Snow & Winter series -

Thinking of You Coda

I followed Quinn out the precinct doors, watching as she automatically reached into her inner suit coat pocket for a cigarillo.

She lit the tip as we walked and vanilla-scented smoke filled the air. “Starbucks?” she prompted.

“Mm. Sounds good.”

“It’s your turn.”

“I bought Monday.”

Quinn stopped, held her cigarillo between two fingers, and gave me a rakish smile. “The results on the Park case. Loser was buying coffee.”

“I thought the loser had to make the next round of phone calls.”

Quinn arched a well-defined eyebrow. At my height, it was difficult to be stared down by most people, least of all a woman who topped out at five foot three on a good day, but she still managed without fail every time.

I raised my fist.

She raised hers.

On the count of three I threw paper. Quinn threw scissors.

I frowned.

“Every day he tries to best the reigning champion,” Quinn called loudly, catching the attention of a few uniformed officers mingling at the doors. She took a long drag off the cigarillo and then pointed it at me. “When will he learn?”

“What do you want?”

“Cold brew. Venti.”

“There’s not enough of you to finish a venti.”

“I think I’d like a cookie too.”

“All right, all right. Don’t gloat. I’ll be back.” I slid my hands into my trouser pockets and walked toward the end of the block.  

A few months ago, the hardware store on the corner that I’d been more than certain was some kind of front for a backdoor business—ballsy, considering their proximity to a police precinct—finally closed, and a Starbucks moved in. I usually opted breakroom coffee. Not because it was good, or even decent. It was like drinking engine oil. I simply didn’t like the break in the middle of my work day.

That had been slowly changing over the course of the year though.

Because Quinn had been aware of my unhealthy work habits and had spoken to my boyfriend about how to counteract the behavior. I’d been digging myself a grave for years. If there hadn’t been this intervention—this small insistence of, ‘hey, let’s get some fresh air and a coffee,’ I might have been lying in that hole by now.

I wanted that once.

I think.

Or maybe it was simply a matter of not caring it would eventually come to that.

But the whirlwind that was Sebastian Andrew Snow had other plans.

And what I’d originally thought was going to be nothing more than poorly timed, fairly anonymous sex in his kitchen, somehow turned into date nights, adopting a dog, and paying utilities together. Despite night terrors, guilt and shame, and even actively pushing him away at one point, Sebastian loved me.

All of me.

Wholly and without provocation.

I still cry uncontrollably sometimes. Something will pull me into the past—return my unwilling psyche to war where I’m deafened by gunfire and covered in someone else’s blood. But Sebastian brings me back each time. Holds my face in his hands and tells me I’m his knight in shining armor and makes me believe it.

Feeling wanted—being needed—is the purpose behind finally accepting help I’d denied for so long. Because if Sebastian can hold a crying ex-solider in his arms and still think I’m the greatest man he’s ever met… that’s something.

So. If Quinn wants to take a coffee break these days, I agree.

I pulled open the front door of Starbucks and was greeted by the heady, pleasant scent of freshly ground coffee.

“Hello, Mr. Winter,” the cashier said.

Me and Quinn came often enough that we were on a greet-by-name basis with most of the staff. “Hi, Camille.”

“A latte today?” she continued.

I opted for the house brew instead, which wasn’t much of a step up from the precinct coffee, if I was being honest, but I had my ornery curmudgeon on the brain. I paid for both drinks, moved to the pick-up counter on the left, and took out my cell.

I brought up my text messages with Sebastian. The last conversation had been from yesterday afternoon.

Im gettinb drnk tonight.

We have beer at home. Or do you want me to pick up something stronger?

Beer if fine. I love tht you dont ssk why.

Do you want me to?

When willl customers relize Im right and theyre wrng?

I’m sure your humble personality doesn’t help matters.

I was baarely sarcastc.

I like you.

I lke you tooo.

Since Sebastian struggled with reading on a phone, his text messages were, at times, a curious translation. But even through the mess of typos, I could hear his deep voice and dry, smartass delivery. I smiled to myself, thumb hovering over the keyboard as I considered sending him a text.

Not that I had anything to tell him.

Beyond he was on my mind and that always made my day better.

“Winter?”

I glanced up, but the greeting hadn’t come from a barista. I turned and was met with Neil Millett—Sebastian’s ex and fellow NYPD officer.

He was tucking his wallet into his back pocket.

“Millett,” I said. “What are you doing downtown?”

“I’ve been at a scene all day.” He checked his watch and then corrected himself. “Or morning, apparently.”

I reached for the house brew set out on the counter with Winter scrawled on the side of the cup. “They running you ragged?”

“You know how it is.”

I gave Neil another quick once over. He had the look of someone stuck sharing small talk with a party they were uninterested in discussing the weather with. “How are you otherwise?”

He raised an eyebrow. Considered an answer. Shrugged. “Alive.”

I nodded automatically.

Neil opened his mouth, thought better of whatever he meant to say, and promptly closed it.

Our run-ins throughout the year were… decidedly odd. One obvious reason being he and Sebastian had been together a long time and I was most certainly not an innocent party in the ending of their relationship. Neil had been outright hostile for the first few months following the New Year. And while it frustrated me as a professional, dealing with an irate jerk on the job, I wasn’t actually angry at him.

He’d been hurt and I wanted to respect his right to feel those emotions.

I’d not been the classiest guy at the time either. I got jealous. Territorial. Afraid that maybe the best thing that’d ever happened to me—Sebastian—would want to go back to Neil. But that’s when Sebastian told me, not for a minute, had he regretted the choices made.

And after Neil had put his life on the line saving him in February from Brigg, I owed the man. When he started skirting around Sebastian again in May, offering a tentative friendship, I welcomed it. I knew that Sebastian was the love of my life. My soul mate. And that he returned those feelings without missing a beat. So if my perpetual grumpy partner wanted to have a bickering friendship with his ex, fine.

If they were happy with that relationship, so was I.

Neil was still staring like he wanted to say something.

“I’ve never known the cat to have your tongue, Millett,” I said.

A light flush colored his sharp cheekbones. “How’s Seb?” he finally asked.

“He’s okay. Better every day.”

“He’s back at the Emporium now, right?”

“Half days,” I answered. “A full day still wears him out.”

“He doesn’t take to bedrest.”

“Seb doesn’t take any rules and regulations very well,” I replied.

Neil smirked a little. He reached for the coffee a barista set down for him. “He’s an asshole.”

“Sometimes.”

“I won’t tell him you agreed with me.”

“Thanks.”

“I better get going. I’m sure I’ll see you somewhere gory soon.”

I watched him turn and start toward the door. “Neil?”

The use of his first name nearly made him trip. He turned, waited a beat, then returned to my side. “What?”

“I don’t— think I ever properly thanked you.”

For?” He sounded wary.

“Everything you did for Sebastian. For us—while he was in the hospital.”

“Oh.” Neil shook his head. “It’s fine.”

“No. It’s more than that. Sebastian needs you in his life. And you dropped everything to be there as his friend…. To be there for me when you had zero obligation.”

Neil frowned and stared at his expensive shoes. “I love Seb. Not—like that. Not anymore. He’s my only friend.” He looked at me, brown eyes bright and wary. “And he loves you. I know you and I aren’t always going to see eye-to-eye on a lot in life. And no, I don’t want to come over for dinner, so don’t ask.”

“I won’t.”

“But I let Seb down a lot. And if he’s giving me a second chance, I have to accept you’re part of the package. So I have your back.”

I set my coffee on the counter again and offered a hand.

Neil shook it. Hard and quick. “I have to go.”

“I’ll see you around.”

He didn’t say anything else. Just walked out.

The barista slid Quinn’s cold brew across the counter and apologized for the wait.

My phone buzzed in my hand. Text from Sebastian Snow.

I swiped and opened the message.

Just thinking off you. I love youu.

© 2015-2020 C.S. Poe