DISCLAIMER: Rizzoli & Isles and its characters are the property of Tess Gerritsen, Janet Tamaro and TNT television network. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Special thanks to the abundantly gifted and talented, and not-so-gentle prodder, Fewthistle, for agreeing to read over this fic and keep me on track, not an easy thing to do these days. Thanks for everything, Few: comments, suggestions, spotting typos and, mostly, lending an ear. Love ya!
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SEQUEL: To Going to Hell in a Handbasket.
Recipe for Success
The late afternoon sun spilled through a canopy of trees in striking rays of light. The surrounding park was empty, its benches and sidewalks still wet from the heavy downpour that had chased people away half an hour ago. The setting was straight out of the pages of a book, so serene, so quiet
"Stop!" a voice rang out, disturbing the peaceful scene and causing birds to take flight and squirrels to scamper down trees and scurry away to another hiding place as heavy footsteps came closer. The sounds of splashing water could be heard clearly in the near distance as running feet landed in shallow puddles left behind by the rain.
"Damn it, stop!" Jane called out to the homeless man she was chasing. She would have loved nothing more than to pull out her gun and shoot the man, but he wasn't her suspect. He was a possible witness to the murder she was investigating, and she was fairly certain her lieutenant wouldn't take kindly to her winging the man just because she was tired of running. Her breath coming in gasps, she cursed as she watched him veer off the sidewalk and sprint across the saturated grass. She blew out a heavy breath and picked up her pace. He wasn't getting away.
Blocking out everything, Jane concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other. She ignored how her soaked boots and pants felt like they were weighing her down like an anchor, how the burning in her thighs was getting worse by the second, and how it was very possible that, when Frost had doubled around, her partner hadn't anticipated the man veering off course. She just kept her eyes on the back of the man's head and pushed herself, not even taking the time to grin when she realized she was quickly closing the distance between them.
A dozen strides or more and she'd be close enough to leap and tackle him. She moved her gaze to his lower back but, just as she readied to leave her feet, he disappeared into thin air. Jane didn't have time to wonder what had happened as the ground fell out from beneath her. She hadn't seen the steep embankment. Suddenly, muddy earth and hard rocks reached up to greet her. She landed hard on her backside and slid down the rough terrain until, finally, she came to a stop in a very large puddle at the base of the sharp incline.
"Oommph!" she grunted as her head bounced against the mud-covered ground. Half-dazed, she still managed to reach out and grab hold of the torn hem of a pair of filthy blue jeans. "Oh, no you don't," she panted and tugged on the denim, leveraging herself close enough to grip the man's leg. "You're not going anywhere." She flopped back in the mud and stared up at a sliver of blue that peeked out between two clouds, a vise-like grip holding the struggling man's leg against her chest.
"Jane!" Frost's voice drew near and Jane closed her eyes in relief. She waited until she heard the soft click of handcuffs before she finally let go and rolled over on her side.
"Ugh," she groaned, watching as Frost yanked the man to his feet. "Next time, you chase and I double back." She knew when the time came, however, her ego wouldn't allow for their roles to reverse so easily. "Don't suppose you brought the car, huh?" she asked sarcastically, not looking forward to the long walk back. Frost's chuckle was all the answer she needed. "You go on ahead. I'll be there in a minute," she said tiredly and leaned on her elbow.
Biting back a grin, Frost just nodded as he gripped the homeless man's arm and led him around the embankment. Jane waited until they'd rounded the corner before she peeled herself from the ground. Almost every square inch of her and her clothing was caked with mud.
"Great, I bet I look like the creature from the Black Lagoon," she muttered as she followed in Frost's muddy footsteps. Her boots squished obscenely in the soft ground and her pants legs made a swishing sound as she walked. She could only hope that Korsak had gone home for the day.
"Well, well, well I didn't know you were into mud wresting, Jane," Korsak teased his former partner the minute she walked through the door. He settled himself comfortably on the edge of his desk and folded his arms loosely across his chest. "So, did you win?" he asked in mock interest, the huge grin he wore reminding Jane so closely of Carroll's Cheshire Cat it was scary. Korsak was just as cheeky, too.
"You're a real riot, Korsak, you know that?" Jane grumbled as she crossed the room and eased herself into her chair, the dried mud caked on her clothes and skin actually crinkling when she sat. "I can't believe I chased that man all the way across the park and he's not even the right guy."
"He looked just like the man Crazy Betty described, and he was exactly where she said he'd be," Frost said in their defense. The homeless woman had been a wealth of information and had even known some particulars of the murder that hadn't yet been released to the press. They'd had no reason to doubt her.
"Crazy Betty?" Korsak asked incredulously. He pushed off his desk, walked over toward Jane, and placed his hands down on the edge of her desk, leaning forward almost menacingly. "You took the word of that psycho?"
"Hey," Jane said sharply, objecting to being treated like some rookie cop. "She knew about the rose."
"So what?" Korsak shot back. "For all we know, she could have been the one to put it there. She's always carrying flowers around in that basket of hers."
Putting her elbows on the arms of her chair, Jane grimaced slightly when the plastic rubbed against hardened mud. She ignored her discomfort. "Are you saying that Crazy Betty killed James Anderson?" she voiced the ridiculous accusation out loud and looked at Korsak like he was the crazy one.
"What?" Korsak stood to his full height. "Of course she didn't kill him, but that doesn't mean she's not guilty of leaving the rose on the body."
The two former partners stared at each other, neither batting an eyelash, although Jane did have a slight advantage as she had bits of mud making her lashes stiff and unyielding. The tense moment was broken when the familiar strains of Chopin's Piano Sonata No. 2, Op. 35, otherwise known as The Funeral March, filled the thick silence that had stretched between them.
"Oh shit!" Jane cursed as she fumbled in her pocket for her phone. She carefully eased the cell free of the mud-caked outer lining and brought it to her ear. "Maura, I am sooo sorry." The voice on the other end sounded upbeat and not at all upset.
"For what?" Maura asked truthfully, replying the same as she had each of the previous three weeks Jane had called to apologize and ask for a rain check on cooking for her friend. It didn't seem to matter to Maura that she had been the one to initiate the call this time. "I just wanted to make sure we're still on for tonight. I have a real craving for Rizzoli lasagna." And, like all the other times, she really did, although she'd never admitted it to Jane before now.
Jane grimaced as best she could around the mud streaks that lined her face. "Um, I need to take a shower and " she started to outline her excuses but was interrupted by her friend.
"No you don't. You can just come directly here and start cooking right away."
Jane looked down at herself. "Trust me, Maura, I really need to take a shower." She shot a glare at a chuckling Korsak and Frost. "That's not actually the problem, though," Jane explained. "I didn't have time to go to the store. By the time I shower and go pick up the ingredients, it'll be too late to get started."
"Actually," Maura replied evenly. "The ingredients are already here. The onions, parsley and garlic are chopped, the cheeses are grated, and everything is set out and ready to go."
"How did you " Jane began but stopped abruptly. At least the mud hadn't dulled her senses. "Let me guess. Ma called you and gave you the list." She sighed tiredly and shook her head. Lately, her mother had been bugging the hell out of her about making good on her promise to cook the famous Rizzoli lasagna for Maura. Jane had been so tired of hearing her mother nag that it hadn't dawned on her to ask her mother just how she knew about the 'promise' in the first place.
"Something like that," Maura said with a slight air of unease, even though her vague reply hadn't actually been a lie. She looked across her kitchen island at Angela and got a reassuring wink and a shooing motion from the older woman, urging her to keep the conversation on track. "So, why don't you go home and take your shower? Everything will be ready for you when you get here." Angela gave Maura a thumbs up and nodded her approval.
Jane glanced at the clock on the wall. If she left now, she could probably make it to Maura's by 7:00. It would still be a late dinner, though, and Jane was really tired.
"Maura," Jane gentled her voice and closed her eyes. She could just see Maura now: standing next to her island, all the ingredients laid out across its granite surface with various sized pots and pans waiting on the stove and more than likely wearing some silky designer pants outfit that fit her like a glove. Jane's eyes popped open wide. "I'll be there around 7:00."
At precisely 6:55, Maura swung open the door to her house and stepped back to make room for her guest. "Hello, Jane," she greeted with a friendly smile.
"Hey," Jane said, crooking her lips into a grin. She lightly brushed against Maura as she moved into the house, and both women shivered at the contact. Jane's hand immediately went to her forearm, and she nervously scratched her fingertips back and forth across reddened skin.
Maura took one look at her friend's arm and slipped into doctor-mode almost instantly. She reached out and gently cradled Jane's wrist in her hand. "You've got a rash," she said, her tone taking on a serious slant. She angled her head and studied the irritated skin before turning her attention to Jane's other arm. She frowned at seeing the same type of inflammation. "Have you taken or eaten anything different than usual today?" She looked at her friend with such concern it made Jane's heart skip a beat.
"Um, no." Jane had to clear her throat to answer, and she hurried to put Maura's mind at ease. "But it's not what you think." She glanced back down at her arms. "It's not really a rash."
Maura looked more than a little skeptical. "Jane, your skin is red and irritated. It is obvious that it itches, and there are even small bumps breaking out in a few places. You have a rash," she rattled off her findings and her frown deepened when she noted a stain of pink across Jane's right cheek. Easing her hand to her friend's face, she ran a fingertip along a tiny patch of rough skin. "And it appears to be spreading, too." She hadn't noticed the pinkish tint mostly hidden underneath makeup when Jane had first arrived.
It took everything Jane had not to lean into the other woman's gentle, soothing touch. "It's not a rash, Maura. My skin is red and irritated because I had to scrub it so hard to get the dried mud off of me."
"Mud?" Maura asked in surprise. "Like in a mud treatment?" She would have never pegged Jane for an exfoliating kind of girl. "You shouldn't scrub it off, Jane, and you really shouldn't put it on your arms. Seaweed wraps are better suited for full body treatments. It removes harmful toxins and is an excellent way to relieve stress."
"I'll keep that in mind," Jane deadpanned, her expression indicating that the likelihood of her allowing someone to wrap seaweed around her was as slim as the possibility of her mother sitting back and quietly letting Jane live her own life. "In the meantime, what do you say about learning the secret to the Rizzoli lasagna?" She was in real need of something to ground her and putting some space between her and Maura was a good place to start. With the size of the other woman's kitchen, they'd probably have to shout at each other to be heard.
Maura's eyes lit up at the suggestion. They were finally going to have their dinner date. "I would really like that, Jane."
"Well there's no time like the present," Jane said with a reassuring smile and started toward the kitchen. She stopped after traveling only a few feet. "Is that big ass turtle in there?"
"Bass?" Maura asked as if there were some other giant tortoise that shared her living space. She closed the front door and locked it behind her. "No, he's in the guest bedroom."
"Guest bedroom," Jane said, her pitch rising slightly. "The same guest bedroom you put me in? Does he sleep on the bed?" She cringed at the thought of there being turtle cooties on the same bedspread that she'd slept on.
"Of course not," Maura replied in all seriousness. "Adult tortoises can't jump, Jane." With a ghost of a smile on her lips, she moved past her friend and headed for the kitchen. Jane just shook her head and followed. Dr. Maura Isles, a.k.a. The Queen of the Dead, had actually made a joke, a factual one, but a joke nonetheless.
"Whoa, it looks like little Italy in here, only more organized," Jane remarked as she pulled even with Maura. She walked over to the island and marveled at the neat arrangement of ingredients that lined the granite countertop. "Martha Stewart would be impressed."
Maura beamed with pride. When Angela had left, she'd hurried to clean the mess the older woman had left behind, even though Angela had assured her it wasn't necessary, that it was all part of the cooking process and that behind every successful meal was a messy kitchen. She'd washed the chopping board, graters, knives and measuring utensils and wiped down the counters. The next logical step had been to separate the ingredients, putting a little distance in-between each one, so that they would be easier to work with. Easier in Maura's mind, at least.
"Okay, we better get started or we're going to be having lasagna for breakfast," Jane teased playfully, moving to the stove and looking down into a deep Dutch oven. It was perfect to brown the ground meat and Italian sausage. "Can you get the meat out of the fridge?" she asked as she turned back toward the island to grab the chopped garlic and onions. A sudden thought snapped her attention to the kitchen's refrigerator and the woman who had her head practically buried inside. "You don't store anything from work in there, do you?"
"No," Maura said, her voice partially muffled by the refrigerator door. She removed the ground beef and sausage from a shelf and closed the door with her foot. "The only work I bring home is on my computer or in paper form." Crossing the room, she placed the packages of meat on the counter next to the stove and began to remove their plastic wrappers. "Although there was this one time "
"Don't say it!" Jane chimed in before Maura could gross her out; she'd worked up a healthy appetite chasing the homeless guy all over the park and wasn't about to do anything that might jeopardize her lasagna craving. "Let's just get the sauce ready and then we can soak the noodles and make the cheese filling." She glanced back at the island and easily spotted the can of crushed tomatoes as well as the cans of tomato sauce and tomato paste. It was hard to miss them really. Maura had lined them up perfectly with the labels facing toward the stove. "Got a can opener?" Picking up the can of tomato sauce, she wiped off its lid with a dishtowel a habit she'd gotten from her mother as, according to Angela, 'you don't know where those cans have been' and looked around the kitchen for an opener.
"Yes," Maura replied as she peeled back the wrapper on the ground meat. "Just let me get this in the pot and I'll find it for you." She cupped her hands to slide under the meat, and Jane was reminded of how gently Maura had cradled Johnson's brain in her hands right before she placed it in the stainless steel pan of the morgue's scale.
"Wait!" Jane exclaimed, startling Maura before she could even touch the ground beef. The medical examiner nearly jumped out of her Stuart Weitzman Hifabulous silver sling backs.
"What?" Maura said, throwing her hands in the air and looking back at Jane with eyes as large as the onions Angela had chopped up earlier. "Am I supposed to season it first?"
"Um, no, we'll add seasonings after we brown the meat and add the contents of the cans," Jane explained, recovering quickly. She had no intention of telling Maura the real reason why she'd stopped her. "It's just that I like to make the sauce and, well, you know where the can opener is." With Angela as a mother, Jane had plenty of experience coming up with practical distractions at the spur of the moment.
Maura stared at Jane for a few seconds and then shrugged. "Okay, let me wash my hands and I'll start opening the cans." She stepped over to the sink and turned on the water. Jane quickly wiped off the tops of the rest of the cans before she moved to the stove.
"You might want to put something over your clothes," she suggested as she gripped the ground beef and dropped it into the pot. She reached for the Italian sausage and a knife and expertly cut the links into small pieces.
Maura glanced down at her new lilac-colored silk top and her stark white pants. "Good idea," she agreed and opened the linen drawer. Pulling out two of her aprons, she slipped into one and held the other out to her friend. "Here's one for you, too."
Jane glanced over her shoulder just as Maura pulled the material over her shirt collar. There was no way Jane was putting on the offered apron. "You wear a surgical gown in the kitchen? Why am I not surprised," she said dryly. She looked down at her red knit shirt and her black jeans, both items of clothing that were easily laundered. "I think I'll pass, thanks." Jane was certain she'd pass even if she were wearing an outfit similar to the one Maura wore, although she was certain that would never happen, either.
"Surgical gowns provide maximum protection," Maura explained as she returned the unused apron to the drawer. "Conventional aprons don't come close to offering the same amount of coverage." She could have talked all day and still not convinced her friend. To Jane, it was just wrong on so many levels.
Sighing to herself, Jane just shook her head and resisted the urge to scratch her arms for fear that Maura would apply some kind of smelly ointment and insist that Jane put on one of her 'aprons'. She spooned the onions and garlic into the pot and flipped the burner's dial to medium high, using the spoon to mix the ingredients together. She really preferred browning the meat on medium low, but she usually had all afternoon to prepare the meal.
The sound of a can opener drew Jane's attention to the island, and she watched as Maura carefully and meticulously opened the cans of paste and sauce. She smiled at the look of concentration on her friend's face and returned her attention to the simmering meat, stirring the mixture so that the onions and garlic would blend in evenly. Jane frowned slightly at the very finely chopped white bits that sizzled along with the meat. She'd only known her mother to chop things so small and so fine, but Maura was a doctor and, if Angela had given Maura the list of ingredients, her mother would have more than likely instructed Maura to cut the onions and garlic into tiny pieces. Jane was sure her friend would go to extremes to do so.
"Okay, all the cans are open. What's next?" Maura asked as she wiped up a couple of drops of tomato sauce that had spilled when she'd had to pry the lid free of the can when a tiny sliver of metal had remained attached.
"Measuring spoons," Jane replied as she gripped the handle of the pot and stirred vigorously. "We'll also need the chopped Basil leaves and parsley, sugar, fennel seed, salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning," she rattled off the necessary ingredients for the sauce's seasoning. "And could you bring me the opened cans, please?"
Maura just nodded and brought the cans over first. She watched as Jane dumped the contents of each into the pot before she moved to the area of the island that held the ingredients for the sauce. She had to make several trips from the island to the stove and briefly wondered if she should have already had everything set up on the counter next to the stove. Bad idea, she thought to herself. Jane would have been suspicious of how her friend had known which ingredients went into the lasagna's sauce.
"Jane?" Maura asked curiously as she watched her friend pour directly from the various containers. "You're not measuring," she pointed out the obvious with a frown. Measuring was an exact science and something that shouldn't be ignored or taken lightly.
"That's the secret to the Rizzoli lasagna," Jane replied in a soft whisper, as if she were revealing the secrets of the universe, and Maura found herself struggling to focus on what should have been her complete and utter horror of the situation, in the name of science if nothing else. The low, gravely tone of Jane's voice, however, had even more impact than usual on Maura's thought processes when it was delivered in the form of a whisper, and Maura was suddenly very grateful for the long sleeves her surgical apron provided. She wasn't sure she would be able to easily explain away the goose bumps that had formed up and down her arms when Jane had spoken.
"Why would you ask for measuring spoons if you weren't going to use them?" Maura asked, her voice just as soft as Jane's had been. She was quite pleased with herself that she'd been able to forge ahead and address the measurement issue, and she really was curious as to why Jane would've asked for the utensils in the first place.
Jane smiled and reached for the only ingredient she hadn't yet added to the pot and, measuring two exact tablespoons, she poured the substance into the center of the mixture. "I always add too much sugar," she said as she stirred the sauce until the sugar disappeared. "Maybe it's because I'm just so sweet," she joked but looked over at Maura anyway, as if she fully expected the other woman to agree.
"You can be very sweet, Jane, but I still think you should measure," Maura finally replied after a long moment of silence.
"Yeah, you would," Jane said with a slight chuckle. "But then it wouldn't be a secret recipe. Everyone would be able to make the best lasagna in the world." She slipped the lid onto the pot and turned the burner to its lowest setting. "Ready to make the cheese filing?" she asked as she turned away from the stove and faced the island.
"You're going to let me make the filing?" Maura asked hopefully. So far, all she'd done was watch as Angela had unpacked groceries, explained which ingredients went into which process of the recipe, and chopped and grated all the ingredients that had needed chopping and grating. Then, when Jane had arrived, she'd just opened cans and fetched whatever was needed. Her face fell at a sudden realization. "Or is this part of the secret, too?"
"Most of it is, but you can mix it up after I put in the right amounts," Jane replied as she walked toward the other end of the island where the Ricotta cheese, nutmeg, and parsley were waiting. She glanced into the mixing bowl that held the grated cheese and nutmeg and then at a sheet of waxed paper with chopped parsley in its center. "Maura?" She moved her gaze to the corner of the island where the rest of the Ricotta, nutmeg, and parsley sat off to the side. "How did you know how much to grate and chop?"
Maura tried not to fidget. "What do you mean?" It was a good answer, she thought, since she'd not actually chopped or grated anything.
Jane pointed at the mixing bowl and waxed paper. "It looks like you have just the right amounts here. How did know how much to prepare?" This wasn't like the onions and garlic from earlier. Those could actually be measured; these couldn't. It was all a matter of 'eyeing' the correct amount.
The fidgeting officially began. Maura shifted her weight from sling back to sling back several times and licked her lips twice. She just stared at Jane and knew the exact moment her friend figured it out.
"My mother came to your house?" Her eyes widening comically, Jane looked just like Betty Boop, only without the cleavage, short dress, high heels and garter belt, and she suddenly didn't know what to do with her hands. "She was here," Jane's right hand flitted around in a circle, while her left one just kind of went limp, "in this room?"
"Yes," Maura said with a firm nod, keeping the truth short and simple.
"You called my mother to come over and help?" Jane sounded hurt that her friend would do such thing behind her back.
"What? Jane... no," Maura said, sounding a bit hurt herself, but she could understand how Jane might misinterpret the situation. She knew she would have had their roles been reversed. It was a logical conclusion, after all.
Jane sighed in relief, but Maura wasn't in the free and clear just yet. "Then how did she end up in your kitchen?"
"She was waiting for me in my driveway when I got home," Maura explained, recalling how surprised she'd been to drive up and see Angela's car. At first she'd thought that Jane's mother had come to ask her advice about the older model Buick but, when Angela had crawled out of the car with two bags of groceries, Maura suspected something much worse. She'd been right, too.
"And you let her in?" Jane was close to exploding. It wasn't like Maura didn't know how her mother operated. The woman had tried to fix them both up with dates for God's sake, or so Jane still believed.
"What was I supposed to do, Jane? Leave her standing on my doorstep with bags of groceries weighing her down?
"Yes!" Jane exclaimed, resisting the urge to pace. "That's exactly what you should have done."
Maura shook her head. "I couldn't have done that, Jane. She was only trying to help."
"That's what she's always trying to do, Maura, but she just ends up controlling everything. She's not happy unless she's meddling in someone else's business, usually mine," Jane said in frustration, rubbing her fingers across her forehead to smooth out the wrinkles she knew had cropped up the moment they'd started talking about her mother.
"Jane," Maura said gently. "All she did was prepare things so that it would be easier for you to cook. She didn't once try to put the lasagna together herself."
Jane snorted. "That's only because she knew I wouldn't eat it." And she wouldn't have, either. It wouldn't have mattered how hungry she may have been. "This whole thing doesn't make sense. Why would Ma offer to help? It's not like she's going to get anything out of it." The detective in Jane couldn't help but take over.
"Maybe she doesn't expect anything," Maura suggested, her naiveté shining through in her words. All she knew was that Angela had called and invited her to lunch several weeks ago, and Maura had made mention of Jane's offer to make lasagna for her. Then, this afternoon, the older woman had shown up on her doorstep with ingredients and suggested that Maura call Jane and remind her of their dinner date and not take no for an answer.
"Angela Rizzoli not expecting something?" Jane actually laughed out loud. "Not on your life." She couldn't help but wonder how skeptical Maura would be if she had Jane's vast experience with the woman.
"Jane, can't we just make the lasagna and worry about your mother's possible motives later?" Maura smiled. "Please?" Jane almost melted on the spot. Maura knew just how to disarm her, although Jane was fairly certain that the other woman had no idea how much power she wielded.
"So the truth finally comes out," Jane said teasingly, willing to let go of her anger for now. "You just want me for my lasagna."
Maura's smile grew. "Well, that's a start." She didn't give Jane time to contemplate her words. "Let's finish this filling and get the lasagna into the oven. We can have a glass of wine while we wait for it to cook."
"So, I'm catching up with the guy and all I can think about is tackling his sorry ass for making me chase him all over the park," Jane said, stopping long enough to take a sip from her glass. The full-bodied, smooth wine was the best she'd ever tasted, but she hadn't really expected anything less. Maura was the epitome of refinement and good taste.
"Where was Frost?" Maura asked from the other end of the sofa, looking every bit as comfortable as she possibly could. She'd slipped off her shoes and sat at a slight angle, one leg tucked neatly under her and an elbow resting on a welted arm cushion, as she sipped from her own glass of wine.
Jane glanced over at her friend. "Not where he was in any danger of slipping down a muddy embankment and landing in the mother of all puddles," she said with healthy dose of sarcasm. "He and his nice, clean, dry suit came late to the party."
Maura nodded in understanding and bit back a chuckle. "So, the mud "
"Wasn't from a mud treatment," Jane finished for her friend. She resisted the urge to scratch. "I'm pretty sure I had mud in places no treatment has ever been or even thought of going."
Rich laughter flowed from Maura's lips. "Sorry, Jane," she chuckled, trying to rein in her laughter. "It's not funny." She laughed again.
"No, it's not," Jane said as seriously as she was able. Maura was just so cute when she laughed. "But it would have been hilarious if it had been Korsak instead of me." Just the thought of her former partner covered in mud from head to toe brought a smile to her lips.
The two women shared a laugh at the older man's expense and then sat in a comfortable silence when their chuckles died out. Neither felt the need to rush into a new topic, both content to just sit quietly and sip their wine. There was no awkwardness in the moment. It just felt right.
*beep* *beep* *beep*
The oven timer interrupted the special moment and pulled the women from their thoughts. Had they had the gift of ESP or mind-reading, they'd have been surprised at how similar their train of thought had been, but the simultaneous growling of their stomachs at least gave them an indication that they shared a need for food.
Jane grinned. "Guess we better feed these monsters, huh?" She pushed to her feet and waited for Maura to do the same, inwardly pleased when Maura the queen of fashion stepped over her shoes and walked toward the kitchen in her bare feet. Following behind at a leisurely pace, Jane admired the view in front of her.
"Would you put the garlic bread in when you take out the lasagna?" Maura asked as she headed for the refrigerator. "I'll get the salad ready." She thought about the homemade balsamic dressing that sat on the shelf next to the salad. If Jane hadn't figured out that her mother had come to the house before, she'd have certainly put two and two together when she saw the dressing.
"Sure," Jane replied, grabbing a couple of dish towels on her way to the oven. She suspected that Maura had some insulated hand gloves that were more than likely fire resistant and able to handle asbestos as well, but the old fashioned way suited Jane much better as she carefully pulled out the rack, eased the pan forward, and slipped the towels underneath. She gently lifted the lasagna and placed it on the stovetop, not wasting any time putting the bread into the heated oven. "Why don't we just serve our plates in here instead of carrying everything to the table?"
Maura reached inside the fridge for the salad. "Sounds good to me. Want to go get the plates off the table while I mix the salad?" This would be a new experience for Maura. She'd never served her plate straight out of cooking pans, not even when she'd dined alone.
"Okay," Jane called over her shoulder, already walking into the dining room. She pulled up short when she got her first glimpse of the elegantly decorated table. A pair of crystal candlesticks bracketed a stunning arrangement of fresh cut flowers and sat on a hand stitched white tablecloth, one that reminded Jane of the tablecloth her great Aunt Anita had made and given to her parents on their wedding day. Her mother had only used it once on her 25th wedding anniversary, saying that it was just too pretty to use unless it was a very special occasion.
"Jane!" Maura called out and startled Jane from her musings. "Bring the salad plates, too!" Jane just nodded to herself and moved closer to the table. She stared down at three plates, three forks, and two knives, and that was just one place setting. All were made of fine china and antique sterling silver.
"Okay!" she called back and moved the specially folded fan-like napkins from their dinner plates. She frowned at the other plates on the table. Two of them had to be the salad plates, but she had no idea what the other two were to be used for. Taking a chance, she picked up the larger ones and headed back to the kitchen. She couldn't help but cast a glance back over her shoulder at the table and hope that, when the time came, she'd be able to figure out which utensil to use.
Maura looked up from tossing the salad. "The serving spoons are in the drawer next to the stove."
Jane moved next to her friend and placed the plates on the island. She watched Maura glance down at the china and smile. So, she'd evidently chosen well, Jane thought, or Maura was just being nice.
Ten minutes later, they were seated at the table and Jane now knew the reason for the third plate and second knife. She'd fiddled with her napkin long enough to watch Maura place a piece of garlic bread on the empty plate and use the knife to cut it in half. Jane thought it was a complete waste of dinnerware, but she mirrored her friend and did the same. In the Rizzoli household, one plate was used to pile everything on and one fork and one knife were sufficient for eating and cutting. It made cleaning up easier, too.
"Oh, this is as good as your mother's," Maura said as she took her first bite. She practically moaned her approval.
Jane dug into hers. "Technically, it is my mother's. She prepared everything." She couldn't keep the edge out of her voice.
"You seasoned the sauce, layered everything, and generally put it all together. She just saved you some time, that's all," Maura pointed out, believing every word she'd said. She readied to add to the defense of her friend's lasagna-making ability, but an eerie sound, straight out of a B-Horror movie, filled the air before Maura can continue. Jane sighed in frustration and slipped her cell phone from her pocket.
"What is it, Ma?" she asked sharply and stabbed a piece of lettuce with her fork. "Yes, I remembered to soak the noodles in hot water, not warm." She'd only done that once and that was only because she hadn't realized her hot water heater was on the fritz. "No, I didn't add the seasoning until after the meat was browned." She looked over at Maura and rolled her eyes.
Maura just chuckled and took a bite of bread. She washed it down with a sip of wine and kept her attention on Jane.
"We're just starting to eat now," Jane reported, hoping that her mother would get the message and hang up. No one knew better than Angela Rizzoli how much better lasagna tasted when it was hot. Jane dared to take a bite of salad just as Angela decided to get to the real reason for her call.
"You know, Jane, Maura is a wonderful woman. Your father and I have talked, and we think it's perfectly okay for you to see her romantically." Jane stopped chewing. "You could do worse, let me tell you. Carla Talucci's daughter is dating a man who's just been released from prison. He's a murderer, Jane, out on some kind of technicality. You really ought to look into that." A moment's pause, one Jane desperately needed just to remember how to breathe. "But that's for later. Now, I just want you to concentrate on being happy. I think Maura could make you happy, Jane. And don't worry about giving me grandchildren right away. We can figure that out later. They have those sperm banks on practically every street corner now." Jane inhaled sharply and choked on her partially chewed salad. Maura leapt to her feet.
"You okay, Jane?" she asked worriedly as she knelt beside her friend's chair. She placed a hand on Jane's arm and waited for a reply. Jane didn't make a sound; she just shook her head and Maura stood quickly. "I need you to stand, Jane," she said calmly, having enough insight to grab Jane's phone while her friend was pushing to her feet. "Angela, Jane will call you tomorrow." She ended the call and moved behind Jane, placing her arms around the other woman's waist. This wasn't exactly how she'd ever imagined hugging Jane, she thought fleetingly, as she positioned her fist and thumb into proper position. Wrapping her free hand over her fist, she delivered five upward squeeze-types of thrusts. The lettuce came free on the last.
"Jesus!" Jane exclaimed breathlessly as she put her hands on her knees and bent over slightly. Her mind was a whirlwind of thoughts and emotions, and she felt like she was caught up in the vortex of a tornado. Everything was swirling around her, dipping in closer and, just as something would come into focus, it would retreat as if it had been ripped from her grasp.
"Jane, you need to sit," Maura said in concern. She draped her arm around Jane's back and moved in beside her friend. "Can you breathe okay?"
"Yeah," Jane croaked, more because of her state of mind than her state of health. She stood on shaky legs and allowed Maura to help her into her chair.
"Let me go get you some water," Maura said quickly, hurrying from the room, once she was sure Jane was breathing on her own. Jane just leaned her head back against the chair and looked up at the ceiling. The storm was gone and she could see clearly now.
There hadn't been a flat tire; there were no blind dates. Her mother hadn't been trying to fix Maura up with Frankie. It hadn't been a thank-you dinner, either, although Jane had pretty much figured that out in the beginning. But never in her wildest dreams would she have ever imagined that her mother would try to fix her up with her best friend a woman. She didn't think Angela would ever accept her for who she truly was.
"Here," Maura said as she held out a glass of water and knelt down by the chair, retaking her place by Jane's side.
Jane lifted her head and looked at the glass. She reached out and took the heavy crystal, suddenly feeling very thirsty. She had to take small sips to keep from downing the entire glass. Finally, she looked over into eyes filled with concern.
"This isn't just a dinner date," Jane said softly. "It's a date, date, isn't it?"
Maura smiled. "That's what I had hoped."
"Were you ever going to tell me?" Jane asked, feeling a little foolish not to have figured out what was going on. She wondered how she ever made detective.
"Maybe," Maura replied honestly. "My preference was for you to figure it all out on your own. It would have been better if you hadn't had to nearly choke to death."
"So, Ma's call "
"No, Jane," Maura cut the other woman off and eased her hand to Jane's arm, lightly running it back and forth in soothing strokes. "I had no idea Angela was going to call, and I didn't know she was going to come over today, either." Maura ducked her head in guilt. "I suspected the reason for your mother's dinner invitation a few weeks ago. I knew for sure when no one showed up at the door after your mother and Frankie left."
"I should've figured it out, too. It's just that I'm always so suspicious of Ma," Jane admitted, and she'd had lots and lots of reason to be suspicious.
"Well, you know now," Maura said. "Question is, what do you want to do about it?"
One edge of Jane's lips lifted in a lopsided smile. "You remember when I teased you about having lasagna for breakfast?" She turned in her chair and reached out a hand. She gently cupped Maura's cheek.
Maura grinned widely and leaned forward. Two pairs of lips met in a gentle kiss as Angela's Twilight Zone ringtone played in the background.
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