*This chapter contains strong language, more flirting, bizarre anecdotes and finally some kissing. It only took the girls 22 chapters.
22. An Extra For Dinner
"We get a call from the ER. This guy had come in with some kind of animal bite to his arm, the same kind of venom as the victims," Maggie told a rapt Derek, Ian and Claire.
"There was another victim?" How did I never hear about this case? Derek asked, his soda can clutched in both hands.
Maggie made a sweeping gesture with her free hand. "Oh no, this was the serial. He'd been getting the stuff he put on the knife from his pet dragon."
Ian slapped his forehead and his head bounced off the doorjamb where he'd been leaning. He didn't seem to notice. "A komodo dragon. They have that venom in their mouths." I did a report on them-
Derek motioned him to be quiet. "Sixth grade, we know. Let Maggie talk." You got him on the poison theory.
Maggie tilted her head to one side and regarded him with a slight smile. "We got him because his pet bit him and he knew enough about the venom to know we could match it." She thought something else and Ian laughed. Claire pursed her lips, smiling but looking disgusted. Derek was captivated.
Maggie glanced over at me. "He waited so long to come in his arm was green. They had him hooked up to about seven machines when the cops got there. He tried to run for it with his IV stand and his butt hanging out of his gown," she filled in for me with a grin.
I smiled back. I hadn't expected this charismatic story-teller side of Maggie. I think I would've paid to see that. "Anyone have to tackle him?"
She shook her head. "You wouldn't have wanted to see it or tackle it. Hospital security caught him at the end of the hall."
Ian leaned forward, face pink from laughing. "Derek said you were in Oklahoma for the Preston case. Did you-"
"Has anyone offered Maggie a seat?" Mom asked as she nudged Ian out of the doorway. "You should have a seat in the living room. We're still waiting on Anthony and Dani."
Maggie shook her head. "Takes me forever to get back up," she demurred, her beaming smile turned on Mom.
Mom smiled back, charmed. "Well at least let someone get you a drink. I'm going to have to steal part of your audience." Mom gave Ian and Derek a stern look. "Someone hasn't set the table and I'm not seeing the extra chairs around it either."
Ian, Derek and Claire all looked sheepish and scattered.
"I'll go get the wine," I said, knowing I was next.
Mom grabbed my sleeve. "Finish giving Maggie the tour. She never got past the kitchen once Derek saw her." She gave my arm a pat and disappeared into the kitchen.
I thought I was in trouble too. "Do you want to see the sunroom? There's a hot tub." That sounded like such a line. I laughed through my blush.
Maggie touched my hand. "Not with your mom and a house full of siblings. Let's see it."
I led her through the living room and held the door to the sun room. There isn't much to see. "We used to have the pool table back here," I said and gestured to the spot where the hot tub sat.
She looked around the room, taking in the ping pong table and the deck table where we sometimes ate lunch. "I think I would have voted hot tub over pool table too."
I wasn't sure if I'd thought about the family vote or if we seemed like that kind of family. Tony was the only one that voted no because he didn't have a big enough apartment to keep the pool table when Dad got rid of it. "It's nice to sit in the hot tub and watch it snow."
Maggie watched me with her head tilted. "You're nervous."
I shrugged and looked out over the yard. "I thought you would be. It took some convincing to get you to come." They can be a little much sometimes, the whole family at once.
"I like them. And maybe I wanted you to charm me.”
When I turned to look she was standing at my elbow. This close her hair seemed to have a red tint. You think I'm charming? "You're the one with the charm today. The boys are a lot better at talking than listening. They would've let you go on all night."
"You think I'm laying it on too thick." It wasn't a question but her expression was curious. She glanced down at my hand.
I took hers between both of mine. "They like you." Derek might steal you after dinner and keep you locked in his basement.
She smiled again, the rare full smile that had made me lightheaded earlier. She leaned toward me and lowered her voice to a whisper. "You're going to let him beat you to me?"
My breath caught and I shook my head. No.
Her head was bent close to mine. Her eyes had little flecks of green in them. "I was-"
"Tony and Dani are here. On time and everything. Must be for you, Maggie," Derek half-shouted as he burst through the door.
I jumped but Maggie didn't let me move away, the hand I had been holding turned to grip my fingers. She turned her head to Derek, showing me the white curve of her neck. "Elise was showing me the yard, we'll be right in."
She held his gaze and must have added something else because he nodded quickly. "Sure, we'll be in the kitchen."
She didn't turn from the door until it closed. "Interesting guy," she said, regarding me from inches away.
I swallowed. He's something. "We should go in."
She leaned in and moved to the side at the last moment. "You're adorable when you're nervous," she said in my ear.
When she didn't move I found my voice. "My whole family is less than thirty feet away." Either kiss me so they have a good reason to tease me all night or stop keying me up.
She did move back at that and her hand squeezed mine hard. Her face was serious, eyes boring into me. For a moment I wasn't sure what she would do and then she released my hand and took a step back. "I wouldn't want to give them any more fodder," she said after a deep, shaky breath. "And I could use a few Advil."
I nodded; my hand tingled where she had gripped it. "Is it your shoulder?" You haven't been around the boys long enough to get a headache. I hoped that she wasn't getting another one. I'd have to let her head home and endure the boys' taunting about scaring her off.
"Definitely the shoulder," she assured me.
I led the way back into the house and tried to remember where mom kept the Advil.
"It's in the cabinet over the microwave. Headache?" Mom asked from the kitchen door. She looked past me to Maggie and frowned. "You should have said your shoulder hurt. Come on and sit at the table, I'll get you an ice pack." She moved forward like a battering ram and took Maggie's good arm to lead her into the dining room.
I bit my lip not to laugh at the alarmed look Maggie gave Mom. "A couple of Advil will be fine, I don't need to ice it right now."
After they disappeared around the corner I went to the kitchen.
"No man, don't you remember? They're like, this big, minimum," Ian was telling Tony, his arms held wide. They have that crazy venom in their mouths.
I nudged Tony with my elbow to move him away from the microwave so I could get to the cabinet. Dragons again, make him stop, I pleaded and lifted up on my toes to get the bottle.
When I closed the cabinet Tony put his arm around my shoulder. "I hear your Dr. Lochlan started it."
"How could she have known?" I asked and tilted my head so he could kiss my cheek. Derek, grab me a glass of water? Maggie's shoulder is bothering her, I told him and held up the pills.
He pulled away from the fridge where he'd been leaning and watching Ian go on about dragons. "We should've put her in the living room." At least until dinner. She's not going to have to leave early is she? He was almost anxious as he handed me the full glass.
"I'm sure she'll try to stay for pie." If you don't scare her off by then, I told him, giving Ian a wink as I went by. He was frowning at everyone for making fun of his dragons.
"Really, I'll be fine for dinner. Here's Elise with the Advil," Maggie said as I rounded the corner. She looked relieved to see me.
Mom and Claire glanced up from where they'd been hovering. Mom looked worried and Claire sly.
"Well let's get everyone in here then. Claire, would you help Derek bring the wine in?" Mom looked toward the kitchen, silently calling in everyone else. Something made her frown and she stalked into the kitchen. "What about my rolls?" she demanded.
"Get enough Mom time?" I sat next to Maggie and dropped the pills in her hand. Here, these should help. That and the unlimited supply of wine.
Her amused expression was the more reserved one I was used to. "I think I-"
"It's not an unlimited supply." I mean, five bottles? Nothing, Derek broke in putting the three bottles he'd been carrying in the center of the table next to the salt and pepper shakers.
Claire followed a second later and put two bottles of red on the table as Derek flopped into the chair on Maggie's left. Claire sat next to him. "I opened the merlot and the cab when we got here to let them breathe, what about the last bottle of white?"
He shook his head just as I said, "No one touches the Kendal Jackson."
Maggie eyed the bottles on the table.
"Mom drinks the swill," Derek said before she could ask. It's the only white she'll drink.
"Well I like it. You eat your bacon after dipping it in your orange juice, so let's say there's no accounting for taste," Mom said and set a basket of undamaged rolls on the table next to him.
Derek shrugged and rolled his eyes, earning him a smack across the back of his head as Mom walked behind him to get to her seat.
As soon as Mom was seated platters and bowls started going around the table. Ham, mashed potatoes, salad, rolls, green beans and gravy. Mom uncorked the Kendal Jackson and offered it to Maggie. "It's much better than they make out."
Maggie shook her head. "No, thank you. I have to drive home."
Derek, Claire and Tony burst out laughing and I coughed into my napkin.
"Have some of the Riesling then." Derek poured some in her glass. Half a glass at dinner is supposed to be good for you, isn't it, doc?
Maggie snuck a look at Mom who shook her head with a smile. "More for me then," she said and filled her own glass. She ignored the looks we gave her when she started dropping ice cubes into the wine. "Anthony, did you ever hear what happened to that boy in Teresa's class?"
A boy in her class was arrested for shoplifting three times. They were talking about rehab, I explained to Maggie as I passed her the basket of rolls. "Better stock up on those, they go fast."
She put two on her plate and passed the basket across her sling to Derek.
"He went into rehab last week. He's going to be a year behind and lost to his peer group by the time he gets back," Tony told mom while Derek poured wine into every glass he could reach.
"What was he diagnosed with?" Maggie asked as she spooned green beans onto her plate. She passed the dish to Derek who put the butter dish in her hand.
Tony shrugged. "Antisocial Personality Disorder. Which he may or may not have."
"Where'd they diagnose him?" Wasn't there some vandalism too? Derek asked and passed the green beans on without touching them.
"Over at Lincoln. Something about his social network not being adequate. They never confirmed that vandalism thing," Tony said and put a perfect square of ham in his mouth.
"If he's an APD case, a lot of them get misdiagnosed, but if he really is, it seems reasonable," Maggie offered and took sip of her water.
Tony swallowed and pointed at Maggie with his fork. "You think that's a valid treatment? Removed from school for at least a year?" Tony asked, more interested than annoyed as he leaned over his plate and got his sleeve in the gravy.
Maggie tapped her fork against her plate the same way she tapped her pen when she was thinking. "You make it sound like you don't want them in rehab. I've found it pretty effective. There's…"
Mom touched my arm and I was glad to turn my attention to her. I was never good at keeping up with Tony's clinical stuff. I had a hard enough time following Maggie sometimes.
Mom and Dani told me about the quilting show they'd gone to together and the guy who tried to tell them that Mom's quilts were a physical manifestation of her inner childhood angst.
Suddenly Mom's face froze in mid-laugh. The whole table went silent. Mom and Dani were looking the same way, past my shoulder, and I turned in that direction to see Maggie frowning hard, pinching the bridge of her nose. Everyone else stared at her, and Derek's mouth was open.
Maggie, are you-
She pushed her chair back hard enough to make the table slide a few inches. She stood up with her napkin held tight in one hand. Their eyes tracked her. She turned toward Mom but looked at the wall over her head. "Excuse me," she said, her face tight and red. She stumbled over the chair and she was gone. I heard the front door open and then slam shut.
What was that? I looked around, instead of staring at her, they were all watching their plates. I stood up and went through the formal living room to the foyer. I opened the front door and let it close too hard behind me. I shouldn't have let him sit there. If Derek said something to her- "Maggie!" I called when I saw her at her car.
She didn't turn and cursed when she dropped her keys. She bent at the knees to try to grab them.
"Here," I said and crouched to pluck them out of the icy grass.
"I don't know what made me think I could do this," I heard her say above my head.
My knee popped when I stood up. The keys were cold and wet in my hand. "Do what?" I asked and offered them to her.
She ignored them, not quite looking at me. "Family dinners." She waved her hand at the house. "I can't do it with my family I don't know what made me think I could do it with yours. Mine covers better but I should have known. Did you see your Mother's face?" She said it all in a rush, as though she'd been waiting for the chance.
"You were a hit." I was more confused than ever. What happened in there?
Her frown shifted into a look as confused as mine. "You don't know?" She frowned again and held out her hand for the keys.
I could almost feel her digging. I touched her hand and dropped the keys into it. I didn't resist or block when she held onto my fingertips. What happened?
"You have no idea, do you?" She released my hand and leaned against the car, careful not to jostle the sling.
I shrugged, that seemed obvious. "You know I don't. Tell me." Everyone was staring, someone must've said something. If it was Derek there's no excuse for him.
She looked past me, toward the house, eyebrows drawn together. "No one said anything. I'm sure they have a lot to say now."
What then? I edged closer to the car so I could see her face in the light from the porch. Her eyes were darker in the low light, no green in them.
She turned her head, looked out across the lawn and put her keys in her pocket. Her eyes were tight, the lines around them stark, and she raised her hand to her face to rub them. She blinked hard to let her contacts settle back into place. "Lee, he..." she cleared her throat. "I was talking to Derek and he bumped my shoulder. It hurt and I think Lee felt Derek was a threat. He gave your brother a clear reason to back off."
"He what? Talked to Derek?" I asked, my eyes wide. I didn't think it worked like that, I mean it's a PED sub, isn't it?
She shook her head. "It doesn't work like that. Sometimes when Lee thinks someone is a threat he sort of," she paused and rubbed the back of her neck with one hand, "he pictures what he would do to them. Of course sometimes he does it for no reason at all,” she added with a distant expression.
I blinked in surprise. I had noticed her pause, a tight distracted look on her face, more than once while we were working together. The look was followed by Tylenol and tea. Is that what happens when you get those headaches? "He pictured cutting him up or something?"
Maggie winced and then shrugged, wincing again when she moved her shoulder. "He uh, tied him up and, well, it doesn't matter," she said and stared at her shoes.
I thought about that for a moment. Other than a good scare, it wasn't as if she'd done anything to him. Served him right for badgering you all night, I decided and reached forward to touch her hand again. I wanted her to know I didn't think it was her fault. "I didn't know it was like that. It explains why your headaches are so distracting when you're working."
"It happens once a day or so. I wasn't sure you knew," she said and looked at our hands.
I squeezed her fingers. I thought the headaches might be related. Remind me to never threaten you when we're working, I thought, trying to make it less serious, trying to make her look at me.
She looked up, eyes wide, and then she smiled. "At work it's in reaction to the pictures. He doesn't react well to the blood." She rubbed her thumb over the back of my fingers. "I thought you didn't know. You never thought about him."
I shrugged and showed my worry by saying the first thing that came to mind. "And risk pissing you off?" Gates would've killed me. Besides I thought it was giving you headaches, not chopping people up in your head. I stepped back. I'd gone too far.
She didn't let my hand go. Her eyebrows were low over her eyes though she wasn't frowning. "It's ok. I mean that wasn't funny, but I thought it would bother you more."
I gestured toward the house. I've got my own definition of strange. I grew up with them, I told her, my face warm, my hand hot where she held it.
She glanced at the house with a slight frown. When she turned back to me she had pulled her lip between her teeth. "You're sure?" When I nodded there was the slightest pressure on my hand pulling me toward her.
I stepped as close as we had been in the sunroom, so close I had to tilt my head back to see her eyes. They were moving over my face. I knew she could feel my consent, and still she was waiting for something. Kiss me.
Her head tilted forward and I let my eyes close. Her lips touched mine briefly. I tightened my grip on her hand and lifted up onto the balls of my feet to keep in contact. She pulled us together and threaded her fingers through my hair to hold my head to hers. You taste like Riesling. I settled my hands inside her coat against the small of her back.
She nodded. "You taste like Kendall Jackson. It might grow on me."
I didn't think she'd seen me sneak a sip out of Mom's glass. "Now who's trying to be funny?" I tilted my head to the side, inviting her to kiss me again. You'll love cheap chardonnay when we're done with you.
Her smile showed a hint of white teeth. She dipped her head again, sucking my bottom lip into her mouth and grazing it with her teeth so my hands went tight against her spine.
"I like it better already," she said, out of breath when we parted.
You needed incentive, I told her and slid my hands higher along her back.
She watched me, eyes half closed. Her fingers rubbed against my scalp and made the skin tingle. Her expression turned serious and her hand went still. "You understand, about Lee? He could show up at any time. Any time."
I frowned for a moment before I understood what she was implying. It was strange to realize he was in there with her yet I hadn't seen or heard anything to make me think she wasn't in control. "Anytime? Already thinking about that, are you?" I asked, not ready to lose the moment. Or were you thinking about it before?
Her expression softened even if she didn't smile. "Maybe. I'm serious though."
I shrugged, determined to keep things light. "Maybe he'll like me." You like me.
A strange look flashed over her pale face and then she frowned again. She spoke slowly, weighing each word. "That wouldn't bother you? If he liked you?"
I frowned in confusion. She was touching me, her hand was against my neck. She would know if it bothered me as soon as I did. "As long as he isn't into water sports, I think we'll be ok."
She stared at me and then started laughing. I couldn't keep a straight face and laughed too. "You're disgusting," she said and kissed me again until I couldn’t feel my feet. Her hand drifted away from my neck and she drew back. "I'd better go."
I left my hands where they were and kept her from moving away. "You didn't have pie," I said and winced at my wheedling tone. They were surprised, they'll be ok.
Her eyes shifted to the house, her expression remote. "Derek is watching us through the living room window."
I didn't turn around because I was sure it was true. I loosened my grip on her waist and let her move back. "He's disgusting." Do you want me to call tonight, after I meet with Gates?
She touched my hand. "I'll be up." She opened the door and let me close it for her before she backed out of the drive and into the street.
I stood in the driveway and waved. I watched until her car was out of sight before I turned back to the house. Derek wasn't in the window anymore.