“You sick mother!” Spencer shrieked, his voice squeaking with uncontrollable laughter. Guster and O’Hara too, were doubled over their Chinese food, apparently having the time of their lives. All the while, Carlton stood there unnoticed. Worse, it seemed like none of the three were ever going to even look up, much less invite him into their seemingly hilarious conversation (even though Carlton couldn’t for the life of him figure out what the joke was). After a few more seconds of standing there awkwardly, feeling like a misfit high schooler for the first time in years, Carlton turned and walked away, the sound of laughter echoing behind him. But then the noise slowly faded out, replaced by Spencer’s voice ringing out.
Carlton spun around, for once not irked by the obnoxious nickname, as he was just glad to be acknowledged. Before he could react, Spencer sent a projectile soaring through the air, and Carlton instinctually stuck his hands out to catch it. It was a fortune cookie. More than that, it was an recognition of his presence, possibly even an offer of friendship. Without a word, Carlton turned around, daring to crack a smile once his face was no longer in view. He walked away slowly as he broke open the cookie, sticking half of it in his mouth and glancing down to read his fortune.
“Your hard work ethic will pay off soon. Keep buckling down, and your career will take off in no time!”
All of the sudden, the treat in his mouth didn’t taste so sweet. Carlton’s smile faded as he read the text once more. “Work ethic”, “bucking down”, “career”. He usually took comfort in these things, but now they seemed the only things hold him back from laughing it up with O’Hara, Spencer, and Guster. He almost despised them.
All the way home, Carlton could not shake the crippling insecurity that had come from his conversation with the chief, attempting to interact with his coworkers, and then finally staring down at that fortune cookie and realizing that maybe the root of all of his problems was in the way he lived his life.
As he entered his apartment and set down his keys, Carlton began his nightly routine of checking the doors and windows, and asuring that all of his concealed weapons were in their place. His wife had always hated it when he did that.
“Can’t you just stop working for one second Carlton?” She would say. “I can’t sit down and have a conversation with you if you’re playing cop constantly.”
Eventually, she stopped wanting to have conversations with him altogether. Then, after months of prolonged silences between them, as she no longer wanted to hear about his latest case, and it was all he wanted to talk about, she left. Carlton’s heart was none other than broken. He hadn’t felt sorrow like this since his father had regularly disappointed him as a child. More than anything else, he wanted to not feel that way. At first, he made it his mission to bring Victoria back, so he didn’t have to experience the pain of her leaving him. He had her followed, tracked her cell phone, whatever it took. Nothing worked. So as a last resort, Carlton dove into his work, desperately trying to eliminate any thoughts of Victoria. It worked, kind of, but it turned out the best medicine to his misery was when he found someone else.
Lucinda was amazing. Beautiful, dynamic, and most importantly, she was just as driven and career obsessed as he was. Was he in love? No. But she at least numbed the pain he was feeling for a little while.
And then came Shawn Spencer. Not only did he immediately identify Carlton’s relationship with Lucinda, getting her transferred, but he was a damn good detective. Better than Carlton. Better than any detective on the force in fact. Meaning that once Spencer swooped into the SBPD, Carlton lost the one thing he had going for him: being the best cop. The only thing he had over the ridiculously annoying “psychic”, was the fact that he was on the force, and Spencer wasn’t. Carlton used this to his advantage whenever he could.
Then there was his new partner. Perky, blonde, and probably the second most annoying creature Carlton had ever met, Carlton absolutely resented her presence at first. Worst of all, she took a bit of a liking for the one and only Shawn Spencer. She tending to roll her eyes at his flirtiness, but Carlton knew a crush when he saw one. Luckily enough, Spencer lacked some of the maturity O’Hara seemed to be looking for, and she was just sensible enough to not let her affinity for the snarky “psychic” interfere with her police work. In addition, she, like his wife, attempted to bring Carlton out of his workaholic bubble. She tried to converse with him day in day out, and even threw him a birthday party. But Carlton refused to budge from his work mode, and now it seemed that O’Hara had given up on him too. She would obviously rather laugh along with Spencer and Guster in all their ridiculousness than him.
As Carton made sure the last of his firearms were in place, he reflected on every event in the recent past in a different light. Maybe it was his fault that his wife left him. Maybe he was to blame when he and O’Hara didn’t get along. If he were a little looser, or just a little more relaxed, maybe he could even be civil with Spencer. Maybe the truth behind of all his issues was that Carlton was simply too serious, too work obsessed. Maybe what he needed to do was change.
“Good morning O’Hara.”
“‘Morning Carlton!” O’Hara responded cheerfully, doing a double take as she spotted a wax paper bag held in her partner’s outstretched hand. “Umm… is that a muffin?”
“Yes.” Carlton answered, setting it down on the table. “And don’t worry, I’ve made sure it is free of any concealed weapons, blades, or bombs of any kind.”
O’Hara gave him a strange look. “Thanks… I guess.”
“Now,” O’Hara said, pulling out a case file from the stack of papers on her desk, “we have a case to solve. The chief just gave us this before you came in and asked me to fill you in. There was a-”
She stopped as Carlton held up a hand. “No need O’Hara. We’re not thinking about work today. Instead we can just… relax.
O’Hara stared at him dumbfounded for nearly a minute before stuttering, “Umm, Carlton, we have a murder to solve,” she enunciated the word ‘murder’ as if he had never heard it before. “We can’t just relax.”
“Excuse me, O’Hara.” Ignoring his partner’s protests, Carlton headed towards the two men entering the station.
“Shawn!” He greeted all to cheerfully, waving at the increasingly confused “psychic”.
“Umm, hey Lassie.” Spencer responded, looking as though Carlton had just told him that he wanted to be a vegan or something absurd like that. “What’s up?”
“Oh, you know, just chilling here at the station.” Carlton attempted to casually lean on the wall behind him, only to trip over his own feet, barely managing to catch himself before he hit the ground. He smoothed out his shirt, coughing with embarrassment as he attempted to prevent his cheeks from flushing.
“Wow, that was real smooth, Lassie,” Spencer quipped.
“Shut up, Spencer!” Carlton swallowed, remembering his mission of remaining completely cool. “I mean, what’s up with you, Shawn?”
“Well if you must know, Gus and I were about to play a quick game of darts.” Guster held up a fistful of sharp metal pointed, winged sticks as proof.
“Darts? Here, in the station?”
Carlton held back every urge he had to throw the two man-children out of the building for merely suggesting the ridiculous idea. Instead he said, “Can I play? Where’s the board?”
Spencer erupted into laughter, looking at Gus, who was soon chuckling along as well. Then he turned back to Carlton, his face deadly serious. “Why, there is no dartboard, Lassie. In order to hit a bullseye, you must hit a real eye, if you know what I’m saying.”
“Okay.” Carlton responded, barely managing to contain his disgust and rage as he continued to keep up his cool and relaxed rouse.
“Hand me a dart.”
Guster did so hesitantly, both men scurrying out of the way as soon as soon as Carlton had a grip on the object.
He braced himself, ready to send the projectile sailing through the air into the crowded SBPD, only to be interrupted by Spencer’s voice.
“Lassie, stop!” Spencer approached Carlton cautiously, plucking the dart out of his hand as if it were made of fire. “Here, give me that- look, Lassie it was just a joke, man! You think Gus and I were really going to poke someone’s eye out?”
“I, umm…” Carlton started in embarrassment, uncharacteristically lost for words. This whole experiment had definitely gone too far.
“Look, Lassie.” Shawn put a hand on Carlton’s shoulder, but he immediately shrugged it off, his manicness from a moment before transforming into mortification.
“Just, just forget it Spencer,” he grumbled, unable to muster up the stern tone he normally used on the younger man.
As he began to storm away, he heard Spencers footsteps following him, as he yelled, “Hey Lassie, Lassie wait!”
Stopping as Spencer cut in front of him, Carlton attempted to resume his cold demeanor.
“You know what, Spencer? Contrary to popular belief, not everyone wants to be in your presence all the time. ”
“Okay, first of all, Lassie, you’re wrong, everybody loves presents.”
Carlton’s scoul deepened. He deeply resented Spencers ability to patronize his anger at every turn.
“And second of all,” Spencer’s face turned uncharacteristically serious. “I know what you’re doing, man. You’re feeling insecure, and so you’re being daring, and risky, and maybe even a little bit sexy.”
“Spencer…” Carlton growled, more frustrated with Spencer’s accuracy in reading him than anything else. Minus the “sexy” part, of course.
The “psychic” put his hands up defensively. “Look, Lassie, all I’m saying is that you don’t have to do this, man! I mean, take a look around. This station is chock full of people who respect you exactly for who you are. Look at McNabb! The man idolizes you, dude. And Jules, she wouldn’t be half the detective she is without you.”
Carlton straightened, feeling his confidence rise with every praise.
“You know what, you’re right Spencer. At the very least, I can say that everyone around here respects me more that you two imbeciles.”
Spencer appeared as if he was going to come up with an annoyingly witty retort, but instead put his hand on Carlton’s shoulder once again, saying through clenched teeth, “If it makes you happy, then sure, I guess that’s true.”
“You bet your ass it’s true. Now enough of your ramblings, Spencer, I’ve got a case to solve.”
As Carlton turned away, he smiled for the first time in what felt like ages. His mind spinning from the somewhat inspiring speech given to him by someone he often considered the enemy, Carlton came to a startling revelation. He had never been normal. Normal people liked going to social events, making small talk, and meeting new people. Normal people didn’t spend all their free time making an address book for everyone they had arrested. But Carlton had never enjoyed doing normal things. Instead he chose to channel all his energy into things that not many people, especially not normal people understood. As a child, it was Old Sonora, his second home, that he put his soul into. Now, it was being a damn good detective. And at least here, he had found a place where he could be respected for it.