New Leaf, Same Tree
by Layne Richards
In the bar, he grabbed a beer, headed for his usual table, and sat back eyeing tonight's clientele. Some damn beautiful women in here tonight, he thought to himself. But then, there usually were. That was why it was one of his favorite places.
It was kinda early yet, and there was actually a row of four sitting at the bar, looking as though they were just waiting to be picked up. Two blondes, a brunette, and a redhead--regular smorgasbord. He grinned to himself. This was gonna be too easy. That was one thing about arriving early. The selection was better.
It was all a dance, he thought to himself, settling comfortably into his chair. He and the rest of the guys here all looked at the women. The women looked back at them. Somewhere along the line, eye contact was made, a connection was established and- Bam!
Richie's contact and connection was with one of the blondes. After several minutes of eyeing each other and smiles being exchanged, she picked her drink up off the bar and almost glided over to his table. He rose as she stood there.
"Hi. I'm Barbara." She set her drink down on the table. "Or Barbie, if you prefer."
Perfect, he thought to himself.
"Richie." He motioned toward the chair closest to her. "Have a seat-Barbie."
Still smiling, she did just that, sliding it around the table closer to his, as she did. When he sat back down, their knees were touching under the table. Oh, yeah, this one was used to the game all right.
"Nice to meet you, Richie." Barbie took out a cigarette and lit it. When she had put her lighter back in her purse, she slid her free hand up the inside of his forearm, let it rest just inside his elbow.
They chatted for a several minutes. Inconsequential stuff. The weather. Where they worked. How they liked the music playing in the background. It was the kind of talk Richie excelled at around women. He could have done it in his sleep.
As the talking went on, the exploration began. Her hand moved farther up his arm, squeezing his biceps, which were always a point of pride with him, because he kept up his workouts with weights religiously. He laid his hand over hers at first, keeping it there for a few minutes before moving his fingers and finding the little pulse just inside her wrist, stroking it gently.
Within about thirty minutes, Barbie was excusing herself to go to the restroom and two of her friends from the bar were headed in the same direction. All meeting up to tell each other about who they'd met and how far they'd gotten. Women could be so predictable sometimes, he thought. Especially the women in these kinds of places.
Jess wasn't too predictable, though. The thought ran through his mind as he sat waiting at the table. Her asking him out had come out of the blue. Shaking his head, he pushed her out of his mind. He was here to get his mind off her, and work, and everything else that had given him headaches lately.
Rising impatiently, Richie headed toward the short, dark hallway that led to the restrooms. When he got there, he leaned casually over the cigarette machine. As the three women exited the ladies' room, he caught Barbie by the arm as she passed. Pulling her back into the shadowy half-darkness, he pushed her against the wall, kissing her deeply and somewhat roughly.
Not that he hurt her. Richie had never roughed up women, but some liked their kisses a little harder than others and he always liked to oblige. By the way Barbie reacted to that kiss, he knew she was one of them. As their mouths devoured each other, he felt one of her knees sliding all the way up his inner thigh. When they came up for air, both were completely turned on.
"I live just a couple of blocks from here," she whispered in his ear, still sliding her knee up and down his thigh.
"Let's go then," he whispered back, almost whimpering when he felt her hand slide over that bulge in his jeans.
Inside her apartment, which he somehow managed to notice was decorated in bright orange and yellow, things happened quickly. In the tangle of arms and legs and clothing being removed, she said that her bedroom was the first door on the left. They never made it there. The sofa was right beside them and that's where they ended up, almost falling off it a couple of times in their frenzy.
Afterward, gasping and with Barbie still lying on top of him, her blonde hair all over his face, Richie almost couldn't believe what happened. His mind turned to Jess again. He wondered how she'd like the game tomorrow. What she was doing right now.
What the hell was wrong with him? The woman he'd just had incredibly hot sex with was still lying on top of him and someone else was on his mind! He was really getting messed up here!
After lying there for a few more minutes, until they had both regained their ability to breathe normally, Richie managed to put Barbie away from him and sit up. She was still lying quietly on the sofa, seemingly out of it.
Richie made for the bathroom in the hallway, picking up his jeans and shirt as he went. When he'd cleaned himself up and dressed, he padded back out to the living room. Barbie was still lying there, but she sat up as he entered.
Frowning when she noticed he was dressed, she asked, "You going somewhere already?"
As he sat in a chair and began pulling his boots on, he thought of an excuse quickly. "I'm kinda feelin' sick," he said, looking at her apologetically. "Had seafood for dinner and I guess somethin' didn't agree with me."
Actually, he hadn't even had dinner, and he was feeling a little queasy. Might have to do with the fact that he had an empty stomach, but he thought it had more to do with his thinking about Jess and, somehow, being here seemed wrong to him.
"Awww- Poor baby!" Barbie was moving over to closer to him. "Maybe I can do something for you."
"Don't really think so," he said, doing his best to look really sick. "Just need to go home and take somethin' for it." He grinned awkwardly. "Sorry about this."
"No problem." Apparently, she was buying it. "You go home and take care of yourself. Since you know where I live now, you can come back any time." Her smile was seductive. "You'll definitely be welcome, Richie."
"Thanks," he smiled at her and collected his jacket from the floor where he had dropped it earlier. "I just might do that." He had no such intention, but he wanted to make as easy an exit as possible.
When Richie was finally outside and in his car, he leaned his head back against the seat and gave a long sigh. Tired. He was tired. Exhausted, really. All the hell with the case this past week and lying awake nights thinking about Jess.
Shaking his head a little to clear it, he started the Mustang's engine. He needed to get home and get some sleep. If he'd looked bad enough for Jess to worry about him before, she'd really be upset when she saw him tomorrow, unless he managed to get a little rest between now and then.
His overtired mind darting back and forth between subjects, his mind went to the Bianchi case again. Beginning the process of going over it again, even knowing it was hopeless. As a cop-now as a lawyer-Richie Roberts refused to admit defeat on a case. It was one of the things that made him so good at what he did. It was also the one thing that contributed more to his stress level than anything else.
Driving in Newark having become automatic over the course of his life, he had been paying no real attention to which direction he was going in--merely driving by rote. It was with something of a start that he realized he was no more than a couple of blocks from Jess' building. Calling himself all kinds of a fool, Richie nevertheless made a sharp right-hand turn and went in that direction.
Parking the car across the street, he sat there for a few moments. What the hell, exactly, was he doing? Coming here after ten at night with no phone call and no good reason that he could explain to her or even to himself. On top of that, he'd just left some other woman's apartment after having sex with her.
Richie kept telling himself these things-asking himself what he was doing here-all the way across the street and into the elevator. Standing outside her apartment door, he was still telling himself he had time to leave. He heard the TV playing inside.
He knocked and then stood there swiping his hand across his face and then through his hair. The minutes seemed like hours, and he was just telling himself that she must be asleep when he heard Jess' voice through the door. "Who is it?"
"Richie Roberts," he said, after a moment's hesitation.
Jess was surprised. For a moment, she wondered if someone were playing a trick on her but, no, she recognized Richie's voice. Making sure that Tiger was nowhere around the front door waiting to slip out, she unlocked it.
Richie stood there, looking rather disheveled and as tired as he had when she'd seen him the other night. His shirt was unbuttoned about halfway down and one side of the collar was tucked under. As though he'd dressed in a hurry and hadn't really had his mind on what he was doing.
"Richie?" Her tone was questioning, as was the look in her eyes. "What's going on? You okay?"
His hand in his hair, his expression pained, Richie finally gave in to the exhaustion. "No. Not really."
It caught Jess off guard that he would admit to it. Stepping back, she said, "Come in. Sit down. You look so tired."
Richie could have hugged her, but he managed a smile and moved past her to the sofa, sitting on one end of it and leaning forward with his hands between his knees. "I am tired, Jess," he confessed to her.
"The case?" she asked him, relocking the door, before moving to stand beside him.
"Yeah. The case." He still couldn't tell her about what else was bothering him. Especially not what had happened before he came here tonight.
Jess had gotten a glass of water from the kitchen which, in her small apartment, was separated from the living room only by a breakfast bar. Now she handed it to him. "Here. You look like you could use this."
"Thanks." Richie took the glass from her hand, holding on to her fingers a moment as he did.
"You want to talk about it?" she asked quietly.
"Not really anythin' to talk about." He shrugged, running his hand through his hair again. "It's just- Just been a bad week. Haven't been able to get my mind off things. Not even long enough to sleep very much."
He looked it too, she thought, but kept it to herself. "I'm sorry." She tried to think of something helpful to say, but couldn't.
"No, I'm the one who's sorry, Jess. I shouldn't have come here. Shouldn't be layin' things on you like this. I didn't even call. You could've had a date or somethin'." He was damned glad she hadn't, he thought to himself.
She smiled at him. "Who? Me? The only guy I've got a date with isn't supposed to be picking me up until tomorrow. That is, if he can make it by then."
"Listen-" Her voice turned serious. "I've just been sitting her watching TV. You want to watch with me awhile? All In The Family's about to come on. A good laugh always distracts me from things."
At least she wasn't kicking him out. "Sure." He smiled at her. "Thanks."
"You had any dinner tonight?" she asked.
"Nah. Wasn't hungry."
"Well, you look that way now," she told him firmly. "I just had Chinese take-out, but I've got leftovers. I'll fix you a plate. Feel free to kick off your shoes and put your feet up."
"No- Jess- It's okay. You don't hafta go to all that trouble!" He hadn't come here expecting to be waited on, but then what had he expected? He really didn't know.
"No trouble," she told him. "Be ready in a minute."
"Okay if I used your bathroom?" Richie wanted to see if washing his face would make him feel any more awake and coherent.
"Through the bedroom," she said over her shoulder, already heading for the kitchen again. "You'll see it. The door's open."
As she put together a plate full of fried rice and the other leftovers she had just put in the fridge a little while ago, Jess smiled to herself. It was nice having Richie here. She wished he felt better but, right now, what it looked like he needed most was a little looking after.
When the food was ready, he was still in the bathroom. Sitting down, she watched TV for a good ten minutes, but he still hadn't returned. Had he fallen asleep in the bathroom? He'd sure looked tired enough. She thought she'd better check on him.
Rounding the doorway into her apartment's single bedroom, she stopped short. The bathroom door was wide open and the light was still on. Richie, though, was lying on her bed, sound asleep.
"Richie," she said softly. He didn't even stir. Looked like he was out for the count. He hadn't eaten anything yet, but she let him sleep. It looked as though he needed that more at the moment.
Jess cleaned up the kitchen again and then got changed for bed, moving as quietly as she could. She left the bathroom light on and the door to it slightly open, so that he wouldn't wake up to complete darkness if he needed to go to the bathroom or get a drink of water or anything.
Richie was sleeping on top of the covers on one side of the bed. Moving to the other side, she lifted the covers carefully and slid underneath them. Even sleeping, there was a slight frown between his eyes.
"Night, Richie," Jess whispered softly, as she turned off the bedside lamp.
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