“Stop…calling me that,” he said, lowering his voice at the end.
I held my hands in front of me. “I feel it’s no longer appropriate to call you Thomas.”
“Agent Maddox or Maddox is fine.” He looked down at his paper. “Now, please…please leave, Lindy.”
“Why did you call me in here if you didn’t want to see me? You could have just as easily had Constance take care of it.”
“Because, once in a while, Liis, I just need to see your face. I need to hear your voice. Some days are tougher for me than others.”
I swallowed and then walked toward his desk. He braced himself for what I might do next.
“Don’t do that,” I said. “Don’t make me feel guilty. I tried not to…this is exactly what I didn’t want.”
“I just said that,” he said, sounding exhausted.
“You all but asked for this. You wanted your feelings for me to replace your feelings for Camille. You needed someone closer to blame because you couldn’t blame her. You have to get along because she’s going to be family, and I’m just someone you work with…someone you knew would move on.”
Thomas seemed too emotionally drained to argue. “Christ, Liis, do you really think I planned this? How many ways do I have to tell you? What I felt for you, what I still feel for you, makes my feelings for Camille insignificant.”
I covered my face. “I feel like I sound like a broken record.”
“You do,” he said, his voice flat.
“You think this is easy for me?” I asked.
“It certainly seems that way.”
“Well, it’s not. I thought…not that it matters now, but that weekend, I hoped that I could change. I thought, for two wounded people, if we were invested enough, if we felt enough, then we could make it.”
I blinked. “If we ran into unfamiliar territory, which is everything for me, we could adjust for variables, you know? But I can’t throw away every plan I have for my future on the hope that, one day, you’ll stop being sad because you’re not with her.” I felt tears burning my eyes. “If I were going to give you my future, I’d need you to move on from the past.” I grabbed the flat frame and held it in Thomas’s face, forcing him to look at it.
His eyes left mine, and when he scanned over the photograph beneath the glass, one side of his mouth turned up.
Incensed, I turned the picture around, and then my mouth fell open. Thomas and I were inside the frame together, a black-and-white snapshot, the one Falyn had taken of us in St. Thomas. He was squeezing me against him, kissing my cheek, and I was smiling like forever was real.
I picked up the other frame and looked at it. It was all five Maddox brothers. I picked up the last one to see his parents.
“I loved her first,” Thomas said. “But you, Liis…you are the last woman I will ever love.”
I stood there, speechless, and then retreated toward the door.
I realized then that I had left the file on his desk, and instead, I’d walked off with the pictures in my hands. I slowly walked over to him. He held out his hand, and I returned the frames.
“I’ll just give this to Constance,” I said, picking up the file, feeling disoriented. I turned on my heels and bolted.
“Liis,” he called after me.
The moment I breached the door, I practically tossed the file at Constance.
“Have a good day, Agent Lindy,” she said, her voice carrying throughout the squad room.
I withdrew to my office and sat down in my chair, putting my head in my hands. Seconds later, Val burst in from the hall, and Marks came in after her, slamming the door behind him.
Val pointed at him. “Stop! You can’t chase me all over the building!”
“I’ll stop following you when you start giving me straight answers!” he yelled.
“What the hell is wrong with everyone today? Has this entire office gone crazy?” I yelled.
“I’ve already given you an answer!” Val said, ignoring me. “I told you I would talk to him tonight!”
Sawyer popped his head in, knocking as he did so. “Boss?”
“If he won’t move out, I will,” Val said as if the words had been punched out of her.
“Thank Christ!” Marks yelled to an invisible audience, pointing all his fingers in Val’s general direction. “A straight fucking answer!”
Thomas blew in. “What the hell is with all the shouting?”
“Are you all right, Liis? What happened to her, Val? Is she all right?” Thomas asked.
Marks spoke first, “I’m sorry, sir. Are you…are you okay, Lindy?”
“I’m fine!” I shrieked. “I just need you toddlers to get the fuck out of my office!”
All three of them froze, staring at me in disbelief.
Val and Marks left first, and then after some reluctance, Thomas left me alone, closing the door behind him.
The rest of Squad Five stared at me. I walked over to the glass wall, flipped them all both of my middle fingers, shot off several strong words in Japanese, and then pulled the blinds closed.
I READJUSTED MY CELL PHONE, so it sat better between my cheek and my shoulder while I tried to cook. “Hang on, Mom. Just a sec,” I said, resorting to setting the phone on the cabinet.
“You know I hate the speakerphone.” Her voice wafted with the spices in the air. “Liis, take me off the speakerphone.”
“I’m the only one here, Mom. No one else can hear you. I need both hands.”
“At least you’re cooking for yourself and not eating that processed poison every night. Have you gained any weight?”
“I’ve lost a few pounds actually,” I said, smiling even though she couldn’t see me.
“Not too much I hope,” she grumbled.
“I just miss you. When are you coming home? You’re not going to wait until Christmas, are you? What are you cooking? Is it any good?”
I added broccoli, carrots, and water to the hot canola oil and then pushed them around the skillet as it sizzled. “I miss you, too. I don’t know. I’ll look at my schedule, chicken and vegetable stir-fry, and hopefully, it will be amazing.”
“Have you mixed the sauce? You have to mix it first, you know, to let it blend and breathe.”
“Yes, Mom. It’s sitting on the counter next to me.”
“Did you add anything extra? It’s good just the way I make it.”
“Why are you eating so late?”
“Still, it’s nine there. You shouldn’t eat so late.”
“They’re not keeping you too busy at work, are they?”