It had been one of those nights, one of the nights that seemed never ending, one of the nights where he’d spent more time staring up at the ceiling than he actually spent sleeping, one of the nights where he was actually happy to see the streaks of sunlight begin to peek through the window from behind his bed. It had definitely been one of those nights. He wasn’t a stranger to nights like this. In his line of work, cases sometimes kept his mind spinning long after he clocked out and left the precinct. They tell you not to bring the work home, but he always had—maybe that was because there was no one at home to distract him. Tonight though, it had been an entirely different reason.
Each time he’d closed his eyes, he could still feel her body pressed against his. He replayed the moment, becoming more and more certain with each recollection that it had indeed been Phyllis that initiated the kiss. Granted, he hadn’t stopped her, but she couldn’t have expected that he would. Could she? And then there was the way she smiled at him…almost as if she wasn’t sorry it happened. Almost as if she wanted him as much as he wanted her.
“Jesus,” Ronan hissed, throwing the covers off his body and forcing himself to stand. He’d been back in town only a few days and she’d already managed to throw him completely off kilter. She was the only one that could. He sighed, trudging to the small bathroom and leaning over the sink to splash water on his face. Today was his first day back at the Genoa City Police Department. He needed to be ready.
“Oh, it’s so good to see you,” Phyllis smiled, pulling away from the hug. “It’s not easy having a best friend that’s a hot shot lawyer with a crazy, busy schedule.”
Michael sighed, taking a seat across the table from her and taking a sip from the coffee cup in front of him. “I know. I’m sorry. I’ve barely had time to sleep, much less plan lunch dates, but I’ve been thinking about you a lot. You look good.”
“Thanks,” she sighed. “So do you.”
He leaned back in his seat, making a show of straightening his tie. “I mean it,” he said softly. “You look like you’re doing better.” His eyes met hers, studying her intently. “Are you? How are things?”
She could already feel the prickle of tears threatening to form behind her eyes and she took a proactive breath to steady herself. “See,” she smiled, “this is why I wanted to do this in public. To try and shame myself into maintaining my composure.”
“Hey. No one expects you to get over everything you’ve been through so quickly. Everyone understands how difficult this has been for you.”
“Jack?” He was one of the few people that knew the entire, sordid story. Everyone knew the press’ version, but he knew the one his friend told him, the one she’d managed to get out in between sobs. He’d been there for all of it, for the affair, for the explosion that followed, for the brief glimpse of happiness she had. Then he’d been there to watch her fall apart. He’d watched her cry and blame herself. He’d watched her fear that God was punishing her for everything she’d done wrong. The last thing in the world he wanted was to see her hurt anymore. She’d stopped him from going to Jack before, but if he was doing or saying anything to make things worse for her…
“I told you before—all you have to do is say the word and I’ll go talk to him.”
“It’s not Jack,” she said softly.
“No? Not Traci or Ashley? I thought they’d backed down after everything that happened?”
Phyllis nodded sadly. “Yeah, they did. I mean we’re never going to be close, but they don’t shoot daggers at me every time they see me anymore and they have stopped by to see Grace once or twice. There’s a lot of guilt there,” she whispered. “They both thought they’d have time to make it right…we all thought we had more time.”
Michael reached across the table, taking her hand. “I know you did.”
“Okay.” She shook her head and blinked repeatedly. “That’s not what I came here to talk to you about though. It’s about something else…about someone else.”
His eyes shot up in surprise. “Someone?”
“Yeah..Ronan came by to see me the other night.” She watched as Michael’s eyes widened with a mix of surprise and interest.
“He just showed up? Totally out of the blue?”
“Completely random. I had no idea he was even in town. I literally opened the door and he was standing there, staring at me.”
Michael stared at her silently for a moment. It made sense now, the change he’d detected when he arrived. Though it had taken him some time to accept it, Phyllis and Billy had been something very real. Their relationship was solid and, in a way, they were a natural fit. He’d worried about her—after Billy’s death—fearing she’d never find anyone that made her feel that complete again.
But then there was Ronan. That was a different type of relationship to be sure, but the ease was there, the comfort was there and, as he watched her recount the events of the previous night, he saw a sparkle in her eyes he hadn’t seen in nearly a year.
“So, when you said desk work you literally meant desk work?” Ronan stood behind the desk, his eyes roving over the pile of papers that appeared to have been waiting on him for weeks.
Paul laughed softly. “Look, I know this isn’t exactly the excitement you’ve been missing, but I really need someone to take care of this mess. It’s mainly just some cases that need to marked and closed, some evidence that needs to be logged, a few requests from other precincts for case files, database alerts, stuff like that….”
Ronan sighed heavily. “How long has it been since you’ve had someone do ‘stuff like that’?”
“It’s been a while,” Paul said with a shrug, “But I have complete faith in you. I’m sure you’ll have this up and running in no time flat. So, what do you say? Can I count on you?” He stared at him with hopeful eyes.
“Sure, why not.” Ronan smiled as Paul slapped him on the back before hurrying back into his office. He let a large puff of air leave his mouth before sliding some of the files over on the desk to make room for the coffee cup. The computer screen flashed with alerts, the red number 11 in the upper right corner indicating the number of database matches that had occurred in the last few days.
Shaking his head, he took a seat and began to scroll. The monotony of the work would actually be a welcome distraction from some of the other thoughts that had been rambling through his brain this morning. His eyes fell on a message, an alert to a match in their fingerprint database. The officer’s name wasn’t one he recognized but, as he pulled up the match, he felt his mouth grow dry.
For a moment he stared at the screen, willing the name to change, blinking repeatedly—hoping this was all a crazy illusion, a consequence of too little sleep and far too much coffee, but the bold typeface wouldn’t fade. He placed his hands flat against the desk, pushing himself up until he was standing.
“Chief,” he managed, pausing for a moment to clear his throat before continuing, “I uh…I just realized that I have something I have to take care of today. Would it be okay if I…” His brain was so full of questions, of scenarios, of things he should do, of potential outcomes. He shook his head harder, trying to clear his mind in the same manner one might clear an Etch-A-Sketch, “Would it be okay if I started tomorrow?”
Paul looked up, eying him quizzically. “Everything okay?”
“Yeah..Yeah…Everything’s fine. It’s just..when I noticed the date on the calendar. I realized I had an appointment. It just hit me…you know how it is…” He forced a smile, his insides churning, his heart still racing, his legs shaking beneath him.
“Uh, sure. Yeah, that’s fine. Whatever you need to do. I’ll see…” Paul watched in confusion as Ronan nearly bolted from the room. “tomorrow,” he whispered.
The cool air was a relief from the pressure that seemed to be building inside his body. Ronan grabbed his phone, immediately pressing the series of numbers that were now burned into his brain. His beat training was finally good for something. The drills of memorizing license plates had made phone numbers simple feats.
“Yeah, uh…this is Detective Ronan Malloy with the Genoa City Police Department. I need to speak with Office David Brickman. It’s about the fingerprint match that pinged in our system. He sent a message.” He paused waiting for a response. “Yeah..Yeah…that’s right. Billy Abbott. The name was Billy Abbott.”