DISCLAIMER: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and all characters are
property of NBC and Dick Wolf.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Written for the svuficathon04.
Sometimes nothing makes sense. After months of falling in and out of bed with Alex she was back again, lured to my apartment with martini dampened charm. Last call was always good to us that way.
"I always figured you for a dog person," she said, chin propped up on her hand watching the angry betta swirl around. "What's his name?"
"I don't know," I admitted.
She laughed at that, as if I should know you are supposed to name fish. My nameless betta flared his gills and took a run at the glass as if to say see! I told you! "Sparky," she said, like it was painfully obvious before flopping onto her back.
I climbed onto the bed and settled beside her feeling light, warmed by the alcohol.
"Sparky," I repeated, trying to make the new moniker stick. After 7 months, my fish had finally found his name. Fitting that Alex would be the one to put a name to the one thing I couldn't.
"You look alike," she slurred. Sleepy.
I laughed, trying hard in my martini haze to focus on the bright red fish, oddly enough, staring back at me. I opened my mouth to mock Alex's tolerance for the cosmopolitans she so adored when Sparky mirrored my expression, opening his mouth and closing it again.
Blinkblink. Bulging fish eyes, puckered fish lips.
I don't even know what possessed me to get a fish in the first place. I never could understand the allure of something you couldn't have a physical bond with. And I couldn't justify a dog or cat they'd surely die of loneliness or starvation when I sacked out in the crash room for weeks at a time.
Still there was something strangely exotic about Sparky: his vibrant coloring and long flowing fins. The corner grocer always had similar fish next to his register and despite the fact that he was always trying to sell me something I didn't need I kept going back. I'm sure he'd seen my badge a few years back and since then he peppered me with discounts and instant rebates whenever I bought so much as a candy bar. One rainy night I stopped in for a box of Uncle Ben's and he insisted I take his last fish.
"A beautiful woman like you should not be so lonely," he said in broken English. "You need a friend who asks no questions." He set the angry fish in front of me and patted my hand. "You take, bring you good luck."
I had tried to decline, politely, then gruffly but he wouldn't take no for an answer. That I knew nothing about fish was of no consequence to the shopkeeper and so I was sent back out into the rain with a box of minute rice in one hand and an agitated fish in the other.
He'd sat on the breakfast bar for two full days bumping the sides of that tiny plastic cup, sloshing water over the edge whenever I came too close. On the third day I relented and sought out a pet store during my lunch hour. I questioned a bewildered aquarium store employee (probably more forcefully than necessary) about my new confidant's needs and an hour later emerged with a book and what the young woman termed as "luxury digs." Elliot laughed when he saw the armload of supplies but there were some things he'd never understand.
Like those nights I come home to ransack my own apartment because it seems like the only safe way to exhaust the rage burning in my chest. Expensive, but safe. It had been a particularly tempestuous week before I brought Sparky home. Draped over a sad little plastic plant he watched as I righted the coffee table, swept up the glass and sent a broken lamp on a journey down the garbage chute.
Much to my surprise we began to bond. I was skeptical of the irrational affection I felt blooming in my chest at the warm glow of his tank awaiting me after a long day. He'd react when he saw me come through the door. I told myself it was more to do with my presence than the light I flipped on or the three pellets of food I floated on the surface of his tank. He was fine for days at a time the aquarium store employee assured me, even still I felt guilty those nights I never made it back.
I experimented with the best place for his tank. On impulse I moved it from the breakfast bar to the end table at my favorite corner of the couch. We channel surfed together, he watched me eat ice cream and in turn I watched him eat blood worms. As disgusting as the worms were to me, I was sure that my peppermint ice cream evoked a similar response in him. During commercials I'd wag a finger in front of him and he'd glide over. It felt silly to admit that my one great companion was a fish. A mute, water dwelling, freeze dried bloodworm eating fish.
Things were calm for weeks, the comfort of my routine and new companion extinguishing most of the frustration I felt at the end of the day. Even still the time came when even my partner in solitude couldn't soften the blow of a blatant misappropriation of justice. And there I was again, raging through my small apartment, dishes crashing against the kitchen tile, the Mr. Coffee that had been spared so many times before finally meeting its untimely demise somewhat comically bouncing once before the pot ejected and exploded against the cabinets. Fists ripping that throw pillow whose mate was long gone (I always hated it anyway.) And then the coffee table, always the coffee table, up and over. A hollow thud as it slammed into the end table. Water sloshed and then dribbled onto the carpet.
I choked on the sob that had been building since I began my tirade and covered my mouth to hide the horror that I felt. Slowly, I pulled back the coffee table. Sparky had been spared, rolling with the waves that still shook his universe, staring at me wide eyed as the pull of the tide subsided.
After that I moved him to the only safe room in my apartment the bedroom afraid he'd get caught in one of my tempests again. The side effects of the move weren't apparent immediately but when I couldn't sleep that first night Alex invited me back to her apartment I realized that I had become dependent on watching him cut through the water to clear my head. Warm as her body was against mine, exhausted as I was after the week leading up to our encounter not to mention Alex's exuberance during, the exhilaration still kept me awake.
In his absence I watched Alex in the predawn darkness. Her hair fanned against the pillow, the hue of her lips, the curve of her hip, her long limbs stretching and sweeping across the sheets in slumber. A sigh; the last thing I remember before drifting off, whether hers or mine I was never sure.
The morning brought business as usual. Terse words, brisk movements, a plush robe covering the body I couldn't forget. Alex standing at the foot of the bed drying her hair as I stretched across it and then: "This was a mistake." Exit stage left.
I skulked away under the cover of darkness, not bothering with the fight. Alex was far less pliable without the aid of liquor and I was sure nothing could be resolved before we saw each other in court that afternoon. So it was home to my fish, happy to see me however haggard I was.
Unlike Alex I was in no hurry to start my day. I crawled in between the sanctuary of my sheets and tried to make sense of things in the moments before surrendering to exhaustion.
Things went on like that for months. Alex would win a case or lose a case in the end it didn't matter if it was celebration or commiseration as long as there was a fresh round of drinks on the table and by last call we'd be stumbling up to street level and sharing a cab back to her apartment. Some days there were no cases involved in her invitations, just this yuppie martini bar across town filled with Wall Street types. Low lighting, the requisite pianist taking requests, and martinis, lots of martinis or in Alex's case: cosmopolitans. I'd never been one for martinis but I knew by the look she shot me the first time she dragged me into that place that MGD was not an appropriate drink selection. Just as she'd forgone her sorority cocktail in the dive bar the squad frequented, I attempted to expand my horizons at her yuppie bar by choking down my first martini as she sipped her pink cocktail with that serious look she always wore before the liquor washed it away.
There would always be talk about work never about the times before it was textbook, like we were following an instruction manual for dysfunctional deviant sexual relationships between coworkers. It never bothered me before, I was happy to have someone to fill my nights, lucky that it was a woman as beautiful as Alex, but our dance was beginning to give me blisters.
I began testing her boundaries at work, standing too close, staring too long, picking up where Elliot left off and fighting too hard for something of little consequence. At first I was sure that Alex was annoyed with me (she was always annoyed with Elliot) and I then could swear she was getting some perverse enjoyment from it. The fight became the foreplay, the storm before the calm of our martini infused concupiscence.
Some things still don't make sense. In all the time I've been sleeping with Alex we've never once talked about what it means, if anything. Why when she calls it off every other week am I grateful to be free of the burden of her confusion until she calls my cell phone to say she's sorry and could I stop by her office when I'm through? And I never say no because I am relieved to hear the need in her voice, happy not to be easily forgotten or washed away at the end of the day.
And every time I'd crawl into my bed after warring in Alex's Sparky would be there, waiting. He'd wag back and forth catching glimpses of himself in the corners of his universe. Flaring, agitated, he would chase his reflection in the darkness, always ready for a fight. There is something honest, so base about that. Ironic that what I'd come admire in a fish I condemned in myself.
The first time Sparky set eyes on Alex he circled his tank for three hours straight. I'd called out my address to the cabbie, Alex gave me a curious look but didn't correct me. It did, however, take some coaxing to get her out of the cab but I tugged on her hand and she eventually followed. I pulled her through the lobby, endured her skeptical glances in the dingy elevator, and caught a glimpse of a smirk as I twisted my key in the deadbolt.
The door creaked open, two steps inside and her expression said it all: so this is how the other half lives.
A flash of red. Through the open bedroom door I saw Sparky dart past again. Suddenly self-conscious about my tiny apartment and its ratty adornments, I wasted no time pulling her attention back to me. Look at me. A kiss to stop her eyes from wandering, a nibble to distract her from my unmade bed. I undressed her in front of him, lavished kisses onto her skin, and moaned her name twice before he finally exhausted himself, sinking to the gravel as I fell back against the pillows sweaty and satiated.
Eventually, Alex stopped shooing me out of her apartment after our drunken trysts which increased in frequency and intensity and became almost hospitable to my stays. Maybe she just felt bad that I had to go home to my shitty little apartment. I can't say I ever know what's going on in Alex's head.
I certainly couldn't tell you what she was thinking tonight when she rattled off my address after the waitress chased us away with her catalogue of dirty looks.
"Alex," I say, not quite knowing why.
Sparky glides by and stops on a dime to stare at us. His mouth opens and closes again but I can't seem to read his lips. He circles his sad little plastic plant and stills. Resting on top of it, his eyes move from me to Alex and back again. I've never seen him so calm.
"What?" she mumbles into my pillow.
"Why are we here?"
She sits up and rubs the side of her face, pink from its pressure against the pillow. "I like it here," she says simply.
I don't believe her, of course. Oblivious to her watching eyes, I concoct scenarios in my head that would drive Alex from her apartment: Painting, fumigating, maintenance. Rats, big rats.
"You think too much." She covers my mouth with her own before I can disagree.
No matter how many times she's kissed me in the past, I'm still not used to it. I'm never prepared for how she makes me feel. What I feel for her. And part of me is always surprised that she's come back for more.
In all those times prior, I was certain there was never a time like this. Soft and yielding, her lips' tender press is almost reassuring. The urgency, the sloppiness of our best and worst times together mysteriously absent.
Tonight I get the feeling that she isn't trying to forget something, that maybe she is remembering why she keeps coming back. And I'm starting to understand why I keep letting her. Because tonight she's finally seeing me, she's finally in the moment with me, she's not somewhere else, she's right here in my bed.
Everything seems to slow down. All of my senses shift into high alert as she crawls on top of me. Goosebumps prickle my skin as she moves against me. I'm lightheaded from her scent, sobered by her touch.
The rush of intensity hits, a low rumble blows against my ear. Limp, her full weight presses onto me. Alex draws back on a shaky arm to look down at me as I try to catch my breath. Her head hits the pillow next to mine, chest heaving. Set aglow by the aquarium light, the moisture on her skin seems to evaporate before my eyes. A shadow swims across her cheek and onto the pillowcase. A sweet smile of satisfaction follows it, spreading across her face.
"I like it here," Alex says again, licking her lips this time.
I touch my forehead to hers and whisper: "Me too."
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