New Leaf, Same Tree
by Layne Richards
Richie Roberts opened his eyes to morning sunlight shining in the window. Disoriented, he spent a moment lying perfectly still, trying to recall where he was sleeping. Moving his eyes, he saw soft, green walls, a slightly open door. The memory of the bar and Barbie came back to him. Her apartment. He must still be there. That didn't usually happen.
He turned his head slightly. Opened his eyes wider. Jess lay sleeping beside him. Oh, shit! He'd come to Jess after being with Barbie?! Was he really that big a jerk?
Watching Jess' face, he saw her smile slightly in her sleep. Well- Maybe at least he'd made her happy... Then, he noticed that he was still wearing his jeans and blue paisley shirt. He was lying on top of the covers, and Jess was beneath them. Slowly, the rest of the evening came back to him.
He had come to Jess, but nothing had happened. Except that he'd fallen asleep in her bedroom. Or maybe passed out was more like it. And-Richie thought to himself-he actually felt rested. More rested than he'd felt in quite a while.
As he lay quietly, trying to figure out how to get up and go to the bathroom without disturbing Jess, Richie became aware of something very warm lying at his other side. Turning his head in that direction, he saw Tiger the cat glaring at him intently, his long, orange-striped tail making jerking motions. If looks could kill, I wouldn't have made it through the night, Richie thought to himself.
Jess stirred a little and opened her eyes, then smiled at him. "Morning," she said. "I take it you slept well."
"Yeah, I did," he told her, returning that smile. "I'm not sure Tiger did, though." He looked back at the huge cat, half-expecting an attack to come any moment.
Jess raised her head and looked over at Tiger too. Laughing, she said, "Well- You're sleeping on the side of the bed that he normally sleeps on. Guess he's not too happy about that."
"Sorry, fella," Richie told the cat, who merely tossed another disdainful look at him. Then, Tiger rose, stretched, and stepped haughtily over Richie to move to Jess' side of the bed.
Feeling a little awkward, Richie took a quick look at his watch. Seven o'clock. "I need to get up and get goin'." He sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed. "Need to get to work for a little while."
"It's Saturday." Jess was sitting up too. "You don't take the day off?"
"Not usually. Always a ton of work to do." Richie was heading toward the bathroom, but he stopped at the door. "Ah- Sorry. You want the bathroom first? It is yours, after all."
"That's okay." Jess was getting up too. "I'll go make some coffee and put together some breakfast. You never ate anything last night. You've got to be starving."
"Don't go to any trouble," Richie said quickly. "I can pick up somethin' on my way." She was wearing pretty blue pajamas. Silky. They clung to her curves. Her hair was sleep-tousled, but looked as silky as the pajamas. Made him suddenly want to take her right back to bed. Find out what he'd missed last night.
"It's no trouble," she told him, aware of the way he was looking at her. Feeling a little shy, she picked up her robe and pulled it on. "I usually fix something for myself anyway. You like eggs and toast?"
"Sounds fine." He had averted his eyes and was now looking at himself in the bathroom mirror.
"I doubt I have a razor that would work for you." Jess watched as he ran his hands through that wavy hair, wishing she were the one doing that. "But there's a brand new toothbrush in the drawer there, if you want to use it. And there's plenty of clean towels in the closet right behind you."
When Jess had left the room, Richie closed the bathroom door, got rid of his clothes and took the hottest shower he could bear. Standing under the water felt wonderful. For some reason, he felt really dirty this morning. Had kinda felt that way last night too, but had been too tired to pay much attention to it.
As the hot water and soap cascaded over him, he pictured Jess in those silky pajamas looking tousled from sleep. Imagined her taking off those pajamas and sliding into this shower with him, her hands moving all over him with the soap... Starting at his shoulders, gliding down over his chest, past his waist to-
Oh, hell! This wasn't going to work! Now he had an erection that he wasn't sure he could fit into his jeans! Dialing the water over to cold, he stood under it for several minutes before getting out, shivering, to dry himself off.
After he'd gotten dressed, he made use of that new toothbrush before heading for the kitchen. Jess had-- unfortunately from Richie's point of view-- changed into her jeans. There were two plates on the table with eggs, two glasses of orange juice, and she was buttering toast. His stomach did a back flip and gave a growl at the smell of the food.
"Guess I'm hungrier than I thought," he said a little sheepishly, taking the cup of coffee she held out to him. "This smells delicious."
Richie felt totally out of his element here. He didn't normally stay at a woman's place for breakfast, in addition to which, nothing had even happened between him and this particular woman! This was a new experience, one he wasn't sure how to handle. Kinda like her asking me out, he thought to himself. Luckily, for the next several minutes at least, they were so busy eating, he didn't have to talk.
As soon as he'd finished, he rose from the table. "Thanks. That was good." He knew his voice was short and abrupt, but he still wasn't sure what to say in this situation. Besides that, being Richie Roberts he was, as usual, anxious to get to work.
At the door, he turned to Jess, who had followed him. Running his hand through his hair, he said, "I'll be back to pick you up for the game around two. That oughta give us plenty of time to get there and find a good seat."
"Okay," she smiled at him, having caught on to the fact that he felt awkward right now. "I'll be ready."
Following his instincts, Richie leaned to kiss her before leaving. "See you later, babe."
After Richie had gone, Jessica sat back down at the table, feeling hopeful, excited, confused. He had come here to her place last night looking for what? Rest? Comfort? Companionship? Apparently, he hadn't come for sex or, if he had, he'd been too tired to follow through on it.
Another knock sounded at her door. Thinking Richie had forgotten something, Jessie got up quickly to answer it it. "What now, Richie?" she asked, teasingly, happy to see him again so quickly.
But, she was in for a surprise. It wasn't Richie Roberts, but her friend and neighbor, Joanne, who stood in the hallway. Jo, as Jessie called her, was a secretary at the high school where Jessie taught. Jess had found this apartment because of her. They'd been friends since then.
"Hi," Jo breezed through the doorway without being asked. "I guess you were expecting that absolute hunk I just saw leaving?" Jo poured her own cup of coffee and sat down on the sofa, crossing her legs. "Okay, spill it all! How'd you find someone like him?"
Smiling to the point of almost glowing, Jessica got her own cup and sat at the other end of the sofa. Tucking her legs under her, she asked, "You remember that court case where I was a witness? The guy caught selling drugs in the school parking lot?"
At Jo's nod, she went on, "Well, he was the prosecutor on the case. His name's Richie Roberts."
"A lawyer?" Jo was incredulous. "That gorgeous guy who just left here was a lawyer? I never saw one who looked that good before!" She was practically squealing. "Makes me wish I'd seen that guy selling drugs!"
Then, she looked at Jessie a little slyly. "So, what was he doing leaving so early in the morning? He leave his briefcase?" She grinned knowingly. "Or maybe just his briefs?"
"Sorry to disappoint you." Jessica took a sip of her coffee. "But he never even took his briefs off."
"Yeah. Right." Jo sipped from her cup. "You had a hunk like that here overnight and all you did was sleep? I know you don't go out much, but come on!"
"It's true," Jessica sighed. "Last night, all we did was sleep. We're going to the Yankees game this afternoon, though."
"So, at least tell me some more about him." Jo was curious. "What does he like besides putting away bad guys and going to baseball games?"
"He's divorced," Jess told her with a sigh. "And he has a son who's fourteen. And-" She stopped there, not believing what she was about to say next."
"And-?" Jo finally prompted her. "And-?"
"And I really think I'm falling hard for the guy," Jess finally admitted.
Richie, in the meantime, was slowly putting the files of the Bianchi case into cardboard storage boxes in his office. He still hadn't quite wrapped his mind around the idea of giving up on the case, but he thought he'd get it in boxes and into some sort of order anyway.
As he was putting file folders away, still thinking about everything that had gone wrong about the case, someone knocked on the doorframe of his open office door. When he looked up, he saw Lou Toback standing there.
"Lou. Come in. Pull up a chair." Richie didn't say anything about being surprised to see him. It wasn't surprising to see Lou working on a Saturday any more than it was to see Richie.
Lou had a serious, business-like look on his face, as he stepped into the office and handed Richie a folder. Richie opened it and took a glance inside. "Dammit! I knew Bianchi had to be behind his ex-wife's death, but who's this he's got workin' for him? Billy Hodges? Never hearda him before."
"Neither have any of the rest of us," Lou told him in his New Jersey drawl, sitting on a chair in front of Richie's desk. "And you can bet the only way we'll hear about him again is when we dig up his body! This guy pulled a hit for Bianchi and was sloppy enough to leave a fingerprint at the crime scene? You can bet your ass he's dead already!"
"Yeah," Richie said glumly. "But none 'a this helps my case any." He gave a heavy sigh and dropped into his chair.
"I know." Lou was sympathetic. "Thought you might like to see it, anyway."
"Thanks." Richie's tone was half-hearted.
"You still goin' to the Yankees game?"
"Yeah." Richie looked at his watch. "Gotta run home and change. Pick Jess up at two."
"Jess." Lou Toback said the name slowly. "So that's her name." He was grinning broadly.
Too late, Richie realized that Lou had used his preoccupation with the case to drag information out of him. Oh, what the hell, he thought. "Jessica," he supplied, resigned. "Feel better now that you know her name?"
"Sorta." Lou was grinning. "So, what does she do? 'Sides pick wrong guys to go out with?"
"She's a high school teacher." It was Richie's turn to grin at Lou. "We went to a movie and dinner last Friday night. Oh, and a little dancing afterward. And you know what, Lou?" Richie's grin had widened now. "She's the one who asked me out!"
Lou had noticed the grin on Richie's face. "A liberated woman, huh? One with bad taste! But I'm impressed. She got you to ask for a second date? I wanna meet this woman. Gotta see what's different about her."
"Oh, it won't take you long to see that!" Richie joked, as he got up and headed for the door. "An' now, I've gotta throw you out, so I can go get ready."
Lou was observing Richie's grinning face in the elevator, all the way down to the parking garage. Before he got into his own car, he watched Richie get into his, still grinning. He'd never seen Richie looking so cheerful after a case had just blown up in his face. He really did have to meet this Jessica!
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