|Mallory stood in front of her closet, dithering over what she should wear on her date with Danny. She had already chosen and discarded numerous outfits and still nothing seemed right. As she reached into her closet for yet another option, a loud pounding on her apartment door caused her to jump. The noise was repeated and she recognized the sound as a police knock. She tossed the shirt on her bed and went to check the door. It was too early to be Danny, besides which he'd have to ring the buzzer to be let in. She had a feeling she knew who was at the door. As she walked through her apartment, she wondered why he hadn't used his second key since he had obviously let himself in downstairs.
Peeking through the peephole, she sighed as her guess was born out. With another sigh, she threw the locks and opened the door. Glaring at the three men on the other side, she demanded, "What the hell are you doing here?"
Patrick nudged her aside with the pizza box he carried and entered the apartment, followed by the other two men. All three paused to kiss Mallory's cheek as they entered. "It's Thursday night," Patrick reminded her. "Pizza and beer."
Her other cousins, Micah and Alec, were with Patrick. Mallory almost slapped herself in the head as she realized she had forgotten to call and cancel their bi-weekly get together. Micah had his sketchbook and pencils in hand like usual while Alec carried two six packs of Guinness. Alec raised an eyebrow at Mallory's sweatpants and t-shirt. "Little casual tonight, cuz?" he asked.
"I was in the middle of changing," Mallory answered. She turned as Patrick set the box on her table. "Paddy, not tonight, okay? I'm on my way out."
All three cousins stopped what they were doing and turned at her words. There were a few moments of silence as they all stared at her. Finally Micah broke it by asking, "Where are you going at seven at night?"
"I have a date," she admitted through gritted teeth.
"With who?" Patrick asked as he pulled his cell phone out of his pocket.
Mallory glared at him. "Oh, no. You are not running a background check on him. In fact, you three are packing up and leaving before he even gets here." As she finished her sentence, the downstairs buzzer rang.
Patrick grinned. "Looks like we at least get to meet him."
Mallory glanced at the door, then at her cousins. There was no way to get rid of them. Even if she kicked them out, and none of them would go willingly, they would still meet Danny on the way down. "I hate you all right now," she informed them as she pressed the button on the speaker. "Hello," she said.
"Hey, you ready? You wanna buzz me in?" Danny's voice echoed in the confines of the entryway downstairs.
"I will be by the time you get here." Mallory released the downstairs lock. "Come on up." Turning back to her cousins, who had taken seats at her table and were digging into the pizza, she said, "I'm going to change. We'll discuss this later. You will all be nice when he gets here."
Patrick was sure he recognized the voice of Mallory's date. "Oh, we'll be nice," he assured her, but the tone promised something else entirely.
Mallory didn't look at all reassured, but she had no choice other than to hurry into her room. Grabbing the first clothes she laid hands on, she quickly changed into jeans and a bright red sweater; figuring that Danny wasn't planning to take her anywhere really fancy. She slid her feet into a pair of flats, ran a brush through her hair, and was just exiting her bedroom as Micah opened the front door for Danny.
Patrick's chair dropped to the floor with a thud as he caught sight of his fellow detective. He looked from Danny to Mallory and back again before grinning widely. "Guess I don't have to run that check after all."
Mallory grabbed her coat and then Danny's arm. "We're still talking," she informed them, glaring particularly hard at Patrick. As she hustled Danny out the door, she added, "Lock up when you leave. Oh, and, Patrick, you had damn well better not be here when I get home."
Safely outside the apartment, Mallory took a moment to breathe deeply. Danny took her coat from her and held it out so she could slip her arms into it. "Was that planned?" he questioned.
"Not exactly." Mallory stabbed at the elevator button. "It wasn't planned for them to be here when you got here. I forgot to call and tell them not to come tonight. Every other Thursday whoever isn't working gets together for pizza and beer." As they stepped into the elevator, she said, "I'm sorry about that."
He shrugged. "It wasn't that bad. You didn't give them a chance to question me or anything."
"That's probably for the best." She shivered slightly as they stepped out into the cold December air. "So where are we going? And am I dressed appropriately?
Danny gave her an appreciative look, that somehow managed not to look like he was undressing her with his eyes, as he hailed a cab. "You look fabulous. I thought we'd go to O'Malley's."
Mallory nodded. "That sounds good." She was familiar with the Irish pub, having gone there with her family on different occasions. She settled into the cab as Danny gave the driver the address. "How was your day?" she asked as the cab pulled away.
"Pretty boring actually. I did paperwork for most of it. Were you busy at the store?"
"We'll be swamped until Christmas," Mallory explained, then went on to tell him some humorous stories about different customers she had seen.
Danny let her voice wash over him, enjoying the cadence of her speech as she described a child that had run through their store, hitting it not unlike a tornado in a trailer park. He was impressed at the way she appeared to have taken the event in stride. That story carried them through the rest of the cab ride and into the restaurant. They were shown to a table in the upper dining room where Danny took Mallory's coat, then pulled her chair out for her. As he went around to his own seat, she glared at him. "You can knock that off right now," she told him.
"What?" he asked.
"While you acting like a gentleman is very nice and all, I'd much rather you just be yourself. I agreed to go out with Danny Finnegan; not some cleaned up caricature of him."
Danny frowned. "You don't want me to do those types of things for you?"
Mallory reached out and took his hand, then pulled back as the waiter interrupted them. After he had taken their drink orders, she picked up their discussion and his hand. "If that's the way you normally are on a date, then fine. But I kinda like the sarcastic guy who flirts with me when he comes into the store. And the nervous guy who asked me about the weather late at night. That's who I agreed to go to dinner with." She rubbed her fingers lightly across his knuckles. "Think you could find him somewhere?"
"I might be able to. If you'll answer a couple of questions for me," he replied. He had leaned forward as they spoke, but now he sat back again as the waiter delivered their drinks. Familiarity with the food had them ordering even though they hadn't glanced at the menus.
After the waiter walked away, Mallory replied, "Depends on your questions."
"Why did you say no to me for so many months?" he asked. "And then suddenly say yes?"
Mallory took a sip of her soda to stall for time. Finally she knew she couldn't wait any longer. "Let me talk and don't interrupt?" she asked, then waited for him to nod. "I don't date cops. It's just something I've tried really hard not to do because I've got so many cops in my life already. Then you came into my life," she grinned, "and you are a stubborn man. You had just about worn me down when you came in that day with the news about your mother." She squeezed his hand. "That was just...that you let me see you hurting. That you trusted me that much."
Danny pulled his hand away. "So this is a pity date."
Mallory shook her head, surprised that he had misunderstood her. "No! Danny, that's not what I'm saying. You showed trust in me by telling me what was bothering you. That faith in me is what made me change my mind. I had to give us a chance to see if maybe we could be more than friends." She reached for his hand again and he allowed her to take it. "I get the feeling that you don't trust easily."
Danny slid his glass between his hands for a few minutes, trying to decide how and what to tell Mallory. “You know I didn’t grow up in the best of neighborhoods,” he started.
“I know you used to live in Crown Heights. Other than that, I don’t really know anything. Patrick always said I should ask you if I wanted to know.”
Danny nodded. “I grew up in Crown Heights," he confirmed. "I ran with…not so much a gang…as a group of friends. We didn’t really have a name or anything. My best friend was a guy named Connor Flannery. We weren’t angels and we did some pretty stupid things. I’ll be the first to admit they probably weren’t all completely legal, but at that point we weren’t really trying to be hoods.” He leaned back as the waiter arrived with their food and studied Mallory who had been silent so far. “You want me to stop?”
She reached across the table towards him, but he had crossed his arms; closing himself off from her. “It seems like this is something you need to share. If you don’t want to tell me, I’ll understand.”
He shook his head. “No. This is something you need to, you should, know. I guess we were still sixteen, I know I wasn’t seventeen yet, the night it happened.” He took a deep breath. “October fifteenth, nineteen-ninety-one; it’s not a date I’m going to forget. I was sitting out on the stoop when Connor pulled up in this sweet ride. A red Saab; a convertible. He hops out, starts calling to me; look what he’d done, what he’d pulled off.” Danny took a sip of his beer and Mallory could tell he was no longer seeing her sitting across from him, but that long ago night. “I didn’t even see the other car until I heard the shots. One pinged off a street sign, than I saw two slam into Connor. He slumped over the hood of the car; dark red blood against the cherry red of the paint job and sorta rolled into the street. The car slowed, the shooter pumped another two rounds into Connor and then peeled out.” He took another drink. “I had kissed concrete at the sound of the first shot; self-preservation and all that, but it was pretty obvious who they were aiming for. By the time I got to him, Connor was already dead.”
“Jesus, Danny.” Mallory was taken aback by the lack of emotion. It was almost as if he was telling her about a case, but after a moment she realized it must have been a coping mechanism. “Then what happened?”
“I don’t remember much. Someone must have called the cops.” He laughed, almost bitterly. “Pretty unusual for that area. Maybe they were following the guys that popped Connor; I don’t know. They got there, and did their thing; someone broke the lock on the trunk. Inside was about ten kilos of cocaine. Connor had stolen a dealer’s car.” He placed his hand over hers, which was still lying on the table. “I guess what I wanted you to know, why I told you this, is I wanted you to know how screwed up I am. I probably shouldn’t have asked you out to begin with.”
Mallory turned her hand over so she could wrap her fingers around his. “Sounds to me like you did pretty well considering your age when it happened and the lack of support I imagine you had after wards.” She squeezed his hand. “I don’t think you’re screwed up.”
Danny laughed bitterly. “I’m not screwed up?”
“No. I think you’re doing pretty well considering everything that happened.” She picked at her food. “Thank you for telling me.”
“I just thought you should know what you were getting into,” Danny confessed.
Mallory smiled at him. “Danny, you’re a cop. Even if you’d had an idyllic childhood; you’d have baggage from that."
"So tell me something about your childhood," he prompted when the silence had dragged on for a few minutes as they picked at their food. "Patrick said you guys practically grew up together."
Mallory had to laugh at her cousin's understatement. "I guess you could say that. Did he tell you how much he tormented me?"
Danny grinned. "Nah, not Patrick."
Mallory smiled to see the humor return to Danny's eyes. "Yes. Patrick. I was thirteen when Dad and I moved in with his family. Mom had finally lost her battle with cancer and Dad just couldn't handle loosing her and me and the Job. So Aunt Bridget decided we should live with them. But that's not what I'm thinking about. Patrick is two years older than me, so he graduated before me, and you'll notice we don't have the same last name. There were a few...shall we say incidents?...that led Dad to decide I was better off in a private girls' school for my last two years of high school without my older cousin there to watch me." She saw the anger in Danny's eye and waved it off. "It was nothing bad, Danny, just girls mostly who liked to pick on me. I didn't have a mother and Dad couldn't always make the parent stuff so Aunt Bridget often filled in. It made it look like I didn't have any parents." She smiled at the memory. "Patrick went into the Army right out of high school, he had to kill those four years between high school and the academy and he just couldn't seem to settle on a college. Anyway, when I was a senior, he came home to visit and decided to surprise me by picking me up at school. I had made some friends at the new school, but there were a lot of cliques still and I hadn't fit in well."
Danny frowned. "They obviously didn't know what they were missing."
She shrugged. "It was a long time ago and I'm happy with my life now. I have good friends and I love my family." She grinned. "But the day in question. I was waiting outside, expecting my aunt to pick me up when this dark blue Camero pulls up a few feet from me. I'm frowning because the car looks familiar when the door opens and a guy in Army dress greens gets out, looks around, and then sees me. Out of the corner of my eye, I see the girls' jaws drop as he strides over to me and picks me up, hugging me tightly and spinning me around. He finally sets me down, takes my bag, and slings an arm around my shoulders. With a nod to the girls, he escorts me over to the car, opens the door, and helps me in. We just managed to pull away before we burst out laughing."
Danny grinned. "Did you ever tell the girls who he was?"
She shook her head. "Nope. And it was even better when a couple of weeks later, Micah picked me up in his beat-up pick-up truck in all his artist splendor. I don't think those girls ever knew what to think of me after that."
"It sounds like you were the one with the idyllic childhood," he said when they stopped laughing over her former tormentors. "I'm glad you were happy."
Mallory sobered. "It wasn't always fun, Danny, although we had our moments. Patrick is more like a brother to me than a cousin because of how we were raised and we fought and still fight like siblings. And I spent most of my childhood knowing that I was going to lose my mother. I was six when she was diagnoised with breast cancer so there was never really a part of my childhood that didn't involve hospitals and doctors and tests. And then after she died, I would cry myself to sleep on the nights Dad had the late shift sure that he wasn't coming home to me."
Danny tried to remember the little information Patrick had let slip about his cousin. The other detective had been remarkable close-mouthed about her. "Your dad is gone now, isn't he?"
She nodded. "He was killed on 9/11. He was always a hero to me. When the first plane hit, he was already near there and he hurried down to help out. They said he went into the building to help someone and..." she paused and choked back sobs.
Danny put his hand over hers. "No, don't. It's okay. You don't have to tell me." He shuddered as her words brought up his own memories of the day. "I would imagine it's something you don't really talk about." He shuddered, his own memories of that day always close to the surface. "It's not something I like to think about much either."
She shook her head. "I know Patrick reported, but he won't talk about it. I would imagine you did, too."
He nodded. "I did." He nudged her plate. "Why don't you finish eating and tell me something about your other cousins?" he said to change the subject.
Mallory chatted about Alec and Micah as they finished eating and once Danny had paid the bill, they walked outside. Once out on the street, Danny took a deep breath of the air and grinned at Mallory. "Ah, the sweet smell of exhaust," he commented. "Did you miss that when you were in Westchester?"
She slipped her arm through his. "I did. So what now?"
He waved in the direction of her apartment. "We're not too far from your place. Do you want to walk for a bit? And then if we get cold, we can hail a cab?"
"That sounds nice," she agreed.
For a few blocks, they strolled in silence, just enjoying the night air. Danny was still having a hard time believing that Mallory had actually agreed to go to dinner with him. He kept glancing down at her as if not really certain she was beside him, although she continued to hang onto his arm. Finally he commented, "You almost seem easier on Micah than on Patrick and Alec or maybe more forgiving of him."
She smiled as she considered the cousin most unlike the rest of the family. "Micah..." she sighed. "Micah isn't what anyone expected from a Doyle. He's not a cop," she explained when Danny looked confused. "And somehow he missed the Irish temper. The rest of us get mad and scream and yell, Micah just lets things roll off his back. He's very easy-going. But he's this brilliant artist. When he paints or draws or sketches...everything just comes alive. And he takes these fabulous pictures, too."
"It sounds like you're proud of him," Danny said.
"I am," she admitted. "He didn't bow to what the family wanted and become a cop. He never would have been happy. He did what he wanted to do. And there were some screaming rows about it when he told his Pop he wasn't going to the Academy, but Micah just stood there and took it; let his Pop tell him he should never come home again. Then he turned and walked out the door." She took a deep breath. "I think it took Uncle Michael eight months before he'd speak to Micah again."
Danny slipped his arm around her, hugging her against him. "Did you see all this?"
She nodded. "I was sitting on the steps, watching. I was sixteen when that happened. Micah was supposed to sign up for the Academy that day."
"No one should be forced into doing something they don't want to do for the rest of their lives," Danny said. He looked up, surprised to realize they had reached her apartment building. "May I escort you upstairs?"
Mallory smiled shyly. "I'd like that, but, Danny," she paused, "I don't invite guys in on the first date."
"No. No," he protested. "I just want to make sure you get safely inside your apartment." He held up his hands. "I promise I will leave you at your door with not even a kiss if you don't want one."
Mallory pouted as she pressed the button in the elevator for her floor. "I don't get a good night kiss?"
Danny's lips quirked and he moved closer to her, crowding her against the side of the box. "If you want one, I'd be happy to oblige."
With a laugh, Mallory pushed him away. "I didn't say I wanted one for sure. I was just asking if I was going to get one."
"Oh, now that's being a tease, Mally," he protested. "You ask me about a kiss and then tell me you might not want one? Get my hopes up and everything." He turned sad blue eyes on her until she had to start laughing again.
"Well, I shouldn't have to hint about a kiss, Danny. I'd think you'd have enough experience to know whether or not to attempt it." She fit her key into the first of her locks. "Now remember what I said. You're not coming inside."
He leaned against the wall, watching as she unlocked the door. "I'm not asking." He nodded towards the inside. "How likely is it that Patrick is still in there?"
She frowned. "He better not be. Why?"
"Because if he was, I wouldn't do this." Reaching out, he tipped her chin up and leaned forward, giving her plenty of time to back away. Instead Mallory leaned towards him, meeting him partway. He kissed her chastely and then pulled away, pushing her gently through the open door. "I'll call you tomorrow," he promised. "Good night."
She leaned her head back out to watch him walk back to the elevator. "Night, Danny."
"Lock your doors, Mally," he called back as he stepped into the elevator, then kept the door open until he saw her door shut.
With a grin, she threw her locks and kicked off her shoes. As she shrugged out of her coat, she noticed a note on her kitchen table. Walking across the room she picked it up. Reading it, she shook her head. There's pizza in the fridge if you couldn't eat dinner because he took you to a bar, it said. Call me when you get home so I know you're safe. Love, P With a shake of her head and a grin at her over-protective cousin, she went into her bedroom to change her clothes and follow his orders. She knew she'd have no peace if she didn't.