# 52 Faithfully

Sequel to # 24 Transparent

 -- by Sarah

"She forgives me," I said aloud with relief once Jessica rang off. I glanced at the rest of the emails in my inbox. I was in no mood to respond to missives from my sisters so I logged off and took the rest of my scotch to the living room. I settled in my chair and switched on the tellie to watch the Friday evening news. Charlie Gibson was delivering yet another report on a car bombing in Iraq. Disgusted, I flipped channels for a minute before turning the tube off. After draining my drink, I went back to our bedroom to get Jessicaís latest published novel from my night stand. I lounged on the chaise and examined the dust jacket on the back of the book. There she was, this brilliant, beautiful woman whom I love so passionately and so completely. How could I have doubted for one second that she wouldnít be faithful to me? I thought to myself. I closed my eyes and listened to the quiet of the apartment. I was rarely home alone. Even now, I didnít feel completely alone knowing that she lived there too. There was a faint ticking from her alarm clock and the scent of her perfume hung in the air. The sound of the front door opening jarred me from my reverie. I willed myself stayed where I was, unsure of what action to take. I didnít particularly want to face Michael Haggarty. Jessica told Michael to make himself comfortable. I heard her approaching footsteps down hallway. I set her book aside and sat up.

"Youíre back," I said, opting for the obvious statement to break the ice.

"Yes, weíre both back. George, I need you to run an errand for me," she said, handing me a piece of paper.

"Aye, what is it? The pharmacy?" I asked, adjusting my reading glasses and peering at the piece of paper. "Marriott, Financial Center, 85 West Street," I read aloud.

"Yes, Michael received a message that his missing luggage arrived at his hotel. Would you go pick it up for him?"

I was about to protest but then glanced up at her. She had a look in her eyes that told me that I better not argue. "Very well, Iím glad to do it for you, er, for Michael," I responded.

When I emerged from the bedroom, Michael was behind the closed door of the guest room. No doubt, he was suffering from the blow that my fist had afforded him. Jessica followed me to the front door, where I retrieved my light jacket. She gave me a quick peck and sent me on my way.

I begrudgingly hailed a yellow cab and headed downtown to lower Manhattan. I knew getting to and from the financial district at this time of day on a Friday evening was not going to be a quick trip. I sat back in the dirty and cramped cab and checked emails on my Blackberry while the driver made his way through the stop and start traffic on the West Side Highway at a snailís pace. There were plenty of emails to peruse but nothing that demanded an immediate response so I put the Blackberry back in its holster attached to my belt. I settled on watching the passing sites of the river front as we traveled along. The weather was bloody marvelous and there were plenty of people out running or biking along the Hudson River trail. I sighed audibly. The driver said something to me, probably in response to my sigh, interrupting his own muttering cell phone conversation, but I didnít catch what he said. Yellow cab drivers were an interesting lot to say the least but I rarely understood them. I believed this one to be from North Africa. I shook my head and returned to gazing at the River. Jessica crossed my mind again. Hopefully Haggarty would only be with us a few days and we could return to our bliss of co-habitation that I was becoming so accustomed to. I smiled at the thought of that.

We had started off on a bit of a rocky start. It had been some time since either of us had lived with another person. Jessica was very nervous at the beginning, always fussing over dinner or some household chore and I had to adjust a few of my bachelorhood habits that I had accumulated over the years since my wife had passed away. It took some weeks for both of us to settle into a comfortable routine. Well, not really a routine, I smiled. I loved Jessicaís spontaneity and I loved sharing a life with her. I would always hope that it would become permanent, even though we had not settled on a way to legally commit to each other before witnesses, or at least I had not convinced her to marry me. I wouldnít give up on that, but I had let it drop after our close call at nearly breaking up over a misunderstanding between us on that front when we had visited San Antonio back in January.

Finally, the cabbie pulled up in front of the Marriott. Located across from Ground Zero, where the World Trade Center had stood, I marveled at its resurrection to a bustling hotel for tourists and business travelers. I passed through the grand entrance and crossed the lobby to the bell hopís stand. I collected Haggartyís luggage with no problem. Fortunately, he only had one medium sized piece and a carry on, which indicated to me that he wouldnít be lingering in New York for too long. I knew that he was always on the move and I had probably put him out of commission for a day or two at the least. I certainly cursed myself for that one. Bloody jealousy.

After I loaded the luggage into the back of the dirty yellow cab and returned to my cramped seat in the backseat, we departed on our journey back uptown. The traffic still crawled along at a snailís pace, this time with commuters working their way along the West Side Highway toward the George Washington Bridge and away from the city to their weekend escapes up state or in New Jersey. Jessica and I had both been too busy lately to find time for an escape of our own lately. My one regret of finally living with her full time that we still were too busy to spend enough quality time together. This led me to think of her with Haggarty. My jealousy wasnít completely unfounded. The previous month, she had been on an abbreviated and whirlwind three week book tour promoting her novel. She had started in Paris and then was going on to Egypt. I longed to accompany her, but she would have been too busy and I couldnít manage the time away from the consulate. She was excited about her trip to Egypt, a land of many mysteries. She never could resist a mystery, regardless of its source or outcome. Anyway, she and Haggarty coincidentally, or so he said, crossed paths in Paris. When she encountered air travel problems for her trip to Egypt, he convinced her to accompany him to Athens where she would be able to take a connecting flight to Cairo. When she called to tell me of her change in plans, I felt dread and knew that it would lead to nothing good, but she shook off my warning. That was Jessica, always trusting, sometimes to the point of naivety. Haggarty, once again taking advantage of her good nature, schemed and tricked her into posing as his wife in an undercover operation. Over the years, he had become a bit of mate of mine, but I could never understand why Jessica couldnít resist his charm. He was full of blarney, although I had to admit, that he always got the job done and bad guys didnít stand a chance when he was on the job. Anyway, when she regaled the sordid tale to me, I couldnít help feeling that he had completely crossed the line with her this time - and with me, since he knew that she and I had become a couple. Fortunately, justice prevailed and Jessica emerged with nary a scratch, but it didnít nothing but fuel the jealous fires in me. So, when I saw Haggarty looking completely at home in MY home, I completely lost control and did what I thought he had coming for a very long time. He deserved much more than a punch on his smug nose, but I ultimately regretted losing my temper, especially in front of Jessica.

Almost two hours later, I was finally opening the door to our apartment. Michael was lounging on the sofa and watching the tellie again, still wearing my sweats and tshirt. I set his bags down and went to greet him.

"Haggarty, I apologize for punching you," I said, taking note that both of his eyes were completely black from the aftermath of my well placed fist.

"Apology accepted, Sutherland," he said, shaking my hand. "I suppose I would have done the same thing had the shoe been on the other foot," Michael continued with a laugh.

Lowering my voice, aware that Jessica was emerging from her office, and tightening my grip on his hand, I added a warning: "Just know that the shoe will never be on the other foot, Haggarty." He nodded silently.

Jessica joined us in the living room. "George, youíre back. No problems?"

"Nae, the bellman had the luggage waiting for me. Now, either of you fancy a bit of dinner? I donít suppose you feel like going out, do you Haggarty?"

Before he could answer, Jessica responded, "Iíve already ordered a pizza for you two. Iím going out by myself." She started to leave the room. I shot a questioning look at Haggarty, who merely shrugged. I took my leave and followed her toward our bedroom.

"Jess? I didnít know you had dinner plans. I was hoping to treat you tonight," I said as I closed our bedroom door.

"I didnít have plans, but I think itís best if I spend the weekend elsewhere," she said, going into the bathroom.

"What? Why?" I asked, following her.

"George, I think you know why," she responded. She was refreshing her makeup and I noted that she had changed into a pants suit.

"But Jess, I thought we made up over the phone," I said, stopping her and turning her toward me.

She put her hand on my cheek and looked me directly in the eyes. "George, we did and I do forgive you and I do love you. But..."

"But?"

"But, Iím going to go to Cabot Cove for a few days."

"Tonight?"

"Yes, tonight. Iíve already called Seth and he will pick me up at the regional airport. You are going to stay here and look after Michael."

"Look after Haggarty? He can bloody look after himself," I responded a tad too bitterly.

"Of course he can, but you owe him."

"I owe him? Jessica, are you serious?"

"Yes, Iím serious. You also owe it to me. This is not just about being jealous of Michael. That I can understand. I canít understand how you can doubt that I wouldnít be completely faithful to you."

"Jess, I know youíre faithful to me, I just lost my head for a moment."

"George, you wouldnít have if you didnít harbor some doubt about me. That was evident since you, of all people, lost your temper enough to resort to violence."

I nodded and left her to her tasks. I sat on our bed and watched her. She finished packing a small overnight bag.

"How long is Haggarty staying here?"

"Until Sunday. He has to be in Washington for Monday meetings."

"When will you be back?"

"Iím going to take the early shuttle on Monday morning."

I nodded, feeling I had no other choice but to accept her plan. She was as headstrong as I was stubborn and I knew there was no getting around this. I picked up her bag for her and carried it to the front door. I watched silently while she said goodbye to Michael and then accompanied her downstairs to a waiting car. After she had pulled away, I returned to our apartment upstairs.

"How about a whiskey, or a beer while we wait for that pizza?" I offered.

"Iíd definitely welcome a beer," he accepted.

I brought back a couple of Guinness draughts to the living room. "Do ye like the Irish dark?"

"Aye, it will go down easy," he laughed, taking a swig of the black liquid.

"I never thought I would like this stuff in a bottle, but I must admit that it tastes rather like itís just been poured straight from the keg," I said, rattling the widget inside the glass bottle. We were already on our second beer when the pizza from Rayís arrived. We went into the kitchen where we helped ourselves to more beer and dug into the pepperoni pie with extra cheese and extra peppers, something Jessica would have never eaten herself. We laughed and shared war stories from a lifetime of fighting bad guys, each tale becoming more and more of a fish story. Each empty bottle of Irish draught lent to the feeling of comraderie that was growing easier by the minute. Finally after finishing the entire pie, we took our beer into the living room. We found a cricket match on a cable station and settled in to watch what was left of it.

Michael said, "Mind if I help myself to another one?"

"Not at all, help yourself."

Michael brought back a bottle for each of us. He handed one to me and then walked to the mantle where Jessica had a number of framed photos displayed. He picked up on of Jessica and me from early in our friendship.

"Sheís a beauty," he said thoughtfully.

"Aye, that she is. The most beautiful woman in the world."

"Where was this taken?" he asked.

"In the courtyard at my home in Scotland," I said taking the picture and examining it after I had joined him before the fireplace.

"Ah, the castle."

"Yes, well, it is that, but itís just a family home."

"I could never offer her something like that," Michael said with a hint of self-pity.

"Sheís not with me for money, Michael,"

"Oh, I know. Bloody hell, I know that. She does love you, you know."

"I do know, still, sometimes I canít help but think that Ö" I started.

Michael interrupted me, "Think what? That Jessica would rather be with me? Donít be a bloody fool, Sutherland. You have absolutely no reason to be jealous of the two of us, in fact, itís me who is jealous of you, of what the two of you have."

"I was a fool. Iím sorry for what I did to you."

"Oh well, Iíll heal in no time. I think itís Jess that you need to convince otherwise."

I took another sip of my beer and returned my chair. "I donít know why I doubted her. I lost my mind for a minute."

"Obviously," he said, taking a seat on the sofa.

"It was you and your damn hijinx in Athens."

Michael laughed, "Iíll never give up trying but I know that youíre the one that she wants. You didnít see how angry she was with me for that trick I pulled in Athens."

"You were having a little fun at her expense - and my expense."

"Aye, I was and Iím sorry. Like you, I can be a bit, uh, impetuous."

I laughed and agreed, klinking my beer bottle against his.

Michael asked, "Did you ask her to marry you?"

"More than once," I nodded. "She acts like she wants to but canít quite take the step. Sheís afraid of losing her freedom."

"Well, she was on her own for quite a while, no?"

"Frank Fletcher has been gone for a long time now. I think itís partly her freedom and partly a feeling of disloyalty to him."

"Well, youíve gotten this far," Michael said, gesturing with his bottle around the room. "I would have thought she was too proper even to take this step."

I laughed, "Me too. I was completely surprised when she insisted that I live her when I took the job at the consulate."

We talked about Jessica, our common background of living in the British Isles, and our careers in law enforcement. I was surprised to learn that Michael had been married once and had a grown daughter. I wasnít surprised to learn that Jessica had a hand in clearing him of accusations that he had killed his daughterís fiance.

"Thatís Jess. Sheís like a dog on a bone when thereís justice at hand," Michael said.

"You can say that again. I shudder at the thought of how many murders sheís helped solved. To be honest, I donít even know about all of them. She keeps quiet about it."

"Sheís too modest," Michael pointed out.

"Aye, and she cares too much," I agreed.

After we had emptied the entire twelve pack of Guiness, Michael retired to the guest room and I went to the master bedroom. I hated being in our bed without Jess. This was only the fourth time that we had slept apart since January, and the previous times had been about work. I tossed and turned, unable to think of anything but her. I turned over and hugged her pillow, inhaling her scent that lingered in the soft feathers. I was just drifting off when the phone rang. I glanced at Jessí alarm clock - 2:30 a.m. With a pounding heart, I grabbed it before the second ring began.

"Sutherland," I answered with a thick voice.

"George, itís me."

"Jessica! Is everything okay?" I asked, sitting up in bed and reaching over to turn on the bedside lamp.

"Iím sorry I woke you."

"I was just drifting off. Is something wrong?" I asked her again, hearing her quietly crying on the other end of the line.

"George, I canít sleep. I...I shouldnít have left," she said with a catch in her voice.

"Shhh, love. Itís all right. I deserve a swift kick like this every once in a while," I said, trying to comfort her.

"It hurt when you doubted me."

"Iím so very sorry. I didnít mean to hurt you."

"I know you didnít George."

"I promise you that I never will doubt you again. I know that it was foolish for that to even cross my mind."

"Why did you think that I would or even could do something like that to you?"

"I know you wouldnít, even couldnít, Jess. Just as I would never do such a thing to you. You are the love of my life." There, I said it. I had felt it for some time. I didnít know if I would ever share it with her and I hoped she wouldnít think I was discounting the life I had with my late wife. I loved Elizabeth and we had a special but all too short life together. Jessica was silent, as if contemplating what I had said, or maybe she was too shocked to respond. I decided to let her off the hook. "Jess, thereís no need to respond to that. Thatís just the way I feel."

"George, I love you with all of my heart and I suppose if itís possible to have two loves of a lifetime, then thatís the way I feel too."

Now it was my turn to be silent for a moment. I was feeling overwhelmed and I wanted desperately to be able to take her into my arms and hold her, to make love with her.

George?"

"Yes, love?"

"Yes, but I wish we were together right now."

"Aye, me too. I suppose Monday will be soon enough. Think you can sleep now?"

"Yes, but George, can we just stay on the phone a bit longer?"

"Aye, good idea."

I reached over, turned the lamp off and settled under the soft covers. I held the phone to my ear and listened to her soft and sexy voice. We made future plans and talked about our life together. Finally we whispered sweet nothings to each other until neither of us could keep our eyes open. Reluctantly, I hung up the phone, making a promise to call her the following morning. I hoped that she would get some rest and then spend the day wth Seth. Michael and I had talked about maybe catching a game at Yankee Stadium.

I woke up with a hangover all too early at 7:00 a.m. to the smell of frying bacon. I pulled my robe on and stumbled to the kitchen. I was surprised to see Haggarty up, cooking breakfast and looking ridiculously chipper.

"Top oí the morniní to ye," he greeted me cheerfully.

"Youíre in a bloody good mood this morning," I responded, pouring myself a cup of coffee and chasing my headache away with large gulps of the strong liquid.

"Aye, I slept like a baby. Itís a good thing too, because Iím out of here as soon as I down this breakfast."

"Youíre leaving?" I asked.

He nodded, "Aye, duty calls."

"Hmmm. Well, if youíre sure up to it."

"True, my beauty has been dimmed but I feel great."

I couldnít help but laugh, but warned, "Jessica wonít like this."

"And youíre not going to tell her right? What Jess doesnít know wonít hurt her."

"Sheíll find out one way or another. She always does."

"Well, maybe sheíll go along with me...sheís always perfect in undercover work," he suggested, shooting me a wink as we sat down to breakfast.

"Oh no you donít. Not on your bloody life."

"I thought so."

"Say, I didnít know you could cook," I commented.

"Well you know, jack of all trades..."

I finished, "Master of none?"

He laughed heartily and finished his breakfast. As he was leaving, he turned to me and shook my hand.

"So long mate, I hope we can all get together again under different circumstances. In the meantime, I suspect youíll be calling a certain fair haired lassie?"

"Aye, the thought did cross my mind," I said grinning.

"Put the pedal to the metal, mate," he said. He waved and was off.

I wasted no time in taking his advice. In no time flat, I was headed due north to Maine where my Love waited faithfully for me at 698 Candlewood Lane.