Discretion by niklovr

Chapter 16

"Judy, can I talk to you for a minute?"

She paused in removing her book bag from her locker. Turning around, she faced Doug and wondered about the tense look on his face. Usually he was the Chapel's number one comedian. Since they decided to just be friends, he didn't crack as many jokes around her. He remained friendly, but she sensed some distance. Maybe she was projecting. Knowing that she was more attracted to his best friend had made their dating relationship an impossibility from the start. If he knew the truth... She didn't even want to think about the fallout. The Chapel was simply too small to endure that much drama.

"Sure." She closed her locker and leaned back against the steel doors. "What's up?"

He shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other. Then, he glanced over the railing. The stalling tactics were so Penhall, but that didn't calm her nerves. She was just about to blurt for him to get on with it when he looked at her and gave her his sheepish shrug.

"It's about Tom."

"What about him?" Willing her emotions to stay in check, she put on a brave face, but inside, her thoughts scattered in a frenzy. Oh, Lord. Where was this headed?

"You know we're good friends." Doug lowered himself to the floor and leaned his back against the railing. He alternated between looking downstairs into the open area below and at Judy. His gaze looked uncertain, but determined to get through it somehow.

"Everyone knows you're friends," she said as gently as possible. Her nerves were already rattled. Every encounter with Tom stretched her to the limit. Between working the case and pretending that she and Tom were only co-workers, she used all her stored resources of discipline and common sense.

"No, he's my best friend," he said. "But Amy's death has changed him. No, it's more than that. The changes happened before she died. I feel stupid for talking to you about this. There's no one else, though. I try to call him and hang out sometimes, but he's always busy. You and Fuller are the only people he talks to."

"What are you asking me?"

"How is he? I can't imagine what it was like with Amy getting killed right in front of his face. He had been planning to break up with her for weeks."

"He had?" Knowing that Penhall knew about Tom's relationship with Amy threw her off balance. She rested against the lockers for support.

"Yeah." Doug nodded. "He didn't want to hurt her so he held off having the talk."

"Maybe you shouldn't tell me this..."

"Does it matter now? Amy's dead and Hanson isn't the same. He's a powder keg waiting to explode. His mom called me the other day. She said Tom won't return her phone calls. She asked me for advice. I couldn't tell her that he doesn't talk to me either."

"What do you want me to do?"

"Talk to him—"

His insistence irritated her. "What makes you think he'll tell me anything?"

Doug's hands clenched into fists and released. His face reddened and he looked away. In a voice so low that she barely heard him, he said, "I see the way he looks at you. You matter to him, Judy. He cares about you. You'll reach him in a way that none of us can."

Time stood still in that moment. She didn't know what to say or how to react. The possibility of hurting him always been the worst part of falling for his best friend. Her brain scrambled for the right words to explain what happened. "Doug, I—"

"Don't lie," he said, slowly turning his head to meet her gaze, "and don't apologize. The double date was weird. I didn't know at first. I thought maybe we would...but then we didn't. Later, I saw you look at Tom and him look at you."

Regret overloaded her senses. She should have told him the truth. Right from the beginning. He deserved that much. She lowered her head in shame. "It's not exactly what you think."

"Actually, I've been trying not to think anything." He rose to his feet. Moving past her, he headed to his locker where he pulled out his jacket and helmet. "All I'm asking is that you try. For him. For you."

He moved to the pole and was about to slide down when she called his name.

"Doug."

"Yeah?"

"Are we cool? I didn't know what to say. Everything happened so quickly. I never meant to hurt you and if I did, I'm so sor—"

"I told you. Don't apologize."

- - -

Tom opened his door. Shock stunned him into momentary silence. Judy stood on the threshold. She appeared shell-shocked and looked ready to bolt. The look in her eyes jolted him. He caught her hand.

"Come in."

"Are you sure?"

Her uncertainty surprised him. A few hours ago, they were practically at each other's throats. Now, she was here. He silently thanked God for the small miracle. "Positive. Come on."

Her steps where measured and slow as she crossed inside. With unhurried movements, he bolted and chained the door. When she called and asked if she could come over, he almost shouted with joy. Their inability to reach the same conclusion confounded his senses. He knew she wanted him. It was in her eyes every time she looked at him. And damned if he didn't taste it on her mouth when they kissed in the school cafeteria! For so long, he lived his life by a rigid set of unspoken rules. That lifestyle couldn't sustain him anymore. He needed freedom. He needed Judith Marie Hoffs.

Slowly, he turned around. She sat still and frozen in the center of his sofa. Her hands clutched her purse in a death grip. The white-hot blade of fear pierced his gut. He'd never seen her so inanimate. What happened? Why was she acting this way?

Tom quickly covered the distance that separated them. He knelt at her feet. "Jude?"

"I talked to Doug," she said quietly and without looking at him. "He knows about us. I mean, I don't think he knows we slept together. Maybe he suspects it."

The news surprised him. Doug never gave any indication. What would this mean for their friendship? "How do you know? You can't be sure."

"Yes, I can. He told me." She met his stare with the next words. "He couldn't look at me at first. We hurt him. He's the sweetest guy at Jump Street. His jokes are a defense mechanism. He would never hurt either of us. At least not intentionally—"

"We didn't hurt him intentionally." He rose and joined her on the sofa. Instinctively, he closed his arm around her shoulders and pulled her close against his body. "Tell me what he said."

"He was so nice about it, almost like he didn't want to hurt me or make me feel guilty." She released a humorless laugh. "I can't help that, though, but I don't want to talk about it. He's worried about you. He says I'm the only person who can get through to you. I don't know if I deserve that responsibility. I don't know if what we're feeling is real or if we're just reacting to pressures from the job."

"You were willing to risk it when you and Doug were dating." He squeezed past the hurt in his chest. "Why not me?"

"It's different with you," she whispered.

"Why?"

"Because you're different."

He frowned. "I don't understand. How am I different?"

"You just are. You're so together and so confident. You're every woman's fantasy." With her head against his chest, her words sounded muffled, yet he distinctly heard every one.

His ego soared. Humility brought him right back down to earth. "I wouldn't go that far."

"I'm not saying you're perfect." She tilted her head back until their gazes locked. "This close to you, it's hard to know exactly what I'm saying. What's happening between us feels wrong on so many levels. I'm feeling guilt from all directions, but the cop in me is telling me that I'm being irrational."

"Why did you come here?" he asked. "What did you come to tell me?"

"I don't know." Water pooled in her eyes. A single tear rolled down her creamy mocha cheek. As he caught the droplet with the tip of his thumb, she said, "I guess when Doug told me that he knew, I realized there was no point in running anymore."

"So?" He cupped her jaw and moved in to kiss her.

Quick as lightning, she avoided his kiss and tugged free of his hold. "No, not yet. It's too soon, Tom."

"What? You just said... Judy, you're not making any sense. You said you didn't want to run any more."

"I don't, but I don't want to court disaster." She wrapped her arms around herself and stepped back. "So much has happened since the Cirque du Soleil. We went too fast that night. If you really want to see where we're headed, you have to go slowly. We both do."

"Slowly? I don't know if I can do slowly with you." He stood and reached for her hand. "But I can try."

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