old."
Rita stood at the top of the stairs, in the open door that led to the hallway, shaking. She tried telling herself that she had to overcome this. Now was not the time for her to fall apart, although she imagined it would be so much easier to do just that, rather than trying to hold tightly to what little composure she had left. This just couldn't be...it wasn't possible for something like this to happen twice...for her to be here both times when it did... As she stood there, fighting violent waves of nausea, memories of another day was what she saw... A little girl coming home from school, climbing the steps, rushing excitedly into her home...calling for her daddy...and then finding her daddy in a bathtub...with his clothes all on... and a bullet hole in his head... so much blood...
No. Stop it...You have a job to do, and you have to see that it gets done. Now go on in there and stop thinking about something that happened a long time ago... You’re over it...You have to be, or it will haunt you for the rest of your life!
Rita finished giving herself “the lecture” and took in a deep breath, as if somehow she was also taking in courage. She calmed herself down, counted to three and made a step. Soon she was stepping into the same apartment she had lived in with her daddy, when she was just a small girl.
Chris looked up, finally seeing Rita enter through the door, and he knew right away that something was wrong. She was as white as a ghost, and her usually bright green eyes suddenly seemed very dull. Immediately, he knew what was wrong... or at least he thought he did.
"Hey Sam... how is she... has she said anything yet?" he asked, assuming Rita had learned of the child whose situation was now quite similar to hers.
"What... who?" Rita asked, her voice a bit shaky. She cleared her throat to make it stronger. "Want to fill me in on what you’re talking about here, Sam?"
Chris narrowed his eyes, curious about the state Rita was currently in. Clearly she was upset about something. "The little girl...did she say anything about what happened?"
"A... a little... girl?" She had to force the words out. "No, no, no,” she thought. This wasn't happening.
Chris gestured over to the woman’s dead body. Rita followed his gaze, seeing the coroners begin to ready her for transporting back to what was jokingly called the dungeon.
"That's the mother," Chris pointed over to the man. "He slashed her throat, then pulled a gun on himself, or at least that’s Dee’s best guess right now. Captain Lipshitz wants you to go next door. He’s having a hard time with the little girl. I thought that's where you were." He walked over to her and reached for her elbow, turning her away from the others in the room for a little privacy. "Are you ok?"
Rita nodded, not looking him in the eye, pretending to be preoccupied now with the fact that the captain was waiting for her. "Sure... I should get over there then though... if Cap’s waiting for me." She pulled away from his worried touch and lowered her head as she walked back out the door. She didn't want to see more of that apartment than she had to.
She knocked on the door, and an elderly woman, her hair in curlers and a house robe still tied around her waist, answered it. She led Rita into the room, where Cap was sitting on a sofa next to a little girl who was rocking back and forth, shaking and sobbing. The girl was no more than three and a half feet tall with long dark hair and soft brown eyes. Two other officers were standing nearby. One was a woman who was relieved to see Rita arrive. She had tried her best to comfort the little girl, but had unfortunately failed.
"Thank God. Rita, you’re here," Cap said, standing as he saw Rita enter. "Listen, you have always seemed to be good with kids... this here is Amanda, she's six years old... Amanda, honey, this is detective Lance. I'm going to leave you here with her, but don't you worry. You’re gonna be safe, alright?"
There was no response from the little girl, and Cap looked back imploringly at Rita. She nodded, and took Cap’s place next to the little girl. Immediately she took the child into her arms and rocked with her, kissing the top of head, and assuring her that she was going to be all right.
Cap watched, fascinated at the maternal instincts that came so easily to his detective. He was impressed with her and knew the child would be in good hands. He looked back at the other two officers and gave them a nod to leave with him.
"Rita, Children’s services will be here in about an hour. Will you stay with her until they get here?" Cap asked.
Rita didn't look at him, but nodded her head yes, still holding on to the little girl, and hiding her own tears.
Rita sat watching Amanda as she slept, her head resting against Rita’s chest. She hadn't spoken to her, but her small hand was clinging tightly to Rita’s suit jacket, as if she were holding on for dear life. She didn't want to wake the little girl, and so she sat still, watching the child sleep, but seeing another child huddled in a corner of a dark room, feeling lonely and crying for her daddy... seeing herself.
Forty minutes later, the agent from children services came. She shook the child gently, awakening her and bringing Rita back to the present as well. The agent took Amanda’s hand, explaining to her that she was going to take her to a nice place where other children lived. Amanda began crying, this time loudly, and she scooted herself closer to Rita, who began to feel just as afraid as Amanda did. She wrapped Amanda in her arms, and tried to make her understand that the lady was there to take her to someplace safe. Amanda only cried harder, clinging even more tightly onto Rita.
Just then Chris and Cap walked in, having just finished their work in the apartment next door. They watched the scene, as the social worker began to become frustrated now. Chris could see right away that Rita was struggling between wanting to help the social worker do her job, and wanting to help the little girl feel safe. He worried about her, as he watched her try to assure Amanda, thinking that the day ahead wasn't going to be an easy one for either of them.
Finally the agent pulled Amanda free from Rita, and Rita stood, walking away from them, her hand over her mouth to keep herself from crying out loud. She didn't want to make things worse for the child. Chris immediately took his place at Rita’s side, wrapping his arms around her from behind, letting her know that he was there and she didn’t have to say anything in response. She was biting her lip as she heard Amanda’s loud piercing screams and turned watching as the little girl reached out her arms for Rita. Rita turned away, facing the wall again, as her own tears were beyond her control. She didn't even know this child, but she felt a bond with her, and it was hurting like hell now that they had to be separated.
"Wait!" She cried out. She disentangled herself from Chris’s comforting arms and walked over to the social worker. She pulled her aside, as Chris and Cap each took a seat beside Amada, holding onto her and trying to calm her.
"Let me take her home with me, please. She is calm with me. I think she feels safe... Please, she is just so scared right now...and I know how she is feeling... If you can just let me have her awhile longer, I can get her to understand...I can assure her that she’ll be alright...Please." Rita pleaded barely holding back tears.
Mrs. Laramy, the social worker, shot a questioning look over to the police captain, seeking his opinion. It didn't seem to be a bad idea to her, at least for just a little while, and if it would help the child feel safe after such a traumatic experience, then it just may work. For some reason she had taken to this officer of the law.
Cap looked back at Mrs. Laramy, then over to Rita, concerned for her as well as the child. He saw the desperate look on Rita’s face, and understood right away what she was going through. Rita had had a similar experience when she was about the same age. He looked at Chris to see what he thought about the situation, and he could see the anxiousness written all across the man’s face, but that was all. There were no answers. "I believe that is what is in the best interest of Amanda," Cap said. "Sergeant Lance is one of my very best...Amanda will be well off in her care until the agency can get things more settled for her."
Having heard this, the child bolted from her seat between Chris and Cap on the couch and headed straight for Rita’s arms. At least, they now knew she understood what was going on around her, although she still refused to speak.
Agreeing with the captain, Mrs. Laramy had Rita sign some papers, allowing her to take Amanda home for the night. And after the social worker had left and Cap had gone to make sure the forensic team was gone from the adjacent apartment, Chris and Rita were left alone with Amanda. The little girl was still clutching Rita tightly, afraid to let go. “I’m gonna take her to my place, Sam, probably won’t make it in to work today either.”
“Okay, I can handle the paperwork. Shouldn’t be much after Diana’s done with the opening, an open and shut case.”
“True, and I ah... I think you should stay at your loft tonight. It’ll probably be easier for me to get her to open up if it’s just the two of us,” Rita said hesitantly. They rarely spent the night apart, but in order for Rita to get Amanda over her fears, it would be easier for them to be alone.
“Yeah, you’re right,” he said, hiding his own disappointment. He knew this was the right thing to do for Amanda’s sake, but was still a little saddened at the obviously foiled plans he had for that night. Rita had known nothing about them and therefore missed his hidden reaction. They’d been together for six months to the day, and Chris had wanted to make the evening special. “How about I bring breakfast over bright and early tomorrow morning?”
“That sounds wonderful. What are your favorite breakfast foods, Amanda?” The girl looked up into her eyes, but still said nothing. “I think she’s a pancakes and eggs kinda girl, Sam. What do you think?” Rita asked, catching the quick, but slight, smile the little girl tried to hide.
“I’m gonna have to agree. Pancakes and eggs will be awaiting you bright and early tomorrow morning.” Chris leaned in and placed a chaste kiss on Rita’s cheek whispering, “Call me when she’s asleep.” They may not get to spend the day together, but at least he’d be able to talk to her.
Rita smiled in return, letting Chris know she’d do just that. “You want me to drop you off at the station?” she asked, referring to the fact that they’d taken only one car to the apartment building.
“Nah, I’ll get Cap to give me a lift and con him into giving me a ride home too,” he smiled.
“Alright, I’ll see you tomorrow then.”
“See ya,” he responded, watching Rita take Amanda’s hand and walk her to the car. This day was definitely not turning out as he’d planned.
When Rita had arrived home from the crime scene, it was still pretty early... somewhere around lunchtime. She ushered Amanda into the kitchen and asked her if she’d like a sandwich. Still getting no verbal response, Rita was overjoyed to see the little girl nod her head yes. She quickly made them each a sandwich, deciding on bologna and cheese, as it was usually a favorite of most children, and placed the sandwich and a glass of milk in front of Amanda.
As Rita bit into her sandwich, she noticed Amanda looking back and forth from her sandwich to Rita with a raised eyebrow and a confused look on her face.
“How come you’re not eating? Don’t you like bologna and cheese?” she asked, hoping she hadn’t found the exception to the rule, because the only other sandwich meat she had in her refrigerator was salami, not a big child pleaser.
Amanda nodded again. Rita mentally applauded herself for at least getting the girl to give her an answer again, though still not verbally.
“Well then, what’s wrong? Is it too big for you to pick up all at once?” she asked, looking down at the uncut sandwich in question. Again Amanda nodded, so Rita got a knife and cut it in half, then looked up at Amanda, who’s face was still disapproving. She then cut each half in half again to find a smile on the face of the little girl. Amanda then picked up the sandwich and happily bit into it. Rita smiled to herself as they ate lunch in silence. She knew she’d made some progress to be able to get Amanda to nod her head, but she didn’t want to push it by trying to get her to talk.
After lunch, Rita had found a movie already in progress on the Disney Channel for Amanda to watch, while she prepared her extra bedroom for her overnight guest. About half an hour later, she saw Amanda standing in the doorway to the guest bedroom watching her tidy up.
“Hey there. The movie over?” Rita asked, still busy changing the sheets on the bed. Amanda nodded affirmatively once again. “What would you like to do now?” Amanda said nothing, so Rita stopped with her tasks to think of what there was to keep Amanda busy and her mind off the scene she’d witnessed earlier that morning. “How about we finish with these sheets and then go to the park? Would you like that?” The little girl smiled and grabbed a pillow and pillowcase to help Rita finish up the room.
On the way home from the park, Rita noticed that it was getting late, so she picked up dinner for them to eat back at her apartment. And once they were finished, she sent Amanda off to wash her hands and face as she looked through her drawers for something for the child to wear to bed. Tomorrow, they’d have to go pick up a couple outfits for her back at the crime scene. Deciding on an old T-shirt that would serve as a nightgown for Amanda, Rita went to leave the T-shirt on the bed in the guestroom.
About ten minutes later, Amanda walked into the living room, wearing Rita’s shirt, and seemingly ready for bed. She walked over and sat next to Rita, putting out her hand, which held a hairbrush.
Rita took the brush and said, “Would you like me to brush your hair for you, sweetie?” Amanda nodded and turned to face away from Rita, who began lightly running the brush through the long, dark hair of the girl in front of her. The experience was calming to her, helping to release the pent up emotions the day’s events had stirred up. When she was finished, Amanda stood and turned to face her, holding out her hand once again. Rita took this as a sign to hand her back the brush, but when she did, Amanda shook her head no. She then grabbed Rita’s hand, and the two walked into Amanda’s new bedroom. Amanda climbed under the covers, and Rita tucked them securely around her. Rita then leaned down and kissed Amanda’s forehead, whispering, “sweet dreams,” in her ear.
As Rita walked over to the door and plugged in a nightlight then flipped off the switch, Amanda said, “Goodnight,” back to her. Rita turned around in surprise and smiled at Amanda before continuing her journey out of the room.
After checking to make sure that Amanda was asleep, Rita picked up the phone and dialed Chris’s number. Two rings later, she heard his loving voice. “Lorenzo here. What’s up?”
“Two rings? What took you so long?” she teased.
She could feel the smile forming at his lips as he spoke again. “Hey Sam. I missed you. How was your day?”
“Surprisingly good after it’s rocky start. And yours? How was the paperwork?”
“Paperwork was easy as predicted. Just had to wait to confirm what we saw at the scene with Dee’s reports. So any word from social services?”
“Not yet. I don’t mind though. It’s nice having Amanda here. It’s like I’m getting to help her when...” she silenced herself realizing she was about to go into deep waters again.
“When there was no one there to help you. I know you better than you know yourself, Sam. I should have seen it this morning. I’m sorry I didn’t.”
“Don’t be. How could you have when I hid it so well?”
“I’m your partner, and your lover, and your best friend most of all. I should have seen it. Must have been in a bad mood after being woken up so early on our day off to go to a crime scene... and today of all days,” he threw in there, wanting to see if she’d remembered.
“Today?” she questioned. He frowned, realizing she hadn’t.
“Yeah, today. Six months to the day that-.”
“We first made love,” she cut him off in a teasing voice. “You think I wouldn’t remember that,” she chided, letting him know he was in trouble for ever thinking she would forget such a day. “Best day of my life,” she smiled, one that he surely felt through the phone.
“I’m sorry. I just thought with all the craziness of the day you would be too preoccupied to remember,” he said softly.
“Nothing could ever make me forget. I miss you here with me, ya know?”
“I miss being there. Is Amanda asleep?”
“Yes, she is, and no, you can’t come over,” she laughed.
“Oh, Sammy, why not?” he asked, pleading evident in his voice.
“She’s finally starting to open up to me. I don’t want her to wake up tomorrow morning and find a strange man in my bed. Did I tell you she spoke to me tonight? As I was walking out of her room, she said ‘goodnight’.”
“That’s great, Rita. Maybe she’ll feel safe enough to tell you exactly what happened soon,” he said, not missing the fact that Rita had called the guestroom “her room”. Maybe she was ready to take the next step, he told himself.
“I hope so.”
“And just what did you mean by ‘strange man’ in your bed?”
“Well, come on, Sam. Even you’ve got to admit that your choice in clothes is well... how do I put this nicely... eccentric?”
“Whatever. Look, I’ve gotta get some sleep here. I bet Amanda will be up bright and early tomorrow and I’ve got to be prepared.”
“Okay. I love you. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Love you too. Night, Sam.”
After hanging up the phone, Rita began to feel the day’s events taking their toll on her. She took a hot shower and then slipped on a cozy nightshirt, but her mind was still racing, and she still felt too wired to fall asleep.
She decided to make herself a cup of tea and carried it to her bedroom. A soft rain pelted against the windows. She turned on the TV to hear the news and catch the weather, as she slowly sipped the hot tea.
The anchorman related the story of the murder-suicide, showing images of the wrecked apartment building and of the bodies being carried out. The congressman stood in front of the camera and made a statement of disbelief.
Rita stared at the TV screen. She was seeing the same building that she had lived at as a little girl. It hadn't been anything fancy then, but it wasn't in the same shape as it was now.
She shook away the memories. They were her past, and she was determined not to let them invade her present, or her future. Not now, not when she was so happy.
She stood and went across the hall to check on Amanda and was relieved to see that she was breathing softly and dreaming peacefully. She sat on the side of the bed, drawn by the sight of such sweet and angelic innocence that existed in a sleeping child.
Remembering how Amanda had said goodnight to her made her smile. It was a start, she thought. She really wanted to help this little girl, and she knew that the best thing for Amanda now was that she felt there was someone she could trust in. Rita felt a bond with this child and understood what Amanda was feeling. To have so much sorrow inside of you that you felt it was consuming you. It wasn't anything a small child should have to feel. Amanda would need someone to help her through her pain, and Rita was determined to be that person. She had never before felt the all-encompassing maternal instincts that suddenly existed within her.
"No Mommy. No, no, no. Mommy!"
The scream pierced the quiet stillness of the night, and Rita sat up, immediately becoming aware of what was happening. She rushed into Amanda’s room and scooped the frightened little girl into her arms. Amanda cried, her small arms clinging around Rita’s neck, but she was calling for her mommy.
"Mommy...Mommy, I'm scared."
Rita sighed. "Shh...It's okay sweetie. Everything is gonna be alright."
Amanda pulled away from her, as if she suddenly realized that she wasn't in her mother’s arms.
She scowled at Rita now. "You’re not my Mommy! I want my Mommy! Where is she?"
"Amanda... honey... your mommy can't be here anymore. She was hurt really bad and she died. Do you remember what happened?" She reached out her hand to caress Amanda’s cheek and soothe her, but Amanda slapped her hand away, screaming. "I want my Mommy! I want my Mommy!"
Rita tried to calm the child, wanting so badly to comfort her, but Amanda scooted away from her and curled up into a ball on the bed. Her sobs began to grow heavier and her pleas for her mother were breaking Rita’s heart.
"Amanda, I'm so sorry. I really am. I can't bring you your Mommy. If I could I would, but she can't come sweetie. Your Mommy died, and when people die, they don't come back.” She hated that she was causing this little girl any more pain.
Now Amanda’s sob turned into desperate cries for her mother. Rita reached out and tried to bring Amanda back into her lap, but Amanda began to thrash at her, kicking and screaming. Realizing that she was only making the situation worse, Rita gave up. Amanda wanted and needed time to be alone right now. She needed to deal with her grief, and later the comfort could come.
"Amanda, if you need me for anything, I'll be in my room."
She walked back to her bedroom, wishing she could call Chris, but not wanting to wake him. She sat on her bed, looking out at the dark rainy night. She didn't realize that she was crying until half an hour later, when Amanda came in and sat on her lap. She smiled sadly as she reached up and wiped away the tears.
"Come on, Sammy! Open up! My arms are full!"
A flustered Rita rushed down the stairs, a light blue Palm Beach PD T-shirt that had been given out at last year’s picnic still in her hand. She had been searching all morning for something clean for Amanda to wear. Finally she had found the long forgotten T-shirt she had worn only once before accidentally shrinking it in the wash. Where she excelled in being a homicide detective, she lacked in domestic skills, and for once she was thankful for that character trait. The shrunken T-shirt would now be what saved the day for her and Amanda. Amanda would have to wear the faded old jeans she wore there, but at least she would have a clean shirt.
"Hold on Chris, I'm coming!" Rita yelled through the door as she unlocked the bolt. Opening it, she found Chris, his arms loaded down with several grocery bags, attempting to keep them from slipping any further in his grasp.
"Jeez Sammy, it's about time! I was down here calling you for about five minutes. I couldn't even put anything down or it would all fall. What's going on in there?" he complained about having to be kept waiting. "Sammy, you think you could take some of this from me?" he said whining.
"Sorry Chris, we were upstairs trying to find Amanda something to wear." Rita said, grabbing two of the bags from Chris' arms. "Ah Chris, how sweet...it's so cute," she said as she now saw the teddy bear he had tucked under his chin, behind the bags he had been holding.
"Ah, ah, Sammy, this is not for you!" Chris said teasingly to her "I know how you are when it comes to sharing Albert, and I just thought that maybe Amanda would like one of her own." He chuckled at the expression Rita made at him before leading him into the kitchen to place the bags on the counter.
"For your information, Christopher, Albert spent the night snuggled in Amanda’s arms last night, not mine!" Rita said, as she went to the fridge to put the milk and orange juice away.
Chris put his bags on the counter along side hers, and went to stand behind her. He turned her around to face him when she had closed the refrigerator door. "I somehow knew that," he said, as he pulled her into his embrace and gave her a hello kiss before continuing the conversation again. " Which is why I got her one of her own. We can't have you doing without your Albert now, can we?" he teased her.
Rita playfully shoved him away. "You're just jealous that you don't have an Albert Chris. Now, if you will excuse me, I have to go back upstairs and help Amanda finish dressing. I promised her last night that I would french braid her hair for her today. You start breakfast, and we'll be down in a few minutes, all right?
"How is she doing today? You said she talked to you last night?" Chris asked, as he started the pancake breakfast.
"Yeah... we had a little episode last night, but I think she is just really scared now, you know. She wanted her mommy, and wasn't happy that it was me there for her instead, but I think that she understands things a little better now. It's just so sad, Chris. I feel so bad for her."
Chris walked over to Rita, as she looked down to the floor, and took her hand into his as he gently lifted her chin to look at him. "This one is a hard one for you, isn't it? Maybe it would be best for all if you let the child agency take Amanda into their care now. I don't think it's such a good idea for you to allow yourself to get so close, Sam."
Rita pulled away. "No! Chris, she needs somebody now...and that somebody is me. I won't let her down, I promised her." Her voice became less harsh now as she saw the look of concern for her on his face. "Besides, I'm fine...okay?"
Chris nodded, wanting so much to believe her, but not able too. "You sure Sammy?"
Rita nodded at him, a reassuring smile on her face. "Promise. Now, you get to work and make me some pancakes...I'm starving!" She turned to leave the kitchen. "Be down in a few minutes, alright?"
Chris' eyes followed her retreating form as she climbed the stairs. "I hope so, Sammy." he mumbled, before turning his attention back to making breakfast.
As the three of them were eating, Rita mentioned that she needed to go back to Amanda’s place and gather some clothes for her to wear. Something about the look on her face worried Chris though, and he decided that it might be better if he were the one to do that. "No, Rita...why don't you let me do that instead," he said, glancing over at Amanda, as if he were using her as an excuse for his decision.
Rita caught on to what Chris was implying, that maybe Amanda wouldn't want to be left with him just yet. "Oh...sure, that would be great Sam.... Amanda, is there anything you want Chris to get for you? ' Rita asked.
Amanda clutched tightly to the teddy bear that Chris had given to her, and shook her head no. Her anxious eyes betrayed her fear and were filled with tears as she softly spoke. "I just want my mommy, that's all. I don't want anything else."
Chris glanced at Rita, a look passing between them both. "Amanda, you know your mommy’s in heaven now right?" he asked her.
"Yes...I know...she’s dead." Amanda said ever so sadly. "Rita said dead people don't ever come back... but..."
Chris looked quickly over at Rita as Amanda spoke. He noticed that she was looking down now, unwilling to meet his eyes. "But what Amanda?" he asked the child gently.
"My mommy loved me... she loved me a whole lot. She said she would never ever leave me...like my daddy did. She said that she promised me! So I think that maybe soon she might come back... my mommy would never leave me all alone!" Amanda stood up from the table and ran up the stairs, crying. Her teddy bear had fallen to the floor by her empty chair.
Chris started to rise and go after her.
"No, Chris...let me...I uh.... I should have explained it better to her, I guess." Rita said, looking ashamed of herself. "You go get her things, okay?"
"Rita... I don't think...." Chris said, as he stooped down to pick up the teddy bear. “I think maybe you should let me, alright?" His voice wasn't asking, it was demanding.
Rita shrugged her shoulders, a sharp tone to her voice. "Fine Christopher, you do it them." She said as she gathered some of the dishes and walked into the kitchen.
"Yeah, Sam, you’re just fine, aren't you?" he said under his breath before going upstairs to Amanda. He put his worries for Rita aside for the time being, though they continued to eat away in the back of his mind. He wondered what the hell had gotten to her so badly. It was more than Amanda and her having the loss of a parent at such a young age in common, he knew that.
Chris talked to Amanda, and though he knew he couldn't take away the sadness she felt inside, he did manage to put a smile on her face. Amanda wanted to go with him, and Chris decided that maybe it wasn't as bad an idea after all. She could help him to get what she wanted and needed, and maybe it would help her to understand that her mommy really wasn't going to be there waiting for her.
Rita was against the idea, and made her opinion known, but in the end, Chris and Amanda won out, and Rita gave in, claming up coldly as Chris tried to explain his reasons for thinking it may help Amanda more than hurt.
Amanda went right to her bedroom, and began to pick up a few toys from off the floor. Chris went to her dresser and began to put the clothes from it into a bag, noticing that though the clothes were clean, they weren't in the greatest shape. Many of them were extremely faded and worn, and he couldn't help but grimace at the stains he saw in them. Perhaps he and Rita could take her out shopping for some new things later that day. Maybe if he treated Rita to lunch at her favorite restaurant as well, she wouldn't be so mad at him for bringing Amanda to the apartment building.
"Ready Amanda?" he asked, when he had finished packing her clothes.
"Wait!" Amanda yelled, as she quickly ran out of the room and to a closet in the hallway. Chris followed her.
"I can't reach the light...can you Chris?" Amanda asked, looking up at him pleadingly.
"Sure," he said as he pulled the string to turn on the light.
"It's up there," Amanda said pointing up to a shelf. "Can you get it for me, please?"
Chris smiled, seeing the look on Amanda’s face. Already she was practicing her womanly ways, trying to get her way by enticing him with those big eyes of hers. Chris smiled and reached up to the shelf, his hand searching blindly for what he couldn't see.
"Amanda... bring me that little footstool over there... What is it I'm getting anyway?” he asked.
"It's my mommy’s birthday present... she put it up there for me until it's time for her birthday... I made it in school for her." She said proudly, as she pulled the footstool over to him.
Chris stepped up on the stool, and the extra height rose his head above the shelf. He found a tiny box all wrapped up in plain brown shopping bag paper with pictures drawn all over it. He could see a piece of paper tucked in a corner further down the shelf, so he stretched over and took that as well. After getting down, he handed the box and paper to Amanda.
"Thank you," she said taking the box. "This isn't mine... I don't need that," she said as she looked at the paper that he had handed her as well.
Chris took it, seeing a child’s drawing. It looked like a house with a swing set and a mommy, daddy and a little girl. Cute, he thought. "Amanda...are you sure you don't want this?” he asked her.
"No, that's not mine. I didn't make that. I draw people good...better than that!" She was very indignant about that.
Chris smiled at her, then took another look at the drawing. It did seem very old. The paper had once been white, but now was brittle and yellow. He turned it over carefully, thinking Amanda must have made it years ago and forgotten it. He stared at the back of the drawing, unable to take his eyes off of what he saw there. Written in a red crayon was the name Rita Lee Fontana...room 202.
“So, George wants to see you in his office after lunch for trial prep today. Got that?” Cap looked over at Chris to realize he wasn’t even paying attention. “Chris? Earth to Chris?” Cap motioned his hand back and forth before Chris’s face, bringing Chris out of his thoughts.
“What? Oh, sorry Cap. Go on.”
“Lorenzo, have you been listening to a word I’ve said?”
“Sorry, Cap. It’s Rita. We had a fight this morning. I knew she was hiding something and that this case was getting to her more than she was willing to admit, and I thought it was just that she’d also lost both parents at such a young age, but then she was cold to me this morning when I brought them breakfast and took Amanda back to the apartment for some clothes, and when I brought Amanda back before coming in to work, she was still cold and barely listened to a word I said, and...” he spurted out in one breath.
“Whoa! Hold on a second. Take a deep breath and start again... slowly this time.”
“Cap, it’s just that I know she’s not telling me something. We’re supposed to be best friends. She tells me everything,” he said, obviously hurt.
“Maybe she’s just not ready, Chris. I’m sure she’ll tell you in time.”
“Yeah, I guess. It’s just hard knowing she’s hiding something from me,” Chris said, shaking his head, as if shaking the whole subject out of his mind. “I twisted her arm into meeting me for lunch anyway. Maybe she’ll open up. So, what were you saying, Cap?”
“Just that George wants you in his office after lunch for trial prep.”
“Okay, no problem. Hey, Cap you think I could...”
“Go. I don’t need a detective who can’t concentrate on my hands.”
“Thanks, Cap. Be back later,” Chris said, before practically running out of the department.
Rita and Amanda had just returned home from shopping for new clothes when Rita heard her front door open. She knew it had to be Chris, since he was the only one with a key.
“Amanda, why don’t you finish putting these clothes in the drawers with your other ones while I go inside for a bit, okay?”
“Okay, Rita. Then can we go to the park again today?”
Rita went into the living room and stopped at the bottom of the stairs watching Chris search the bottom floor for her. When he turned, their eyes became fixated on each other.
“Hey, Sam,” he said softly.
“What are you doing here?” she asked.
“I couldn’t get any work done because I couldn’t concentrate on anything but you, so I asked Cap to let me go to lunch a little early.”
Rita glanced down at her watching, finding it to be 11:00 a.m. “A little early?” she questioned.
“Okay, a lot early, but I had to see you and resolve what happened this morning.”
“Sammy, I know you’re hiding something from me, and I had planned to wait until you felt comfortable enough to tell me about it, but I have no choice anymore.” He reached into his pocket, pulling out the drawing he’d found at the apartment. “I found this at Amanda’s apartment this morning. Why didn’t you tell me?”
Rita didn’t know what he meant until she got a closer look at the picture. “So, that was the building my father and I lived in. I didn’t realize we needed to be that specific with our pasts. Let’s see... you know my birthdate, do I have to tell you the exact time I was born, too? How about the street Tom and Sue Lance lived on? Or how many cavities I’ve had to date? Or my dress size?”
“First of all, you’re a size two, and second...,” he said, trying to joke his way out of the situation. Realizing that wasn’t working, he went on, “c’mon, don’t do this to me. Don’t clam up and get defensive. I’ve been thinking about this all day and couldn’t come up with one good reason why you wouldn’t tell me. We’re best friends. I thought you knew you could come to me with whatever problems you had. You know you don’t have to tell me everything, but I thought you trusted me enough to want to tell me.” The hurt was evident in his eyes, and it melted Rita’s heart.
“Chris, I do trust you... with my life... with my heart,” she said, walking over to him and falling into his embrace. “This is exactly what I wanted to avoid. I didn’t want to bring up the past and chance ruining the future... our future. I love you, Sam, and my life was perfect for once. I just don’t want to jeopardize that.”
“Hey! You never have to worry about ruining things with me. I love you, too, and now that we’re together, there’s no getting rid of me.”
“I know that in my heart. It’s just my head that doesn’t listen sometimes.”
“Well, don’t worry about anything. Just tell me what’s going on in that gorgeous head of yours.”
“I don’t know. I’m just reliving the day I found my father in the bathtub. Every time I close my eyes I see him lying there. Amanda’s case just hits close to home you know.”
“Yeah, I know,” he said, hugging her closer to him. “You said every time you close your eyes; did you get any sleep last night?” he inferred.
“Of course,” he said, as if she had to ask.
“An hour, maybe two.”
“What? Sam, maybe being so close to Amanda isn’t such a bright idea.”
“No, that’s another reason I didn’t tell you. I can’t let Social Services take her away from me. I feel like I have to help her. Something inside is telling me to be there and get her through this.”
“Okay, okay. But I’m staying here tonight. No objections. You’ve got to get some sleep, and hopefully you’ll feel safe enough to close your eyes, knowing you’re in my arms.”
“That’s really sweet, but it’s not necessary. Besides Amanda...”
“Likes me and has opened up to me on more than one occasion now,” he cut in.
“Well, let’s get a reaction from Amanda first, and if it seems okay by her, I suppose I wouldn’t mind falling asleep in the arms of the man I love.”
“Well, he’d love to have you there,” he said, closing the gap between their lips with a long, endearing kiss, which was of course the exact moment Amanda decided to walk in. They didn’t notice her at first, so she walked over and stared at them for a moment, before they had the feeling they were being watched. When Rita turned to see Amanda standing so close, she literally jumped.
“Amanda, sweetie. I didn’t see you there.”
“What were you doing?” she came right out and asked.
“Umm,” Chris started, but Rita saved him.
“Amanda, come have a seat,” she patted the couch cushion next to Chris. She was still seated on his lap. “Sweetheart, do you know what love is?”
“Ah-huh. Mommy always used to tell me she loved me.”
“Good. Well, Chris and I love each other. Now, what we feel is a little different than how Mommy loved you and you loved Mommy, but I love Chris very much, and I show him by kissing him.”
“Oh,” she said, processing the information Rita had given her.
“And Chris is going to sleep here tonight. Is that okay with you?”
“Sure. Like a sleep over, cool! Can we all sleep in sleeping bags in the living room?”
“No. You’re sleeping in your bed, and Chris is going to sleep with me in my bed.”
“My Daddy used to sleep in Mommy’s bed because they were married. Are you married to Chris, Rita?”
“No, she’s not, but one day she will be,” Chris added without a moment’s thought. Rita’s head snapped around to face Chris, but he refused to look her in the eyes. “Okay kiddo, what do you say to going out for dinner later tonight?”
“Yay! Can we go to McDonalds? I want to play on the playground.”
“Sure. But right now it’s lunch time, so why don’t you go grab your jacket, and we’ll find a deli somewhere.”
“Okay,” Amanda ran off to go get the new jacket Rita had bought for her.
“You should grab a jacket too. We may live in Florida, but it still gets cool in November.” Rita knew he was trying to avoid bringing up the mention of marriage, so she decided to let it go until they were alone, knowing Amanda would be back in a second.
"Can I play on the playground, please?" begged Amanda with the face Chris found absolutely adorable and hard to resist, later that night at dinner.
"Of course...what's a trip to McDonalds if you don't play in the ball pit?" Chris beamed back at her, just like another child, Rita thought.
"After you have finished eating your dinner first," Rita stated, sounding very maternal.
"Ah...no fair!" pouted Amanda
"Amanda, eat first, or you won't be going on the playground at all." said Rita.
"No, I don't want to. I'm not hungry no more.
"Amanda." It was only one word, but Chris heard the warning tone in Rita’s voice.
"But I feel like I'm gonna get a tummy ache," Amanda whined.
"Amanda, on the way here, you were telling us how hungry you were. You have only eaten half a chicken nugget and a few fries. Now, you are going to sit there, and finish your dinner, and when you are done, then you may go play .Is that understood?" Rita ordered.
Amanda pushed her food away, knocking over her soda. Chris quickly grabbed for it, thankful that their had been a lid on it. He was just about to make a compromise for Amanda to eat at least two of the nuggets when Amanda cried out.
"No!" she screamed loudly, causing the other diners to look over at them. "You can't tell me what to do! You’re not my mommy, and I don't have to listen to you!"
Rita stood up. "Fine Amanda. So you’re not hungry. Chris, you ready to go?" Rita looked over to him determinedly, but her voice was strained.
Chris nodded, knowing better then to argue with her. He scooped up the rest of his uneaten dinner and stood. Rita pried Amanda from the chair, and led the wailing child by the arm, out of the restaurant and to the car.
"Damn Sammy." Chris muttered to himself, as he followed behind.
It was quiet on the ride home. Too quiet, thought Chris as he drove, alternating his glances between Rita, who stared out the window, and the rearview mirror, where he could see Amanda. She sat in the backseat, her tantrum over, but still visibly upset.
Chris felt torn between the two. Logic told him that Rita was justified in her wanting Amanda to eat her dinner first, but empathy made him feel for the child He only wished he could see a smile on both their faces. An idea occurred to him then, and instead of turning right at the next stoplight, he went straight ahead.
He pulled into a parking lot, and got out of the car. Opening the back door, he smiled at Amanda.
"Miss Amanda" he bowed to her as he held the door open, and ushered her out.
Taking her tiny hand into his, he walked around to the other side of the car, where Rita still sat, silently seething.
He opened the door. "Sammy, please? For me?" She looked up at him, and saw the face she never could resist. Giving him a relenting smile, she allowed him to take her hand into his free one and help her out.
"Chris, why are we here? " She asked, noticing for the first time that they were at the ocean.
" Thought we could take a walk... watch the sun set." he stated matter of factly.
The three of them walked silently for a few minutes, and then Amanda became interested in the sea gulls. She ran ahead, chasing them and laughing, suddenly forgetting the evening’s earlier incident.
Chris pulled Rita closer to him. "All right, Sammy, I know you better then anyone else in this world, and I know when something is bothering you. What is it?"
Rita sighed sadly. "Mrs. Laramy from social services called today. They found a home to place Amanda in. They're picking her up tomorrow morning."
Chris nodded, beginning to understand everything now. He kissed the top of her head and gently gave her hand a little squeeze "You knew it was coming, hon. It's what’s best for Amanda."
Rita pulled away from him. "You think so. I'm not so sure of that myself. " She took a deep breath in, then let out what she had been thinking. "I know what she's going through...what it feels like to loose a parent... and what it's like being shuffled from one foster home to another...and I've come to love Amanda so much Chris... I'm thinking about seeing if I can be her foster mother...I want her to stay with me permanently."
It came as no surprise to him that Rita had fallen in love with the child, but what did surprise him was that Rita would even consider keeping her. This from the same woman who wouldn't get herself a dog or a cat because she didn't have the time to care for it?
"Sam... have you given any real thought to that...I mean that is quite a lot of responsibility, not to mention that it is a life altering decision, not just for you, but also Amanda. I mean, what about work?" He said that aloud, but at the same time he was thinking...what about us?
"You don't think I'm responsible enough...or that maybe I can't handle a child, is that it? Well, Christopher, I have given this a lot of thought. Amanda would be in school all day, and I could work then...maybe I could even transfer to a desk job, if they think that would be best for her. I'm not kidding myself, Chris, I know it won't be easy, but I think this could work out for the both of us."
"Sammy...." He cut himself off, shaking away the thoughts that he was having, but knew better then to say aloud... The both of us? Her and Amanda... but what about him? And what about her own needs? Rita saw his hesitation.
She asked defensively. "You don't think I would be a good mother for her, do you?"
The look on her face told him he had better speak his mind, even if he was brutally honest with her. It would be better then for her to reach her own conclusions about what he was thinking.
"Sam... no, it's not that. I think you would be a wonderful mother, when the time was right. For now though, I'm not sure your ready to take on another burden. You have so much already that you need to get past first. Amanda is an adorable little girl, Rita, and I like her a lot... but... Sammy, I 'm concerned about you, and I know that taking on Amanda at this time in your life just wouldn't be a good idea.
"A burden? Is that what she is, Chris? I don't think of her as that...and I am so grateful that the Lances didn't feel the same way!" She turned and walked furiously away from him.
Chris caught up with her in a few strides. He grabbed her shoulder and forced her to turn around and face him. "Damn it Rita...You haven't been yourself ever since we were given this case! You know as well as I do that Amanda needs more then you can give to her right now. You need to take care of yourself before you can try to help her!"
Her anger shown brightly in her eyes as she tried to pull away from him. "Chris, not that again! I told you to let it drop! I don't want to bring up my past. It's over, and I'm over it. Now let me go!"
"Sammy, hear me out first. Please." It was the quiet calm in his voice against the fury in her own that touched her. She heard his gentle plea, and it pulled at her heart.
He reached out his hand for hers, and she allowed him to take it. They walked silently before finally Chris began to speak. " Your right, Sam...The past is over, finished... but it isn't gone yet...it still exists, and will always exist, until you learn to accept it. I think that you want it to be over so badly, but maybe that is why it keeps coming back to you. You are trying too hard to pretend it isn't a part of your life, and who you are now, but Sammy, I think you need to just accepted it, and find a way to deal with it."
"Chris...your a wonderful cop, but sometimes I wish you'd cut the psychology crap. I told you I am fine."
"Oh, you’re telling me that you’re fine, but I see otherwise, Rita. Today I simply mentioned the word marriage in passing, and all the color literally drained from your face. Then you hardly spoke a word to me or Amanda all night, and when you finally do, suddenly you turn tyrant on a six year old child. Sammy, this case is bothering you more then you’re letting on. Please, don't shut me out. I can handle anything else in this world but that." His voice tightened with his emotions and Rita lost all the aggression she had within her at hearing his pain. She opened her arms for him, and they came together in a hug.
"I'm sorry Sam, I really am. I don't mean to shut you out. When I'm with you, I am the happiest I've ever been.... but then I am also the most afraid too. It scares me, but I have no idea why, except that I feel maybe I shouldn't be too happy... and I don't know how not to feel that way, Chris."
"Shh, Sammy. It's okay. I'm here, and I will always be here for you...we'll get through this, I promise. He held her tightly in his arms, wishing with all his heart he knew just how to go about making his promise to her come true.
"Yeah, well, I apologize Sam... for my bad mood and for tonight. Now I guess I'll go apologize to Amanda as well. I think maybe I did over react a bit too much."
Rita chased after Amanda, swooping her up into her arms. Chris could hear their laughter as he watched them walk down the beach hand in hand. In that moment he knew what he wanted most in his life, and he saw it in his future. He would be the happiest man alive if he could marry Rita and maybe one day have children with her. His wishful thinking only made him more determined then ever to help his Sammy confront and slay her demons.
Later that night, after the three of them had eaten a pizza due to the fact that they were still hungry, and Amanda was all bathed and snuggled in the new Rugrats pajamas that Rita had bought for her, they all crashed in front of the TV to watch a movie. Within an hour, Amanda had fallen asleep.
Chris carried her upstairs to the guestroom and Rita followed. They tucked her in, and Chris placed the teddy bear he had brought for her that morning into her arms. Rita sat on the bed, tenderly caressing some hair away from the little girl’s cheek.
"I don't want her to go tomorrow Sam. I wish...." she whispered sadly.
Chris came around to the other side, and kneaded away the knots he felt in her shoulders. "I know Sammy, but it's for the best and if you’re really honest with yourself, you’ll know that too. I'll bet she gets a Tom and Sue Lance right from the start," he said, trying to cheer her up.
"I hope you’re right, Chris..." She thought to herself. Amanda deserved someone who would really be there for her...and she wasn't exactly convinced just yet that she couldn't be that person.
Chris led an exhausted Rita into her bedroom. Knowing she desperately needed to relax, he decided to help the process along. He took her hand and moved her to the bed, taking a seat behind her, and then gently kneaded the tension out of her shoulders. He instantly felt her begin to relax and was pleased with the soft moans emanating from within her. When he felt she was sufficiently at ease, he helped her to undress, while placing angel soft kisses on her neck and down her shoulders.
“Ooh, I like that." Rita cooed.
"Well...it is the oldest remedy for insomnia in the world, you know." Chris teased, as he twirled a strand of her hair, loving the way it felt like smooth silk on his fingertips.
“Oh, I see.... do you think it really works?" Rita asked very seductively, as she leaned in for another kiss.
"I have no idea," Chris played innocent for her. "But I’m more than willing to try it out. How about you?"
Her only response was to smile as he slowly guided her down on the bed, never once breaking away from the kiss they shared. His body above her gave her a sense of security that no other place could possibly give. Here in his arms, she felt like the outside world couldn’t touch her, and that’s what she needed right now. She needed to believe that she could feel this happy for the rest of her life. She needed to believe that she’d always have Chris at her side. But most of all, she needed to believe that Mrs. Laramy wasn’t coming to take Amanda away from her tomorrow.
Moments later, as Chris lay above her, holding her face in his hands, he looked into her eyes whispering, "I love you, Rita... heart and soul, I love you."
Rita reached up and wiped away the tears from his eyes. "I love you too...I love you so much, Chris... I love you...I love you." Her words were captured by his kiss and were replaced instead by the passion of the moment.
A few hours later, as he laid in the tranquility of the early morning hours, Chris held a very restless, but sleeping Rita in his arms. Occasionally she would whimper softly or shudder and then cling to him in her sleep. Chris would quietly whisper words of comfort to her, and try to kiss away her fears. Eventually her agitated movements stilled as she lay in the arms that sheltered her and her sleep finally became more peaceful.
Chris kept her in his arms the entire night, watching over her until he was assured she had finally fallen into the deep and dreamless sleep that had eluded her the night before. Knowing what tomorrow would bring for Rita, he wanted her to get as much rest as she could.
The next morning everyone sat around the breakfast table in silence. Chris and Rita had explained to Amanda that someone was coming from social services to pick her up and take her to her new home. Although Rita did plan to ask how she herself could become Amanda’s foster mother, she did not want Amanda to get her hopes up in case it wasn’t possible. Rita’s hopes were high enough for the both of them. Amanda was very distraught over the fact that she was leaving. It seemed to the poor girl that everyone she loved was leaving her one by one. Chris and Rita had found out that Amanda’s father had been killed in a car accident when Amanda was only three years old. Then, her grandmother had passed away only a mere year after that. And now, she’d lost her mother and was losing Rita, the person who’d come to care for her as a daughter. No one should be faced with that much loss in such a short time, Chris and Rita thought.
When the doorbell rang, they all were startled to the point that their heads literally snapped up. Rita looked at Chris, needing to find the strength to get through this day in his eyes. She did. He took her hand and brought it to his face, gently kissing it, before getting up to answer her door. He let the social worker in and led her to the couch, where Rita and Amanda joined them.
“Hi, Amanda. My name is Mrs. Laramy. It’s very nice to see you again,” she stuck out her hand to the girl, but before Amanda would shake it, she looked to Rita, as if to check and make sure it was okay. Rita nodded, and Amanda placed her hand uneasily in Mrs. Laramy’s. “Did Rita tell you why I came here this morning?” the woman continued, testing Amanda’s reaction.
“Yes. She said you want to take me away,” Amanda said, sadly, her scared voice breaking Rita’s heart. “But I don’t want to go. I like it here.”
Mrs. Laramy was surprised at the bond Amanda had formed with Rita in such a short time. She’d been in this job for many years and had never seen attachments forged so fast.
“Sweetheart, I’d like to talk to the social worker for a minute. Will you go and put your new stuffed animals that Chris and I bought you in your suitcase?”
“Sure,” she scampered off into Rita’s guestroom.
“I see she’s opened up. Has she been able to help you in your investigation by recalling any details?” Mrs. Laramy asked.
“Not really, no, but that’s not what I wanted to talk to you about?”
“I...,” she looked at Chris and took his hand for strength. “I’d like to know what it will take for me to become Amanda’s foster mother.”
“I’m sorry that’s not possible.”
Rita’s heart dropped. “Why not?”
“Well, you see a foster family has already been arranged for Amanda, and even if it weren’t, you’re not licensed to become a foster parent. There are tests to be undergone, home evaluations, background checks, and much more. It would take months until you were certified, and by then, Amanda would be adjusted in her new home.”
“I see,” Rita said, holding back tears.
“I can see that you have much love to share with a child though. Would you consider being a foster mother to another child after going through the certification process?”
“Maybe sometime in the future... I just... I can’t right now. It’s too soon.” Chris moved from his spot behind the couch, taking a seat next to Rita and wrapping his arms around her in comfort.
“I understand, dear,” the older woman sympathized.
“I packed my toys, Rita. But the suitcase is too heavy. Chris, can you carry it in for me?” Amanda said, re-entering the living room.
“Sure, Amanda.” Chris went to retrieve the suitcase.
When he reappeared, suitcase in hand, Mrs. Laramy stood up. “I’m afraid it’s time to go, Amanda. The Olmens are waiting for you.” The Olmens were her future parents.
Rita looked too pained to speak, so Chris said his good byes first. “Hey there, Shorty. C’mon over here.” Amanda walked over and took a seat on his lap. “Now, Mrs. Laramy is going to take you to the Olmens house.”
“Who are they?”
“They’re going to be your new parents. You’ll get to live with them, and you’ll go to school, and things like that, okay?”
“I guess,” she said, not very enthusiastically.
“All right, well you’ve got to do me a favor. Will you be good for the Olmens... listen to what they say and don’t shut ‘em out? Can you promise me that?”
“Good. Now, give me a huge hug, and make it a good one.” Amanda smiled, despite the situation, and threw her arms tightly around Chris’s neck. Then, she stepped back and looked at Rita, who patted the seat next to her for Amanda to take a seat.
“Are you scared?” Rita asked the little girl.
“Only a little.”
“A little, huh? Well, there’s nothing to be scared about. I bet the Olmens are really great people who are gonna love you and treat you like their daughter.”
“But what about you? I want to live with you.”
“I know, Amanda, and I want you to live here, but you can’t. It’s just not possible, Sweetheart. Look, I promise everything’s gonna be okay. And I’m gonna come visit you as often as I can, okay? Maybe the Olmens will even let you come visit me sometimes too.”
“Really? You think they would?”
“Yeah, I think so. I’ll come visit you in a few days, and we can ask them then.”
“Yay!” Amanda threw her arms around Rita. Rita embraced her back.
“Amanda, dear, it really is time to leave,” Mrs. Laramy said. Rita gave Amanda one last hug before letting her go and watching her walk to Mrs. Laramy and out the door.
As the door closed, Rita could feel Chris’s arms go around her waist as she broke down in sobs. Outside the door, Amada’s crying could be heard as well, making Rita turn towards the door. Chris could feel her trying to pull herself out from his embrace, but he tightened his arms firmly around her, knowing that she wanted to go to Amanda.
"Let go of me, Chris" she pleaded through her sobs.
"I'm sorry Sammy, I can't." He said, hating the look of desperation he saw on her face, as Amada’s screams began to fade in the distance. She began to hit him on his chest, but he only stood there holding onto her even more tightly, and after a few seconds she realized what she was doing and stopped. She buried her face in his chest and continued to cry, as she slowly sank in his arms. Chris guided her to sit on the sofa and wrapped her in his embrace. After a few moments he tried to comfort her.
"Shh, it's okay...it's gonna be okay." He gently kissed the top of her head. "She's gonna be fine, Sammy."
Rita finally looked up at him, shaking her head. "You don't know what's it's like, Chris...you just don't know."
Chris looked at her curiously, trying to understand what she meant. There was so much about her that he still didn't know, and yet he knew her better then anyone else in the world, and even better then himself. If they were to ever have a future, he knew she would have to overcome her past. What he didn't know was how he was going to make that happen.
Unless one knew Rita Lance very well, it could never have been guessed that she carried a heavy heart to work with her that day. In typical Rita style, she buried her pain in the pile of work that sat on her desk. The forensic tests had just come back that morning, verifying that it was Mark Stevens, the congressman’s son, who pulled the trigger on himself, first killing Amanda’s mother, as his prints were also on the knife. Now what was still needed was the why of it. Rita had her suspicions about why Mark Stevens was there, and now she was determined to prove it.
Chris watched Rita from across their desks. She chewed thoughtfully on the end of her pencil, and her eyebrows were scrunched up together as she looked over the Williams file. Occasionally she would reach behind her neck and give it a little rub. She seemed a bit paler, and Chris couldn't help but feel concern for her. The emerald sweater she was wearing normally brought out the brilliance of her green eyes, and always seemed to add an extra vibrancy to her whole face. Today all that was missing, even with the sweater.
Rising from his chair, Chris walked over to the coffeepot and poured her a mug of the freshly brewed liquid. "Here you go Sammy," he said, as he placed the steaming mug and her favorite doughnut by her side.
Rita looked up and offered him a smile. "Thanks Sam."
Chris stood behind her, gently massaging her shoulders, in hopes of releasing some of the tension he felt there. "So have you come up with anything yet?" he asked.
Rita took a sip of her coffee, then nodded her head "Maybe... not sure yet. Look at this though. It says here that they found a key for a vault at Palm Savings and Loan. Now what would a woman with only fifty-seven dollars in her checking account need with a vault?"
Chris glanced at his watch. "If we hurry, we can get a judge to issue the search warrant before they close for the day."
Two hours later, after a persuading discussion to convince a judge for the search warrant and a quick roach coach lunch with Cap to fill him in, Chris and Rita walked into the bank.
The manager led them back to a room for privacy and set a small black vault on the table between the two detectives. Chris slid the key into the lock and the door opened. Rita reached inside, and brought out the only thing that was kept in the steel box. It was a single video cassette tape.
"Well, well... looks like we're gonna be treated to a movie today Sam." Chris joked.
Back at the station, Rita made a side trip to the District Attorney’s office to invite George Donavan to join them in viewing the tape. Chris went on ahead to Caps office to set up the VCR.
"So anyway, Fran is delirious over finding this new health food market. The owner has been giving her all kinds of recipes, and she's been trying them all out ... On me... Have you ever tasted seaweed quiche?
Chris was uncommonly quiet as he went about getting the VCR hooked up to the TV. He appeared to be lost in his own thoughts.
"Lorenzo!" Cap barked.
"Hmmm" Chris looked up at his captain. "Oh sorry Cap. What were you saying?"
" I asked you if you have ever eaten seaweed quiche?"
Chris made a face, revealing his disgust at the thought. "You’re kidding me, right?"
“I wish I was. I was up all night...my entire face swelled up like a balloon. I still don't have all the feeling back," Cap complained as he gave both his cheeks a pinch. "Never mind that though, Lorenzo, I want to know what's up with you and Rita today? You've both been moping around here all day. You two have a fight?"
"No Cap, nothing like that. Rita's just upset...you know Amanda leaving and all"
Cap nodded. "I'm not surprised. I could see how much they connected with each other right away. She's gonna make a great mother someday." He beamed proudly as if he was speaking of his own daughter.
“Yeah, she will someday...the problem is that she got her heart set on keeping Amanda. She wanted to be her foster mother, only Mrs. Laramy told her it wasn't possible for her to get Amanda."
Cap nodded his head. "So that is why she's not herself...is that what's also bothering you?"
Chris sighed heavily. "Cap...that is only part of it. I found out yesterday that the scene of the Williams crime was where Rita lived with her father...the same apartment, Cap...weird huh?"
Cap shivered. "Yeah...She never said anything though Chris. I would never have sent her over there if I had known that."
"Well, it's not as if she told me either. I found out on my own and confronted her about it. She admitted it, but ...Cap, she never talks about her past ...never, not even with me." Chris said, sounding a little hurt.
"Look Chris, it probably isn't something she enjoys discussing, you know. You can't blame her." Cap said gently.
Chris wiped away the single tear that had managed to escape him. "No Cap. That is exactly why it's become such a problem for her now. I don't think she's ever really dealt with it, accepted it... you know? All her life, she's been trying so hard to get past it, but this case... in a sense it took her back to that day again, brought everything back for her. She is still trying to run from it though, Cap, and I just don't know how I can help her through this."
Cap put his hand on Chris's shoulder, giving it a reassuring squeeze. "Give her time, Chris. Just be there for her, let her know how much you love her, that's about all you can do. I'll talk to Franny tonight, and we'll do the same."
“Thanks Cap.” Chris smiled then. "You wanna see something?" His face brightened up immediately as he pulled out the small white box.
"Is that what I think it is?" Cap asked.
"Yep," Chris opened the box to show off the diamond engagement ring he had specially made for Rita. It was a duplicate of the friendship ring he had given her years before, only this one held a small heart shaped diamond in it.
"Very nice, Lorenzo. You gonna give it to her anytime soon?"
"I hope to Cap, I hope to."
"Well, as your friend, I couldn't be more delighted. As your captain, I can't say this is a good thing. Keeping your relationship discreet was one thing, but a marriage between partners... the department will never allow that. I'll loose my best homicide team."
"Yeah Cap... but look at it this way. You'd be a grandpa someday."
Cap’s smile was the biggest Chris had ever seen from him as he once again patted Chris' shoulder, more enthusiastically this time.
"You know Lorenzo... I've been giving some thought lately to retiring soon. Grandpa’s make the best babysitters you know."
"Ha!" Chris laughed just as Rita walked in, followed by George.
"So we ready?" She asked, taking note that Chris was quickly hiding something in his pocket.
"I am Sammy," he said, smiling devilishly at her.
Hmmm, she thought to herself. Something was up with him. Her new mission was to find out what it was.
Rita walked around the room, her arms folded across her chest as she thought out loud to the others in the room. "So what do we know already?" Mark Stevens was married.... and he was planning on following in his father’s footsteps in the next election. The tape tells us he and Joanna Williams were sleeping together...perhaps using each other. My guess is that Stevens decided that his little affair wouldn't help his campaign any, and decided to put an end to it. Joanna Stevens wasn't too happy with the news. Probably threatened to make it public, unless he paid her off... would use the tape to blackmail him. He goes over, maybe to reason with her, maybe to put a stop to it if need be.... but when that doesn’t work, he ends up slashing her throat."
"The next door neighbor says in her statement that she heard Joanna scream, and immediately began pounding on the door. When she heard a gunshot she went to call the police. I think he just got scared, panicked and turned his gun on himself then." Chris added.
"Has the little girl said anything about it at all?" George asked.
"No....I don't think she actually saw what happened. The cops found her hiding under her blankets. I think she was awoken by the gunshot and just got scared."
"Well, it all makes sense to me then" George agreed. "There isn't any other explanation...no other foul play...so I don't think I'm needed for this one guys."
"Looks that way. Case closed." Cap replied, before turning to face his two detectives. "I want the paperwork on my desk before you leave tonight. Got that?"
“We’re on it, Cap,” Chris said, ushering his partner out of the office and heading off to the paperwork that awaited them.
After work that night, Chris and Rita were at his place, lounging on the couch watching TV, but Chris could tell Rita’s mind was still on Amanda. He switched off the TV and turned her to face him.
“What ya thinking about?”
“Nothing,” she lied.
“Uh-uh. I ain’t buyin’, Sammy. Speak up or face the consequences.”
“Consequences?” she asked skeptically, with a “yeah right” look on her face.
“Yep!” Chris said, wiggling his eyebrows with a grin covering his face.
Rita shook her head at his childish antics but smiled back at his grinning face anyway. “I was just wondering about some stuff, Sam. No big deal.”
“Yeah, mostly. It just hurts so much to give her up.”
“I know. How about we go visit her on out lunch break tomorrow? You don’t think she’ll be back in school yet, do you?”
“I don’t think so. She still has to get adjusted to the Olmens.”
“Ok, so what do you say?”
“I think it’s a great idea.” She hugged him lovingly. “Thank you for being so understanding. I love you so much, you know that?”
“Maybe.” he kidded.
“Maybe?” she asked. He grinned, the same devilish smile he wore earlier in Cap’s office. “Oh, you want me to prove it, huh?”
“Ok, maybe later,” she said solemnly, attempting to hold a serious face long enough to get up off the couch and turn away. Chris’s dejected face was too much to bear though, and she burst into a fit of laughter. “Got ya!”
“Ooh, you’re bad,” he said, pulling her back down on top of him and engulfing her mouth in a kiss. They both pulled back, breathless and smiling. “So you said Amanda was only mostly what you were thinking about. What’s the rest of it?”
“No way, Sam. We’re not doing this again. ‘Fess up.”
“Fine,” she said, slightly annoyed at his probing. Was she allowed to have any secrets? “I was thinking about what might have went on between you and Cap in his office today before George and I got there.”
“What do you mean? We weren’t doing anything,” he said, suddenly claming up a little.
“Uh-uh. No double standards here, Sam. If I have to tell you everything, same goes for you. Unless of course you don’t trust me...” she trailed off, pretending to be hurt.
“Well, if you want to ruin your surprise...”
“Surprise?” she cut him off excitedly.
“Yep. I was gonna take you out for dinner, maybe a movie, a walk on the beach, then give you your surprise, but if you’d rather skip all that fun and have me just tell you now...”
“No, no! I’ll wait. When are we going to dinner?”
Chris looked at his watch. “I made reservations for 8:00, and the movie starts at 9:40.”
“8:00? Chris, it’s already 7:00. I need to get ready!” She jumped up, practically running for the bedroom.
“Wear something warm. Remember we’re going to the beach after the movie. It’ll be late, and it’s gonna get cold.”
“Ok,” he heard her muffled response from what he could only guess could be inside her closet. He laughed. She was in for the shock of her life.
Chris’s plans for the evening had so far turned out all wrong. The quiet restaurant he’d chosen for it’s romantic ambiance - or at least that’s how it had been advertised in the paper - turned out to be a madhouse. The place was new and therefore packed for its grand opening. Chris didn’t want to stay, his heart set on a romantic atmosphere, but Rita had read about the place in the paper and was dying to try the food, so they stayed. Only a few words were spoken throughout dinner because the high noise level prevented them. The movie he’d chosen was a bust too. Highly overrated by the critics and entirely unentertaining. That last point was proven when Rita had fallen asleep, her head on his shoulder. The only saving grace, Chris thought as they walked hand in hand out of the theater, would be the walk on the beach.
As they pulled up, Chris walked around the car and gentlemanly opened Rita’s car door. She smiled, taking his hand as he led her toward the sand, first grabbing a blanket from the back seat.
“Look at the sky. It’s beautiful,” Rita said as they walked along the sand, looking for a place to sit down. Finding one, he spread out the blanket.
“Not as beautiful as you,” he commented to her delight. He held his hand out for her to take again, motioning toward the shore. “Walk with me?” he asked softly. She nodded.
They walked for a couple minutes, alternately glancing between the starlit sky and each other. Chris seemed very nervous, which put Rita on her guard. He suddenly stopped, bringing Rita to a halt as well, their hands still joined.
“What is it, Sam? You’ve been preoccupied all night.”
“I know, I’m sorry. And I’m sorry about tonight too. I wanted it to be perfect, and then the restaurant was packed, and the movie was terrible.”
“The movie wasn’t that bad,” she said, trying to help him out a little.
“You fell asleep, Sammy.”
She grinned sheepishly. “You noticed that, did ya?” He nodded. “I was just so comfortable, sitting there with your arm around me and no lights that I couldn’t help but fall asleep.”
“Nice try, but I watched the entire movie, and believe me it really was boring.”
“Well, that doesn’t matter. The night was not as bad as you’re making it out to be. Look at where we are. The beach is beautiful at night. The stars are so bright.”
“I know, but...”
“No buts. Now I’ve waited patiently all night, so where’s my surprise?” she asked, changing the subject.
He smiled. “Didn’t forget about that, huh?”
“Not a chance. So...?”
“Let’s go take a seat.”
“You’re prolonging the inevitable, Sam. I’ll get it out of you sooner or later.” They sat facing each other on the blanket Chris had spread out earlier.
“You’re right, Rita. This is inevitable. We’re inevitable.” He paused, building up the courage to go on. “We’ve been through so much together this week. Heck, we’ve been through so much since we’ve known each other. And you have to know that more than anything in the world, I love you. You’re my heart and soul, Sammy. You’re my everything.”
“Where is this coming from, Chris?”
He brought his finger to her lips, silencing her. “Let me say this.” She nodded, still not fully understanding where he was going with this. “Rita, watching you with Amanda this week solidified the feeling I’ve had in my gut since we got involved. I watched you comfort her when she cried and laugh with her when she needed to smile and tuck her in at night, do all the things a mother does for her child, and it only made me realize how much I want that with you. I want to have children with you. I want to grow old together with you. I want to wake up every single morning and not have to guess as to whether you’re there or not. I want to know you belong there because you do belong there, Rita. For the rest of my life, I want you by my side. I want to be your husband. I want you to be my wife, Sam. Will you marry me?”
Rita turned away, looking out over the ocean, wondering just what she could say to him. How could she tell him that yes, she would love to marry him, but no, she couldn't? And when he asked her why she couldn't, what would she say? That she was afraid... that she didn't know why, but that the whole idea of marrying him both thrilled her and terrified her all at once. Could she ask him to be any more patient with her then he has already been, to just give her a little bit more time...
She could already hear in his voice the disappointment in her reaction... the fading hope, as if he knew what her answer would be by her silence. She closed her eyes in an effort to keep back the tears she felt were coming., and to avoid seeing his face as she tried her best not to shatter his heart.
Chris... I love you so much, I want you to believe that. I want us to be together forever, but right now... I don't think... I'm sorry... I wish... No.... you mean too much to me... I can't... not right now...I just need some time." Inwardly she was cursing herself for what she was saying to him...for not making any sense, and for feeling this way at all.
Chris had known immediately as he sat watching her that she would say no. She wasn't ready yet, he could see that...he should have seen it before when she had skirted around the topic. Still, he had hoped...and although he understood now, it didn't make it hurt any less. The entire evening had been a bust, but this was his limit. He stood and took a few steps off the blanket, then stopped and he looked out over the same ocean she was, controlling the pain, the disappointment and even anger in his voice, so that it wasn't directed at her. He loved her too much to hurt her.
"Fine Sammy... I understand... you need more time. You know, I think I need to be alone for awhile. You take the car and go home... I'll see you tomorrow, okay?"
"Chris... I love you...please don't be angry."
"I'm not angry, Sammy...I just want to take a walk. I've got some thinking to do, that's all."
Rita saw him stand, his hands stuffed in his pockets as he looked out to the ocean, and not at her. She stood as well, and walked towards him, trying to get him to look at her, to admit to her that yes, he was angry with her. She couldn't let him walk away from her feeling like that... She wanted to apologize... to try and explain to him.
"Yes, Chris, you are so angry! I know when you’re upset.... and right now you’re mad at me for saying no."
"Look Rita," His voice rose to her, exactly what he had been trying not to do... "Don't tell me what I'm feeling.... I don't think you have any idea what it is I'm feeling these days. "He realized he was speaking out loud the things he had been feeling, and he stopped before his words could do any more damage then they had already done.
His words caught her off guard, stung at her almost as if he had slapped her. How could he even think she didn't know him? He was the one person she did know.
"I certainly know you aren't feeling patience these days, are you? All I asked for was time," she snapped at him.
"Fine, Rita... you need time. Take all the time you need. Just retreat back to that corner inside you, and bury your head, Sam.... Do what you always do... keep your eyes closed, and cover your ears... that way you can keep away all the bad stuff. If you can't see it, or hear it, then you won't have to feel it then, isn't that right, Rita? But you’re forgetting one thing, Rita. While your hiding in that corner, the sun still rises and sets, people are living and learning, they are laughing and crying, loving and hating... some are dying and others are being born. One day, Sammy, you are going to look up and see all that around you, and you’re going to want to be apart of it, but you won't be able to. You'll see them laugh, but you won't know how to laugh with them. You'll see them love, but you won't feel it in return...that's what you’re doing to yourself, Rita. You’re happy, but you’re afraid to feel that way... just like you’re afraid to feel sad when the memories come. Don't you see Sammy? You won't let yourself feel too much of any emotion... but they are there, and you know it... so you keep trying to control the feelings. Can't be too happy because it might not last... can't be too sad cause maybe it will last... You’re doing this all to yourself... and pretty soon. you won't feel anything at all... You'll be dead inside. I love Rita, more then I can sometimes bear because it is so intense, so powerful, and wonderful. It hurts me to see you like this. I would do anything for you, Sammy, anything. And if time was what you really needed, I'd wait forever... but it's not time you need. Rita, don't you see? What you need is to allow yourself to feel what is inside you... to experience life, and love as it is meant to be lived. And if you can't do that, then I can't stand by anymore and watch you destroy yourself...and us. I just can't Sammy, and I won't."
By the time he had finished speaking his mind, they were both in tears. He turned away from her, hating to see the pain on her face, knowing he had put it there. But he couldn't cave in now. It was time Rita made some decisions about her life. Was she going to live it or hide from it? He took the hardest steps he would ever have to take in his life and walked away from her.
"Don't leave me, Chris...please!" She shouted after him, her voice breaking with sobs. "Chris...don't you leave me too...please"
Chris could hear her heartache, hear the words she had said... and he cried with her as he walked away.
Rita had somehow found her way back to her loft, in a blurry haze of tears and the echoing words that Chris had spoken. His words wrenched at her heart all through the night and so did the memory of her refusing his proposal. Her own words drifted in and out of her consciousness.
"You mean too much to me..." Had she really said it like that? Did she really think it like that? She loved Chris, yes... he was her whole life, and telling him he meant that much to her was perfectly logical, but telling him he meant too much... too much for her to marry him? Why would she say those words to him like that she wondered?
With a tearstained face, she fell asleep. And in her dreams, she waited for Chris to come back to her, to hold her in his arms and tell her everything was okay again and that he would always be there for her. Instead she watched as he walked away from her without looking back. He walked across a bridge and she tried to follow after him, but just as she reached the bridge, it disappeared and she was left staring at Chris on the other side. He was reaching out for her now, but she couldn't come to him. Then he turned from her, leaving her, and she screamed for him to come back, that she loved him... And then she saw a little girl, huddled in a corner and crying hysterically. She had her eyes closed and refused to open them, screaming at the adults in the room who were trying to talk to her, flinching as they touched her. Then she saw that same little girl, standing by her father’s coffin, hating him for leaving her all alone, hating herself for hating him. She had loved him so much, and she thought he had loved her just as much...and the little girl was confused how she could hate him the way she did now and how he could hate her so much that he didn't want to be with her anymore. She couldn't understand it, didn't want to feel the way she was, and so instead she tried not to think about it at all. It was better not to feel the happiness she did when she remembered how he had tucked her in a night and read her stories, and it was better not to think about the time when he had decided that he had nothing left to live for anymore. It all just hurt too much.
And then there was Chris again, and he standing with another woman, their backs to her. She could see how happy they were and how much he loved the woman. She began to cry as she watched them together, as they walked along a beach. She called to Chris, but he only turned to her and shook his head. The woman beside him looked back to her, and Rita froze. She saw herself, and she was so happy walking beside Chris, her hand in his. Ahead of them was a cave, and it was dark inside, but they just smiled at each other and held onto the others hand and entered into the cave. She followed after them, but she couldn't see them anywhere inside, only the blackness. When she came out on the other side, she was standing in a cemetery, and all around her were headstones. She saw her father’s name and ran from it, only to find her name on another. She stared at the name and tried to scream, realizing now that it was only a dream, but she couldn't wake up... and she couldn't scream. She could only stand there looking at her grave .She heard Chris come up behind her with the other woman, the other her, and she could hear him talking. "Pretty soon, you won't feel anything at all... you'll be dead inside."
Rita had awoken from the dream with a start, at first not understanding where it had come from and looking for Chris to feel the warmth and security he usually offered her at such times, but he wasn't there. She remembered last night, and wished that all had been a dream too. She wanted so much to call him, to apologize to him, but she didn't know how or what she could say. She didn't even think she could face him that morning, and so she called in sick before even Cap had arrived.
She dressed and decided to go jogging. She needed to release some of the pent up emotions inside of her. She jogged up and down the beach, as scenes from last night... the ones in her reality and her dreams... played out in her mind. Afterwards, she showered and dressed, wanting to still go see Amanda and check on how she was settling in.
She pulled up along a curb, but then realized that the foster home Amanda was staying in was still a few houses down the block. She gathered up the gifts she had brought for Amanda and walked along the sidewalk, dodging a young boy on a bicycle and his mother, laughing and cheering him on as she ran after him. Spotting the house that Amanda lived in, she quickened her pace, smiling as she heard the sound of children laughing. She peeked around the bushes that rose above the fenced in yard. There were several children in the yard, some playing on the swing set, and a few little girls were sitting at a child sized picnic set and playing with some dolls and a tea party set, Amanda among them. Rita smiled at the scene as she watched Amanda. Amanda was the one pouring the teapot, and she gave a smaller child a cup of the pretend tea, and leaned down to kiss her. Then she grabbed another cup and ran over to the patio. Rita saw for the first time, a man sitting in a wheel chair and watching the children. He stopped tossing a boy to one of the boys and happily took the tea party cup from Amanda and pretended to drink it. When he had finished, Amanda whispered something to him, and he leaned down to hear her secret. Rita watched as Amanda climbed on his lap, and he returned the hugs she gave to him.
"May I help you?"
Rita jumped, as she realized that someone was standing behind her. She turned to see the lady who had been chasing the little boy on the bike. She opened the gate and shooed the little boy into the yard, but she stood there now, looking questioningly at Rita.
"Oh... I am sorry. " Rita extended her hand and introduced herself. She explained why she was there and how she knew Amanda. The woman gave her a pleasant smile then, held out her hand to Rita.." Well, I'm Pamela Olmen, Amanda’s foster mother. She really is a lovely little girl, isn't she?"
Rita agreed, then went back to watching Amanda play. "Would you like to come inside and see her, Rita?" asked Mrs. Olmen.
"No... I don't think so... not yet anyway... but thank you." Rita said declining her offer as she smiled. “I guess I just wanted to make sure she was happy, but I can see she is. I don't want to intrude on that right now." Rita tried to explain to the young woman.
"Are you sure?" asked Pamela.
"Yes... but maybe another time... after she has settled in some more. Would that be alright?" asked Rita.
"Of course it would be. She has talked a lot about you and Chris, especially when she first arrived.... but John, there... well, he just has such a way with kids... it doesn't usually take them long for them to warm up to him."
"That's really great" said Rita, as she watched Pamela’s husband playing with two other children now, as well as Amanda. "He seems wonderful with them, really. Are any of them your own?"
"No. We have seven foster children now, and in a few days we are expecting a four month old infant.... it's a full house." Pamela laughed at Rita’s shocked look. "John and I always wanted to have a lot of children... that is why we bought this house. It has six bedrooms in it, but then a few years back, John was hit by a drunk driver. I almost lost him... and all our dreams. When he was in the coma, I used to sit by his side and remind him every day of our dreams.... and you know... when he finally woke up, he told me that it was the sound of my voice and me talking about our plans for the future that helped him come back to me. When we learned he was paralyzed from the waist down, it was devastating... but we pulled through it together... and the same when we found out that his injuries also dashed our hopes for children.
"I'm so sorry." Rita said to her, touching her elbow.
Pamela smiled back. "As I said, we were devastated at first, but you know, if you really want something, you find a way to make it happen. We talked about adoption, but the chances were slim, with Johns' health problems. And then we were approached by a lawyer, who suggested the fostering program. I wasn't sure if it was for us at first I mean it is so easy to get attached to the children, and then they go back to their parents, but really, it's all worth it. I don't think I could live a day without their hugs, or their smiles. and I know John feels the same way. We found a way to be happy, despite everything, and we are determined to pass that onto the children that come to us now. Most of them have been through things you couldn't imagine any child having to deal with, but the one thing we all need as human beings is love, and eventually that is what reaches them. I just wish that some of them would come to us right away, instead of going to some of the other foster homes out there."
Rita was touched by Pamela’s words, and even more so by the woman herself. She was almost envious of the contentment that had settled upon Pamela, and her husband. Still, she couldn't help but wonder if maybe their happiness was all on the surface. "'Doesn't it bother you at all that the children could leave you any day... after you have grown to love and care about them? I mean, right now, everyone is so happy, but tomorrow, just like that, one of them could leave you... and wouldn't that hurt...to have them in your life one day and gone another?"
Pamela shook her head. "Oh yes, Rita. I can't tell you how many times I have cried about one child or another. It does hurt... a lot, but I'm also not about to stop being a foster mother just because of that. The love for children is already there, and it would always be there, so why keep it to ourselves? We never know how long a child will be here with us, but we can't hold back from loving them just because we might loose them three months down the road. Loving them is what makes going those three months down the road all worth it for us anyway."
Rita smiled at Pamela, wishing she had the same strength. She handed the gifts over to Pamela, and arranged for another time to visit before bidding her goodbye. She drove to the beach, going to the spot that she always went to when she needed to think. And as always, watching the waves roll in to shore somehow brought to her clarity of her inner feelings. Everything Pamela had said rung true to the words Chris had said to her last night, and Rita knew suddenly that he was right. She had been trying to control just how much she felt and what she felt. She loved Chris with all her heart, and yet she did hold a part of herself back from him. She was happier than she had ever been in her life, and yet she had been telling herself to watch it... be careful because it wouldn't last. One day the love would stop and turn to hate. She never wanted to hate Chris, as she had hated her dad....
New feelings and fresh tears rushed into Rita. She cried as she tried to put her self into some kind of order. She began with the past and allowed the hurt to come, starting the very moment she had found her father. Only a few times in her life had she ever allowed herself to remember those moments, but now she did... as well as the funeral, where she had decided she hated him. She went back to the little girl who sat in a corner blocking out the world and imagined taking that little girl into her arms and comforting her, and this time the little girl did not resist it or block out the bad stuff she saw and heard. This time she cried for her daddy, and not just because she was so afraid.
She thought of John Olmen, sitting in a wheelchair and playing with the children... giving his all no matter what that may be. She thought of Pamela and the lesson she must have learned about loving and loosing... about being grateful that she had John and the children in her life... knowing that they were what made her life worth living... even if one day she would have to live without them. She never let that sadness get in the way of her happiness...
Rita cried now as she thought of Chris walking away from her in that exact spot last night. What had she done? For the first time since she was a child, Rita began to feel the tremendous sorrow that could invade one’s heart when they loose someone they love. She felt the entire weight of the sadness one who loves completely and entirely would feel. Though she had loved and lost many times in her life, what she experienced now as she remembered Chris leaving her was what it was supposed to be. All callousness had melted away through her tears.
Chris had done nothing but toss and turn all night long. He regretted the words he’d said to Rita and hated himself for walking away from her... the one thing he knew she feared the most. The memory of her pleading with him to stay, to please not leave her, killed him now. He had promised her that he would never leave her, and now he had done just that... and at a point in her life when she was most vulnerable. Damn him for trying to prove his point. It may have cost him the love of his life.
He went to work, hoping to take her somewhere private and apologize to her... telling her he loved her... would always love her. He didn't care if they got married or not any longer, just as long as she was by his side, that was all that really mattered. He didn't care about anything now, the only thing he wanted was to hold her in his arms again. She had called in sick though, and Chris was called out on a case. By the time he had wrapped up the preliminaries, Cap had known he was in no shape to work. “Go, Chris... talk to her" was all he’d said though he had had no idea of what happened between the two.
And now here he was, standing several yards away from her, roses in hand and ready to apologize to her but suddenly afraid to take another step. Somehow he knew this would be it, either the ending or a new beginning for them, but he didn't now which, and that really scared him. He heard the sound of her crying in the breeze that swept by him, and his heart broke just at the thought that she had been crying alone. Taking a deep breath, he silently went over to her and sat behind her, taking her into his embrace, feeling her shudder against his chest.
She turned into him, clutching tightly, as if she was afraid to let go of him. "Chris..."
"Shh, Rita. I'm here... I'm here." He held her as she cried for a few more moments.
After a while, Rita looked up at him, drying her eyes and then his. "I'm so sorry," she whispered.
"No, Sammy... I'm the one who should be sorry. I shouldn't have said all those things to you. I had no right."
"You were right though, Chris...you were right. Don't be sorry for that because I'm not. I'm sorry for everything about last night, but that."
"I should never have walked away. I will never forgive myself for that, Rita. You’re my life and so long as we spend it together, that's all that matters to me. I will never leave you like that again... no matter what, Sammy. I promise."
Rita smiled at him now, her face glowing with all she felt for this man, knowing he’d wait forever to marry her, just to be with her now. "You came back. That's all I wanted. I was afraid that you wouldn't. I wanted another chance. We need to talk."
Chris stood, holding out his hand to her. "Let's go for a walk."
They walked down the beach, arm in arm, their bodies no further than inches away.
“Chris, I went to see Amanda today, and she looked so happy. You wouldn’t believe. She was laughing and smiling. I couldn’t interfere with that. I didn’t even let her know I was there, but I did talk with her foster mother for a while. I asked her how she could grow to love a child and still be able to give them up, and she put everything into perspective for me. I realized how much I was holding back and how alone I’d be if I didn’t let go of the past.”
“You can tell me anything. Please tell me you know that, Sammy,” he pleaded, his tears returning.
Rita smiled sadly through her own tears at his desperate pleas. “I know. You’re the one I come to with all my problems, and I’ve been slowly dying inside, not being able to come to you with this too. I just didn’t want to risk my heart getting broken again because of the blind faith I have in you. I trusted my father more than anything in the world, and he left me here all alone, and because of that I hated him.”
“C’mon, Sammy. He was your dad. You couldn’t have hated him.”
“But I did, Chris. I hated him for leaving me. I hated him for being a coward and killing himself. And more than anything I just couldn’t take the chance of hating you that much if you ever left me... I couldn’t go on if you left me again...”
“And then I go and walk away. Brilliant move in my part,” he said, practically cursing himself.
“No, Chris. You didn’t know. It’s not your fault. And I know why you did what you did. You were right. And I know you’ll never leave me again.”
“Never,” he said, holding her face in his hands and looking directly in her eyes. “I love you.”
Rita smiled and leaned forward for a brief brush of lips. “Didn’t I just tell you I know that?” she teased. The urge to touch him was too strong, so she leaned forward for another kiss, this time remaining wrapped in his arms. "Chris... ask me again... please?" she whispered, her head snuggled against his chest, as the sun began to set on another day.
"Are you sure, Sammy? Because I’ll wait if you’re truly not ready."
"I told you I just need a little more time, didn't I? " she giggled playfully. "Please, ask me again. Right now, as the sun is going down."
Chris looked into her eyes, and took her hands in his own. "Rita... I love you, and I will always love you. I can't guarantee anything else about our future, but that... that’s something that will never change. Sammy, even if you were to say no right now, I would still be the happiest man in the world as long as you still loved me, but since you’re asking...” he drew the words out. “Rita... will you marry me... please?" he said it with a little tease, smiling at her.
"Chris, I love you too, and I will spend the rest of my life loving you. That is what this is all about. So, yes... I will marry you!"
Chris lifted her off her feet, swinging her around a few times, as they laughed and kissed before he stumbled and the two fell into the sand, still laughing. Rita was feeling happier then she had ever felt before and she relished every moment of it. Pamela was right, she thought. It was moments like these that made all the others worthwhile.
Okay, so what did you guys think of Lisa’s and my first joint story? Should we give it another try or stick to our day jobs? All comments are welcome, good or bad, to either Lisa or Linda.
I’d also like to give credit where credit is due. First, to all the fans of these silk stories that continually read and reply. The fact that there’s still a lot of interest in the silk world, even after all this time, is very inspiring, and it keeps me going with stories and the site. And next to Lisa, the driving force behind this story in my opinion. She planned it out and spent a lot of time on it. So thank you Lisa, you really are the best!
Guess we really should mention that Silk Stalkings and all it’s characters are the property of USA Network, Stu Segall, and Stephen J. Cannell. We don’t own em or they would have ridden off into the sunset... with a little angst thrown in by Lisa, right partner? She just can’t write a story without her angst!
And now I pass the floor on to said angst lover...
Okay, Linda... so is that a challenge? To write a story without any angst whatsoever in it? Hmmm... I guess I may just have to give that a try.
Anyway, first and foremost here, I want to thank Linda for the idea to do a joint story together... it was a lot of fun! Also, where would I be without her to clean up all my messes? If it was me who planned out the story, it was Linda who gave it clarity, and made the little details consistent. My partner has the patience of a saint!
I'd also like to thank all of our readers, who without, we wouldn't have a reason to write, or an excuse to happily dwell in the land of denial.