Brett woke with a jerk, sitting up and looking around wildly. It took a minute, but the memories came flooding back: she had moved in with Casey. Technically. He had ordered pizza, but she had crashed on the couch. He had carried her to bed and…unhooked her bra? Heat flooded her cheeks, but she shoved down her embarrassment, reluctantly leaving the warmth of her bed.
Casey glanced up as she wandered in, still tousled and half asleep. She had kept the bra, he noted, and changed into a pair of sweatpants that hung low on her hip bones and covered her feet. He opened his mouth for a greeting, only to watch in amusement as she ignored him to head straight for the coffee pot. Only after she had taken her first sip did her eyes open enough to actually register his leaning against the counter nearby.
“Um. Good morning?”
“Morning. Nice to know where I stand in your order of priorities,” he said, laughter coloring his voice.
She pressed her lips together, looking sheepish. “Yeah. Sorry about that. Apparently I can sleep through anything if I’m not on shift, and I don’t speak until my first cup of coffee.”
“Copy that,” he said lightly. “Anything else that I should know before you actually move in? We’ve known each other for a long time, but I think this is the first time that we’ve spent time together one on one.”
She frowned, wandering over to her favorite armchair and curling up, tucking her feet under her as she pondered his question.
“I think you’re right,” she mused. “Really, except for one incredibly awkward double date with the Dawson siblings -and don’t think I didn’t notice, Matt Casey! – Gabby was always there, or we were on calls.”
His smile faded slightly at the mention of their exes, but he nodded gamely. “Incredibly awkward doesn’t begin to describe it,” he teased, walking over to join her. “But that was par for the course with that family.” He took a sip of his coffee, eyeing her over the rim. “Quit avoiding the question, Brett.”
She huffed, remembering a similar response with Severride from the year before. “I’m not avoiding the question!” She protested. “Okay, things to know about me: I’m lactose intolerant, which is why I stick to skim milk. I have one brother, younger, named Logan, who is a cop in Fowlerton – and do not give me grief about having a cop in the family.” She smirked as he shut his mouth with a snap. “His wife Ashlee is really the brains of the family, along with my nephew, Ryan, who is 10 going on 30.” She sipped her coffee, raising her brows. “Your turn.”
He shook his head at her. “Fine. I am not lactose intolerant, and I have one sister – Christine, who is older than me by about three years. She has a daughter, Violet, who is the smartest 14 year old in Chicago.” That made her grin. “Christine actually filled Donna’s spot at the elementary when Donna moved to teaching high school.”
“Brave women, both of them.” Brett said feelingly. “I don’t know what’s more intimidating – a classroom full of kids, a room full of teenagers, or a five alarm fire.”
Casey snorted. “Have you babysat for Herrmann yet? Give me the fire any day.”
They lapsed into an easy silence, savoring their coffee.
“This is actually kind of nice,” Brett mused, draining her cup. “Although I have to admit, we both suck at actually giving up personal information about ourselves.”
“Maybe we should make it a habit?” Casey suggested. “Start out slow? First night and day after shift is for blowing off steam, but the second day is for us? Lazing around the apartment, maybe getting to know each other or watching a movie. Unwind before we go back to work.” He paused. “We could start before you actually move in, so that you still have the option of going back home—or changing your mind before you have to fully commit to things.” There, he thought. Nice and simple way to spend time with this intriguing woman, learning what made her tick, plus the added bonus of the more time she spent with him at home, the less time that made for dates with other men.
She nodded slowly. “I like it. Agreed. And I doubt that I’m going to change my mind, Casey, but it’s a valid point. She hesitated slightly. “Speaking of blowing off steam – can we agree now that any extracurricular activities are to be taken to their place, not back here? That was my agreement with Cruz and Otis, and it worked out really well.”
Casey shrugged, deliberately nonchalant. “I don’t plan on actively blowing off steam with anyone anytime soon, so that’s fine by me.”
That caught her attention. “Surely you’ve dated since I left for Fowlerton…” She frowned, thinking back.
He shrugged again. “Not really,” he said, but didn’t elaborate, not wanting to remind her of the playful agreement that he and Emily had on the occasions that they had gone out. Truth was, his last real ‘date-to-get-to-know-someone had been with Naomi; the few others there had been were mutual hookups, mainly at Emily’s urging (verbal shoving).
Besides, look what happened the one time he had tried with the actual intention of possibly getting to know her before they slept together; a semi enjoyable night with ‘Smart Girl’, as Severride had dubbed her, but the generation gap and mind set had been their almost immediate downfall.
“What about you?” he said casually. “You still regretting your decision to come back?”
She had said multiple times that she had done the right thing, but there had been enough doubt in her voice for him to keep probing at it, like a toothache that wouldn’t go away.
Still, she shook her head. “Absolutely not. Chicago is my home and everyone at 51 is my family. I didn’t love Kyle enough to sacrifice that, especially with the sense of déjà vu that I was getting the longer I stayed.” Shaking her head slightly, she stood up. “I need something stronger in my coffee if we’re going to continue down this path.”
“This is definitely month two, not day two roommate conversational material,” he agreed easily, backing off. “Speaking of Fowlerton though, did you have any crazy shifts while you were there?”
She blinked at him, startled by the change in topic, but grinned suddenly. “I only had two shifts.” She admitted. “The first one was deader than Morningside. Literally no calls, so I sat in the common room with the guys and learned the basics of football.” Casey opened his mouth and she pointed her finger at him. “No, I do not know who was playing or what the score was or any of that, but it was in Indiana so let’s assume it was the Colts and…someone.”
“Well that’s already an improvement,” he teased. “Maybe next season we’ll actually get you into the stadium for a football game, or we’ll do a House 51 group thing to a Cubs game.”
“Maybe,” she relented. “I can actually do baseball. Football, not so much. Still.” She wrinkled her nose. “Anyway, the second shift was much more exciting. Let’s just say that there’s a reason why the previous paramedics were also vet techs.”
He shot her a baffled look. “Born and raised city boy here. I have no idea how to take that comment.”
“When Mrs. Davis scolds her beautiful baby boy, she’ll be 100% serious when she complains about him being born in a barn – and raised by a pack of wolves.” Her shoulders shook with laughter. “Well, Australian Cattle Dogs, technically, but that doesn’t make for as good of a story.”
“Nope.” She shook her head, the laughter bubbling out. “Colin Michael Davis, 7lbs 8oz. was delivered right next to a litter of healthy puppies. Six boys, three girls. Mamas and all babies are thriving and growing like weeds, last I saw them.” She leaned forward and whispered, “I may or may not come back with a puppy after the holidays. Just a heads up. People in Fowlerton have various forms of currency.”
“We’ll negotiate terms when and if we get to that point,” he countered wryly, knowing a mostly lost cause when he heard it. Sylvie, Stella, and Emily had discovered that while he might be able to say no to one of them, he stood no chance when all three women banded together to badger him for a common cause or favor. Luckily for him, Emily didn’t particularly care for pets one way or another, so he just had to stay strong against the combined dangerous duo of Sylvie and Stella. Just. By the sunny smile she sent him, she knew it too.
“Thank you for a delicious breakfast Matt,” she said finally, standing up and stretching. “I need to head home to Cruz’s apartment, maybe run some errands.”
“You don’t have to wait until after the wedding to crash here, you know,” he said, once again deliberately casual. “I’ve now been on both ends of living as a couple and being the third wheel, so I can appreciate the need to have a place to escape to. And you’ve already got a key, so come over whenever.”
She smiled, touched by the offer. “I will keep that in mind,” she temporized, not quite ready to commit to anything yet. “I’ll see you later, Casey.”
He nodded silently, watching her leave.