DISCLAIMER: Women's Murder Club and its characters are the property of James Patterson, 20th Century Fox Television and ABC. No infringement intended.
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The activity was toned down in the bullpen, with the night shift just coming in; one desk was still occupied though. Claire had counted on it. It had been a long day for her as well, but she didn't feel like going home yet. Judging from the way Lindsay was sitting at her desk and staring into nothing, she was in need for a little unwinding, too.
"Hey, Sweetie," Claire said. "I feel like calling and saying I'll be home later. Can I talk you into dinner? Hell, I'll even buy."
"A girls' night out, huh?"
"To talk about men and what the hell is wrong with them?"
Lindsay shut down her computer with a wry grin. "We haven't done that in too long. I'm in. Let's go. Oh, and Claire? I pick the place."
As they made their way to the bar, the woman behind the counter, wearing pink hair in a ponytail, greeted Lindsay rather enthusiastically, leaning over the counter to kiss her cheek.
"Hey, Linds! The usual for you?"
"The usual," Claire repeated, unable to keep the grin off her face. "You come here often, Inspector?"
Lindsay mumbled something into the menu that sounded like, 'case I once investigated'. She took a deep breath then, cleared her throat and looked up at Claire. "Okay, it's close to home, the drinks are great, and it's a good place to unwind. So yes, I come here every once in a while."
"To talk men."
Close to home. Claire had to smile at that. Freud was sitting at the table with them tonight.
"All right. Let's unwind."
After they'd gotten their drinks, cocktails that Claire had never heard about, but sounded adventurous, Lindsay started to relax slightly. Claire gave the liquid in her glass another suspicious look and then decided she trusted her friend. The first taste was sweet and fruity. Underneath... "Whoa! You're planning on getting me drunk?"
"I thought that was what you wanted." Lindsay smiled enigmatically.
Claire wondered if she really was that unaware. Lindsay was obviously familiar with this place. She seemed more comfortable than Claire had seen her in a while. Yet, she didn't seem to buy the clue.
Does any of us, ever?
"So here's mine. Lately I've been feeling like having a wild affair with a total stranger." Claire took a long swig of her drink to cover up the shock and faint embarrassment for having said his out loud.
Lindsay looked a little shocked, too. Figures. With the issues her friends were trying to solve and somehow didn't seem to manage, they looked at Claire like some sort of baseline, the one who handled it all. She was so not. A baseline. Or handling it all, for that matter.
She shrugged. "I know. It's just that -- I keep pushing for a solution, but I don't know if I'm doing it right. I just don't know." To her further embarrassment, she had now tears in her eyes.
Lindsay reached over the table, taking her hand, squeezing it gently. A fluid, spontaneous motion. "You're going to see that marriage counselor on Monday, right? It will be better to have somebody else take part of the responsibility."
"Well, maybe that's the problem. Maybe I want to be the one in charge, always. Your turn now. Why are you listening to my whining instead of being with Mr. In-town-for-only-two-weeks? Time is kind of running out on you."
Lindsay made a non-committal sound.
"And what's that supposed to mean?"
"I think I need another drink before I answer that. You tell me about that hot stranger in the meantime."
Claire sighed. "I don't really mean it, you know? It's just that I remember days when the kids went to school, we would share glances over the breakfast table, and once they were gone, we'd do something spontaneous and wild. Hey, Jill thinks it's all over once you've said yes, but that isn't true. At least it wasn't until recently."
"You don't want a divorce, do you?" Lindsay asked gently.
Claire shook her head, not trusting her voice. She downed the rest of her drink, and they ordered another round. When the waitress had left, she added, "No, I don't. I just want a bit of the good times back that are supposed to balance long, stressful workdays for you. Does that make me sound selfish?"
"Not at all." Lindsay seemed pensive. "Spontaneous and wild? Got any details?"
"Ask me once I'm really drunk." Claire could feel her face heat. "Come to think of it, no, don't ask me." They laughed, and it seemed a good moment to pick up the earlier thread of their conversation. "So I thought Pete, he was too good to be true? Tuesday night, at the hospital, you were gone pretty quickly."
Lindsay looked crestfallen for an instant, then frustrated. "He is. Tom was a good guy, too. Claire, you're my best friend, can you tell me what the hell is wrong with me?"
Claire considered that for a moment. It wasn't like she didn't have an idea, and if she was right, there was nothing wrong at all, just - she wasn't quite sure how Lindsay would react to her theory. Her friend could be pretty repressed about things, and she was good at it.
That, and somewhere along the line, somewhere after Kiss Me Not's first murder, or maybe long before that, Lindsay had decided that she didn't deserve to be happy. It broke Claire's heart just as much as the sorry state of her own marriage. "There is nothing wrong with you."
"Right. Try again."
"All right, then. You were married, you date guys - okay, seldom - and you give your platonic girlfriends long, smoldering glances. Lindsay, what's wrong with that picture?"
Busted, Claire thought, having a hard time not to smile.
Claire shrugged. "That's what it looks like to me. Tell me if I'm dead wrong."
"Of course you are!"
"Okay. Then I didn't say anything."
Lindsay rolled her eyes, but Claire could tell she hadn't entirely dismissed the subject. Good. If she got her thinking, it was all Claire had hoped for tonight. So that maybe at least one of them made a step into the right direction. And the fact that Lindsay wasn't mad at her, told its own tale. They sipped their drinks, listening to the music for a while, then Lindsay began again: "Listen, you totally got it wrong, but when -- I mean when did I do that?"
This time, Claire didn't even try to hide her smile.
"And don't you smirk like that!"
"I might have been out of line. If I wasn't, take a good look at what you really want if the nice guy who practically fell in your lap, isn't it."
"You speak in riddles."
"You make a living out of solving them," Claire countered. "Try."
"You don't think I'm-- no. Claire, I'm not. As you pointed out earlier, I was married. And I've never--" She reached for her glass quickly.
"Never even thought?" Claire liked this subject much better than her own embarrassing revelation. At least in this case, she supposed, something good could come out of it.
Lindsay looked around herself as if to make sure no one was watching or listening in. Claire fought the urge to giggle, because she was sure she knew exactly what she was going to hear. Sometimes, a little bit of alcohol made for a good incentive.
Obviously finding it safe to answer, Lindsay whispered, "Once."
"Right." Claire nodded. "Who?"
Lindsay avoided her gaze, biting her lip before she said, "Cindy."
"Cindy." No surprise at all here. So at least she'd been saying it. Only the timing could have been a lot better. "Okay. So why haven't you told her?"
Lindsay looked up at her with obvious shock.
"Well, that's usually the way it goes," Claire teased.
"I can't." There seemed to be sheer panic even at the thought.
"Let me rephrase that. You have no problem taking on a serial killer who is supposedly after you - all alone. You go busting a dangerous hostage situation that could get you killed, but you're scared to tell Cindy how you feel?"
"I was scared it would get her killed," Lindsay whispered. She sat up straight. "Hey, you can't compare this. I know how to do my job. I don't... " She groaned in frustration. "It's stupid. We all know Cindy likes cute guys with criminal potential. I'm kind of the opposite of that."
"Cindy's young, and open-minded. You keep giving her mixed messages much longer, she won't be waiting forever."
"You mean she--?" Lindsay shook her head with more force than conviction. "No. Don't you put that idea into my head."
Claire cast her an amused glance. "Last time I checked, that idea was already there... come on. Cindy adores you."
This was getting more difficult than she'd assumed, Claire thought with a sigh. "Everybody does. And the way it seems to me, you're pretty fond of her too. Now one of you has to step up."
Lindsay smiled a little at that, obviously envisioning the stepping up. Unfortunately, that wouldn't be enough.
"Okay, Sweetie, here's the deal. Come tomorrow, I'm going to work off my ass at the marriage counselor's, because I want this to work. The least you can do is ask Cindy out."
"I don't know," Lindsay said solemnly. "What if she--?"
"Says yes? She will, I promise you. Come on, don't be such a coward."
"I am not. You'll see what the hell am I getting myself into?"
"You're going to buy the last round for starters. And then we go home as long as both of us can still go upright and remember all of this conversation," Claire suggested.
Outside, as they were waiting for their respective cabs, the sounds from the bar were muted, the night air cooling their faces. The effect was somewhat sobering, and Claire wondered if what had sounded so easy in theory would be just as easily put to action. She didn't want out of her marriage. She wanted it to heal.
"It's going to be fine," Lindsay was obiously sensing the shift of her mood. "You two love each other. That's a good start."
Claire smiled at her thankfully. "Thank you. Love is a good start. Don't forget your promise."
They hugged quickly as the cab arrived. "You know," Lindsay said, "We should do this more often. Go out, and talk men."
She was right about that, Claire reflected later on the ride home. For the first time in a long time, she felt the confidence that things were going to be okay, and not just for her and Ed.
She grinned to herself. Damn, but she loved to be right.
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