Coming home with Trisha from the police station was a little uncomfortable for Thomas. But she had offered and he was in need. Her townhome apartment was modest, with one bedroom, a bathroom and little room with a window that was set up as an office and supply closet. A small television was in the corner of the living room, which tripled as an entryway and dining room. The kitchen was set off slightly by a short bar that extended into the middle of the space, with two stools lined up along the counter on the living room side.

            "There's a futon in the office you can sleep on, or you can sleep on the sofa out here," she said. "But I get up around 4:30 a.m. to start my shift at six."

            "Thanks," Thomas said.

            "The office is in there," Trisha said, pointing to her left as she walked down the hall. "I'm going to change out of this uniform. Make yourself comfortable."

She went into her room and stared at the mirror as she unbuttoned her shirt and unfastened her bulletproof vest. What have I done, taking this guy home with me? she thought. I don't know who he really is. I wish I hadn't just given him free reign of my office. What is he going to do while I'm at work tomorrow?

            She locked her badge and gun in a drawer next to the bed, then changed into the frumpiest sweatpants and T-shirt she could find. The drawer was normally not something she bothered to lock, but now she found herself taking precautions like any clear-headed cop would do. Police training had a funny effect on her. It taught her how to respectfully distrust anyone she met, and not to take altruistic motives for granted. She'd been raised in a god-fearing family where they kept to themselves except when they delivered plates of Christmas cookies to the neighbors and things of that nature. She was 15 when a couple of drug-addled thieves knocked on her grandma's door one evening, killed the sweet old lady and ransacked her apartment. Cops only caught one of the thieves; he was released three years later because he had been a juvenile at the time of the murder, which had been pleaded down to manslaughter, and because he wasn't the one who struck the victim with a baseball bat. Sobbing at her grandmother's funeral, the teenage Trisha had dreamed of beating down the bad guys. Maybe not so much beating down bad people as much as protecting the good people who deserved better than what her neighborly grandma received. Yet now she wondered if she really had what it took to be a good cop. Maybe I am too much of a bleeding heart, she thought, straightening her hair in the mirror after pulling the T-shirt on.

            "I hope you don't take this the wrong way," she said, walking back out to the living room, "but I would prefer it if you left the house with me while I'm away at work tomorrow." She trailed off when she saw that the tired, grungy Thomas was already sleeping hard on the living room sofa. It made sense, now that she considered how long and sleepless the previous night must have been in his wrecked car. Plus, he had scampered up Half Dome that same day. No wonder he'd been so quiet since leaving the station. He seemed honest enough, and quite harmless. He was probably a fine person. She was careful not to wake him when she left for her 12-hour shift the next morning, when she saw that Thomas hadn't moved an inch from where he'd fallen asleep the night before. His shoes were still on and he was in a half-sitting position, snoring away.

            When she came home, her heart scuttled to see an empty spot on the couch where Thomas had been. She'd gotten so used to seeing him there since he'd come home with her that her subconscious apparently believed he would stay there like a plant. His bags were still on the floor next to where he'd been, and a laptop was on the coffee table. Still, her eyes nervously darted around the apartment until she noticed the shower was running. Breathing a sigh of relief and glad to have a moment of privacy, she walked into the kitchen for a snack. She was startled again. Something was off – the dishes were clean and put away. Her kitchen had probably never been so clean before. Thomas had even mopped. Silly me, she thought with a smile.

            She forgot about the snack and went into her room to change back into the regular, civilian Trish Dudley, whom she also considered to be the true Trish. Her badge read, "Trisha," but whenever she took it off, she was Trish again, and it was always nice to have that weight off her chest. This time, however, she changed into clothes that were a bit more flattering than her old sweats.

            Thomas remained in the bathroom for a while after the shower was off.

            "Hey, Tom – you alive in there? I have to pee," Trish said. "I hope you like tacos and margaritas, because I already started making them."

            "Yeah, I'm just shaving. Hope you don't mind." His voice sounded livelier than she'd ever heard.

            "Just keep as much hair out of the drain as you can, OK? And I really do have to pee soon."

            When he came out, his longish, black hair was combed back and his beard was gone. His nose looked bigger, more pronounced. His blue eyes were brighter. He looked five years younger.

            "How old are you, anyway?" she asked.

            "Thirty-five."

            "You don't look that old."

            "You think that's old? How about you, miss inquisitive – what's your age?"

            "I'm twenty-four." She blushed and looked away. It was the first time she felt like the younger one since she helped Tom out of his predicament, which he still wasn't really out of by any means.

            "How long have you been in the police force?"

            "Since I graduated pre-law and finished the academy."

            "So being a cop was always the plan?"

            "Pretty much, yeah. Ever since I decided that the world was going to shit because too many people were indifferent."

            "And when was that?"

            Trish lost her smile for a moment. She flashed back to the church at her grandmother's funeral. She resented the playful grin on the stranger's face for a second, then reminded herself that he didn't know any better. "I was 15," she said, turning around to pour two margaritas. "Here – happy Friday!" she said, handing Thomas a glass.

            "But it's only Thursday."

            "Ah, but it's Friday night for me!" she said. "I don't have to work tomorrow. Cheers."

            "Here's to drinking with a cop, then."

            They clinked glasses and filled the rest of the meal with chitchat. After the meal, Trish poured another drink and bellied up to the bar while Thomas did the dishes.

            "So, I'm guessing you don't have much of a plan for tomorrow, seeing as you're out of cash and credit, and you no longer have a vehicle," she prodded.

            Thomas stopped scrubbing in the sink and dipped his head. His back was to her. "No. I don't know what I'm gonna do. But thank you for everything. It's nice to at least feel clean and rested. I suppose I'll see if I can find a place to camp out and look for an odd job that'll pay for a bus ticket home."

            "Don't be silly. You can stay here. As my indentured servant." She was getting a little buzzed. With some embarrassment, she realized she was flirting. She couldn't remember the last time she felt relaxed enough to flirt with a stranger. Thomas was too self-conscious to notice she was trying to be cute. The fact that she had issued him traffic citations the day before probably didn't help his perception of her, either. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to pick a sore spot," Trish said.

            "Thanks. It's OK."

            He went back to scrubbing and there was a long pause in conversation. She stared into her glass, trying to think of something else to say that might not be so offensive. "Maybe I can show you around tomorrow. Looks like you could use a day off," Trish offered.

            "You sure?"

            "Yeah."

            "What do you like to do around here?"

            "Well, I'm more of a river rat myself, but not so much this time of year when the streams are low. Have you ever hiked in Pinnacles National Monument, er, Park, I mean – it became a national park in 2013 – have you been there?"

            "Where is that?"

            "It's about two hours southwest of here. It's cool. Lots of crazy rocks. You'd like it."

            Thomas thought about it. As a climber who wasn't from the area, all he ever thought about at this end of California was Yosemite National Park, which was about two hours in the exact opposite direction. Yosemite was likely still buried under snow from the storm in which he crashed his car 36 hours earlier. "Sure. Let's go," he said.

•••

            "So you've lived this close to Yosemite your whole life and you've never rock climbed?" Thomas asked Trish after he coaxed her up a tall boulder he had convinced her to scramble with him.

            "No," she said, breathing hard as she sat down next to him. The landscape of volcanic rock fanned out dramatically below the pointed summit of the boulder. "I've scrambled like this before, but never did any serious climbing with ropes."

            "Well, next time we come here, I'm bringing my gear and you can try it."

            "Then maybe I'll get a better understanding how someone like you could give up your job just to grope rocks all the time?"

            "Yeah. Maybe. Something like that."

            "Seriously, though. What do you get out of it that you could cast off from your career as an accountant at 30 years old?"

            "I wonder about that plenty myself."

            Trish was sitting right up against him. Her position seemed warm and receptive, but he couldn't draw conclusions on that – the rock's tiny summit didn't offer many options for sharing a seat. She was in short, girlie hiking shorts. Her sculpted legs were smooth and appealing next to his. Her right leg was crossed toward him and her bare knee seemed to invite him to put his hand on it. He wanted to, but couldn't quite bring himself to just do it in spite of his better judgment. In that very moment, he noticed the same feeling as when he last tried to climb a difficult route that he had been trying very hard to do without falling on the rope. Every try, he would climb smoothly to the move where he needed to balance on the fingertips of his left hand and lunge for a right hand hold that was so close and so teasingly far. And every time, his fingers would tickle the smooth, bulbous surface of the hold just as he fell away. He became obsessed with the hold as he laid in bed some nights, visualizing what it would be like to grab it with resolution and not slip off. Now, here he was again, so close to something he seemed to want very badly, and still unable to do anything about it.

            "I guess I climb because it helps me make sense out of all kinds of situations I find in life," Tom finally said. "It makes problems feel more tangible. Since I started climbing, I've learned to have a lot more courage in some situations. And in situations when I can't find courage, I've learned how to do what I have to do, even if I'm feeling squeamish about it – sometimes it's best not to think and just react. On the outside I can see how it would appear that my life is a mess. But on the inside, I'm stronger than I ever was before. I mean, it's like I barely had a personality before I started taking more risks and gaining some confidence, perhaps even a bit of cockiness. Climbing is one of the few occasions where it's easy to know exactly what I want in any given moment."

            "Is that why you dirtbags are always getting caught stealing food in the park and overstaying the two-week limit?" Trish teased, her knee still daring him to make a move. Everything about her body language told Tom to make a move. And still, he was frozen.

            "So you started climbing to find yourself?" she continued.

            "Pretty much," Thomas said, finally lifting his right hand with all his willpower. He set it deliberately on her thigh. She leaned in, her eyelids falling lustfully, her lips forming a slight pucker, inviting a kiss. Thomas obliged, but only gave her a single kiss before pulling away and looking back out at the view beneath them. But he left his hand on her thigh as they sat in silence a while longer.

            "I don't know what I'm going to do," he finally said. "If someone told me two days ago that I would be cuddling on a rock with a cop who gave me a citation for reckless driving, I never would have believed it."

            "Don't think of me as cop," Trish said. "I'm a person who has a job like anyone else. I'm already thinking of you as more than a dirtbag climber."

            "Yeah, but you didn't when you first saw me," Tom joked.

            "This is true," Trish said, turning around to scramble off the rock in the fading daylight. She was halfway down when her foot slipped.

            "Agghhh!" Her face turned white as she tumbled sideways and rolled into the jumbled rocks.

            "You OK?!" Thomas hollered, scrambling into action before Trish came to a stop. "Trish! You OK?!" he pleaded, reaching her side almost as soon as he had started down the rock.

            She squinted in numb pain and dusted herself off where she had landed. "Yeah, but I think I sprained my ankle," she said.

            "Just a sprain?"

            Trish felt a little better just thinking how cute it was that Thomas could become so overbearing and reactive at the flip of a switch.

            She hobbled home with Tom's diligent assistance. Her ankle did seem to only be a sprain. She was grateful for that, but she didn't like to think how she might explain it to her superior officer if it affected her ability on the job. "I guess you could say I fell for you," she joked.

            "Ha. Better be more careful around me," Tom said. "It's hard to anticipate what I might pull you into."

•••

            They were starving when they made it back to her apartment long after dark. Trish cranked up some Beastie Boys for a candle-lit dinner of leftover tacos with margaritas. They kissed once more. Then Tom made his bed in the office.

            She puts on Beastie Boys for dinner? he thought as he drifted to sleep. What a crazy, cool girl.

Posted
AuthorDerek Franz