Juliet, You're Not Afraid Anymore
A Psych Story
For a few seconds, breathlessness descended, clutching tight to his neck; a note of dread passed through him like an electrical shock. All she had done was tilt her head in the sunlight, and laugh.
Henry had . . . almost forgotten; a single day from years back, not even a full one—just a handful of hours that had slid through his fingers like a fine sand, or a scarf made of silk. Still . . . Juliet O'Hara had left her impression upon him. Henry caught his breath.
He was surprised that Shawn could spare a moment for him; his attention, these days, seemed firmly affixed to Juliet. It wasn't hard at all to guess why. But the couple had made time to stop by his house for dinner on a fantastically beautiful early evening; at Juliet's insistence, they were on time, and brought a bottle of Henry's favorite wine. Henry imagined that his son had teased her over this—but she was never one to back down.
There had been the tells, in spite of—or perhaps because of—her youth (mid-twenties, wavy hair long and sun-kissed, trendy, too revealing clothes; not a fan of flannel, or, thankfully, belly chains). Even her voice, musical but thin, like a teen's, as if she was still growing into herself.
He'd hoped she was merely off-duty, or even undercover (if it was the latter then she could be deep in, living someone else's life). He approached, on guard, but with a light smile which touched his eyes. In spite of her casual appearance, she'd held herself with pride, calmly bringing her surroundings to her, entirely alert under the guise of not being so. Maybe it was just that because he was a cop, and had been a cop for a good fifteen years, that he knew cops, could find them anywhere, even when they retired or mutated themselves into those easily hateful PIs.
Thing was, there were still days—or those hungry, lipless hours when it rained too hard to think straight, let alone enjoy a day out on the water—that Henry missed Miami. Ironically enough, it was the near monsoons of Florida that had eventually driven him back, made him ask himself one too many times just what he thought he was doing puttering around out there.
What he thought he might be running from.
At first, he was there to have a desired and well-earned vacation—in spite of the niggling remorse that he'd turned his back on police work much too soon. The reasons he'd given himself for doing so were both gone by then—Maddie to the East coast and Shawn to Europe, or Asia, or anywhere else that was far.
Maybe . . . one of the reasons he'd picked Miami was a roundabout way to be close to both of them, though they were well out of his reach anyway.
* * *
I wish I didn't know what you were thinking, right now. I wish I could give back these thoughts, like blowing a kiss, like pressing a ring back into your hand. Yours. Only yours. I wish I didn't know.
What I would do for love, for its variables, its many catches. What I would do to get you back, rewind, unwind.
What I am leaving behind, when I am leaving. I am not leaving you, or because of you. But I am.
The reason why.
* * *
The day Henry arrived, the sky glimmered a hazy teal. The smell was nothing like Santa Barbara—Miami was city territory, with glittering towers, packed streets, always in season in spite of the season. The metal and glass slid right up to the beach, sand and surf, while the roadways twisted wildly under a white hot ball of sun. Paradise of a different kind. Henry breathed it all in, content; it would take a few days, maybe a week, to start to fully unwind, unclench his fists and his guts. Still, he was glad to be here, glad to have it covered, glad to not have to think of police work . . . unless he wanted to. He could trade in professionalism for Hawaiian shirts in all colors and patterns; the brighter, the louder, the better. There was no one to tell him, "No, don't wear it. You look ridiculous."
Actually, hadn't she . . . complimented the one he'd chosen? Henry couldn't, for the life of him, remember which one now, or if she'd actually used words. It could have been a glance, a quick once-over of appraisal: a "Your eyes pop next to that color" or a "You have the perfect skin tone for that shade". Maybe he was only recalling things he'd wanted to be true, especially coming from a pretty young woman—a stranger who knew next to nothing about him.
This was the perfect time to come here; the Northeast was just biding adieu to warm summer winds, getting out those clothes reserved for cooler weather—socks, and jeans, sweaters and heavy coats (so he'd heard), but barely any of them had booked (or even yet scheduled) their annual trips to the Sunshine State. School was just about to begin, so there would be no kids on breaks running about, or many tourists (he hoped). And he had little qualms of joining the old and older generations who chose the favorable climates for which to retire. He could understand why.
Henry had spent that morning fishing off the pier, making occasional small talk with the locals and fellow tourists—mostly businessmen who held their poles rigidly, as if eternally accustomed to pressed suits and starched shirts; men who would never be comfortable in a simple cotton t-shirt and a worn pair of jeans. He'd gone to his condo just before noon to shower and then returned to the beach, grabbing lunch from a cart in the sand.
She had been at the beach by herself, eating alone at a picnic table. What it was that had made wander in her direction, Henry still had no idea now. But the conditions had felt right, and nothing in her body language warned him against it.
And she had been the one to invite him for a stroll down the sand, across the shoreline next to the roiling tide, climbing onto the pier first. A wave to follow.
They had not exchanged names, but there was a general recognition that both, at one time or another, fought on the same side. She pointed it out first, asking about his shield and making him for a tourist. It was charming, almost flattering, Henry remembered.
"That obvious? Is Miami really such a small town?" he'd teased her lightly, but underneath his questions were other questions—and she knew the questions and answers almost immediately.
"It's stunning, to the tourists—especially the ones from up North, where they have snow," she'd said, wrinkling her nose and brushing back a few stray hairs. Her hair curled into itself, perfect tendrils of gold.
"I concur. Despite not coming from the North, I've enjoyed a few good years here."
She sighed, then eyed him, as if she might not be sure. Then she said, "I've . . . put in for a transfer, myself." Juliet smiled then, letting her teeth show. "You are the first person I've told outside of my captain—well, I mean, he'll have to read that slip of paper eventually."
Henry didn't ask her where, but his curiosity nagged. He asked her the harder question, the reason why.
She shrugged, at first.
He should have let it go, but instead he pressed, "Who am I going to tell? I'm retired. I'm on vacation for as long as I want."
Juliet had stared out across the water for a long time. Henry realized, now, that she'd looked so young—her youth caused a stirring, a tightness in his throat. Then, in those moments of silence, he'd considered where Shawn might be, at the tender age of twenty-five. Or was it twenty-six? He counted the years' passage in his head. His son knew he was here; a few scattered postcards had found their way to his P.O. Box through the years. Was Shawn all grown by now, was he a man? No. Wasn't he still seventeen, disgruntled, displaced, with wings on his shoes?
* * *
"Dad?" Shawn asked, bringing Henry around to the present. Henry tensed, waiting for the punch line. If there wasn't humor attached to offbeat affection, Henry realized he might worry—likely the way his son would if Henry didn't channel his affection into misdirection. "I was very worried about . . . my tools." It peeked, this memory; the blinding fear which had put him behind the wheel of his truck within seconds of hanging up the phone. With Shawn, this was often the way, though Henry would never grow used to it. "I knew he would go senile sooner or later," Shawn said to Juliet. "Dad, I thought you could keep up with a simple dialogue—one or two words at a time." There it was. To himself, Henry sighed with relief. Shawn didn't see it, didn't know.
Unless . . . unless he was sparing it for sometime later, when his girlfriend was out of sight.
"Shawn, be nice," Juliet chided, tilting her head again. Her eyes were a vibrant blue.
Henry gulped, swallowed hard.
* * *
"Do you ever wonder . . . if your future is waiting for you somewhere else?" Juliet asked, brushing away a strand of curls from her forehead. She was still looking out at the water, watching, perhaps watching intently, the sun going down.
A hard question—or a prickly answer, Henry thought. He tasted salt, running his tongue around his mouth as if across the smoothed edges of sea glass. For himself, he'd been born and bred in Santa Barbara; the place itself had lost no meaning for him when he left. But it was because of people that he left—because of his family, dismantled, shipped across the country and even overseas, that—he'd even felt an urge to leave.
In spite of her pause, Juliet seemed less to want an answer from him. Slowly, she angled her face towards him, stopping his thoughts with her clear blue eyes. Maddie . . . Maddie used to do that do him, fix on him so that he felt he had never known true sight before looking at her. Henry swallowed, his insides tightening uncomfortably.
To his surprise, she smiled. "You see, I'm a woman who dared to enter into a man-made world," she said. "Intentionally not user friendly, even less so for a girl. I suspect this is true in any police department in the country. So, it doesn't matter where I go . . . in that respect."
"But . . . you're going to go," Henry offered after a few polite seconds.
Juliet nodded. "There's . . ." she broke off, and fixed him with a different look, a sad, determined stare. "I'd swear you to secrecy, but since this is the first time we've met, I'll just tell you straight out. Is that okay?"
Henry opened his mouth like a fish. He never even saw the hook.
"There's little to keep me here, outside of the love of my family. But I know that no matter where I go, their love will always be with me."
No hesitation, no insincerity. She meant every word she'd delivered so seriously. Inside him, a deep thud of jealously; he couldn't say what she had without the irony, sarcasm, and sorrow to ground him in what he had lost. Still, Santa Barbara was a distant flicker, a shot of light from a flare gun reminding him to come home.
But this girl . . . she was setting herself up as an arrow in a bow: pull taut, take aim, let herself fly. Her light was elsewhere, in some place she did not even know.
For the first time, Henry considered Shawn's travels as character building, fuel to quell his restless wanderlust. Shawn might be an arrow too, might find a light elsewhere to call home. Henry squinted into the fiery sky, broken apart wildly in the reflection of orange waves below. Before he could stop himself he asked, "What else?" He didn't look at her when she gave him a sidelong glance. "Are you running away?"
Juliet turned back to the ocean, running her fingers through her hair. He liked watching her do this. "It's not like that," she answered quietly. "Some of us aren't meant to live and die in the places where we come of age." She sighed. "Or maybe it's that the timing isn't right; that we feel"—she shook her head—"I feel that the world is out there and I'm missing all of it. The good stuff, the eventful stuff, the daily stuff, the crazy stuff, even the stuff that gives you bad dreams, or indigestion, or scares you. I'm missing all of that—and I don't want to."
She smiled and turned towards him. "You were a cop—you know the world is a dangerous place. And I know it. But here, it's bottled, it's too safe. Even when my heart gets broken—it's too safe."
Henry raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"
Juliet shrugged. She looked tender at this angle, as if she were much too young to get her heart broken, let alone handle and fire a department issued Glock .17 with any sort of necessary precision. He wondered how she was at target practice.
"What I mean—what I think I mean—is that I don't want to spend my entire life here lamenting that this is all there is. That's why I've put in for the transfer. That's why I'm taking the DET exam in a few weeks." Slowly, she shook her head. "I don't want to do patrol for the rest of my career, or hear the endless flack from all the guys in my department who get promoted when it seems like I'll never be close. I want more."
More from life, more from the career, more from love, Henry thought. For a second, he considered this a young person's desire—but he tasted salt and regret when he knew he wanted more too. The career part, he'd put that behind him, but he would never stop being law enforcement minded. What he'd learned and experienced was ingrained, the instincts taught and full-fledged, sharp and fresh as the day they'd kicked in, when he knew just what to do.
She offered a wry smile. "There's more . . . I'm keeping to myself, of course."
Henry nodded. "Sure." They stood at the pier as the sun made its descent; slipping right into the ocean for a dip. Henry took a deep breath and held it in, letting it out slowly enough through his nose to still his nerves. "Listen, would you like to get a drink with me?"
* * *
Years and years had pushed this memory away; it was of little importance, like small talk he'd made with any of many people he'd come across when he'd lived in Miami.
Maybe she wouldn't remember, one day look at him as if she, too, were seeing a ghost.
* * *
The water, a rich green, muddy with light (which turned some seas blue, others brown) reflected in her eyes. He felt she might be taking in a breath, pulling the whole city into her. Her nose twitched, eventually, and she turned her face to smile at him.
She hadn't asked him why he'd retired, why, in spite of this vacation, his skin hummed, his creased eyes still alert, as if he were still waiting for shadows who peered around corners holding various weapons ready to use them with (or without) precision on the unsuspecting, the young, the old, the weak.
Her hair was its same lovely blonde, that color of sunshine and straw, flashing silver in a wash of moonlight (not that he'd been watching, not really, once the sun went down; but he had, once, imagined her and knew at the same time she was well out of his reach). Henry was glad—and slightly abashed—that Shawn knew nothing of his time away, of the one-time meeting with his future girlfriend those many years ago.
* * *
"Dad, you do have more beer in the house, don't you?" Shawn asked, startling him for a second.
"What?" Henry raised his eyebrows at Shawn before casting a suspicious glance toward the cooler. His heart was still pounding beneath his shirt.
"A six-pack really isn't going to cut it for the three of us," Shawn informed him, saving a smirk for Juliet.
"Get out that wine, and glasses instead," Henry said. "The meat's almost ready." All he'd done, he swore, was glance away from the grill for a few seconds; their dinner, in the present, was coming along nicely, in spite of his unexpected trip to the past.
Shawn groaned as if he were a child being asked to do extra chores, but he went into the house anyway. "I don't know where you keep your wine glasses, Dad."
Henry rolled his eyes and made to leave the grill. "For Pete's sake—"
Juliet put her hand on his arm, stopping him from following Shawn into the house. "Doesn't this sunset just remind you of that day in Miami?"
Henry gasped, fighting for words, or breath. He'd never expected to be taken this off-guard, that a handful of days, little droplets of water, so many years back, would bring him this strong a reaction. He couldn't, at first, collect his thoughts. "I didn't . . . I never . . ."
Shawn was already inside, his back to them. He'd never know.
She gave him that same smile—she had kept it, after all this time, got it out, dusted it off, just for him. It was . . . possible to keep secrets forever.
* * *
She kissed him on the cheek, a token, just before they parted ways. In spite of the color of the evening, she kept staring out into the night, drinking the humid air as though she expected someone coming in off the ocean, coming for her only. Or perhaps she was expecting to go, to get up and walk right out into the water, waist deep, shoulders, her face going in. Henry didn't know.
He'd had more than his limit—his tongue too loose, speaking endlessly without first consulting his reserves, knowing far within him he should not be releasing all this information, even to a stranger he'd likely never see again. But she listened patiently—even cheerfully—to every word and undoing, interjecting only when it was polite, nursing her single margarita through the fading light. She obviously had nowhere to be.
* * *
Juliet smiled. She still had her hand on Henry's wrist. "Don't worry about it."
"That day in Miami," Henry repeated, barely above a whisper. "When we were strangers . . ."
"Acquaintances," Juliet corrected. "And it was a lifetime ago." With one glance towards the doorway, she leaned forward and pecked Henry's cheek, patted his hand, and left to follow Shawn inside.
"A lifetime," Henry breathed, watching her go.