Disclaimer: Steve Bochco, David Kelley - people who aren't me own the below characters.
He sees her the moment he walks into the restaurant. Table, far in the corner, and she's wearing a light gray suit.
"I'm with her," Michael tells the maitre'd, who steps slightly aside to let him pass. Michael tries to keep his step even, and not to rush between the crowded tables. In a way, he's annoyed at the presence of the lunch crowd; he doesn't necessarily understand his own desperation to see Gracie, and he's damned if he's going to make a fool of himself in front of these strangers.
Not strangers, he thinks as he approaches the table. Lawyers, most of them, and New York City, it's not such a big town. Not when it comes to the court.
says quietly. She tips her head slightly the side to look at him; her smile
is slow, before reaching her eyes. Michael leans down to kiss her cheek. Her
skin is soft and
smells vaguely of something floral.
He loves the way her pleasure at seeing him is genuine, the way it sparkles at him from behind those gray eyes. He pulls out a chair.
"I hope you haven't been waiting long," Michael says. "I had a hard time getting a taxi. You didn't tell me that it's worse than LA here."
"Mmmhh," Gracie says. She smiles again. "It's good to see you, Mickey."
He loves the way she says his name. She seems to caress the nickname and for a fleeting moment, he thinks it can be like old times again. He stifles the urge to reach for her hand.
"How is Victor?" Michael asks. He says it casually enough. But it was anything but casual, he remembers, when he found out that Victor, his friend, and Grace, his former girlfriend, had started a relationship. He had been calm when he found out - after all, his relationship with Grace had been over for a couple years at that point. But it had still bothered him that suddenly Gracie was with someone else - that she could cup her palm against someone else's cheek in that feather-light way she has.
The smile fades, but only slightly.
"He works too hard," Gracie says. "You know Victor."
"And you?" she
asks. She signals to the waiter. "Water please, and we'll be ready to order
Michael realizes he hasn't even looked at the menu. He makes an attempt to open it, but his hands are shaking. He presses his palms against the table, grateful that Gracie has chosen this moment to stare at some distant point beyond him.
"What's good here?" Michael asks casually.
"Everything. But I highly recommend the chicken marsala." That slight smile comes back. He loves the way her cheeks puff out slightly when her lips curve upwards. "Or the salad, if you prefer."
"The chicken sounds good."
"It comes on with a side of rosemary potatoes," Grace says. She tips her head to the side thoughtfully. "Rosemary is for remembrance."
"I've heard that before."
The waiter comes by and takes their orders. Grace picks a house salad. Michael says nothing, but a few years ago, he might have. "You're too thin, Gracie," he would tell her. "You need to eat more."
But he doesn't have that permission now, doesn't have that connection to her anymore. He doesn't bother saying that he can see the tendons in the arch of her neck or the prominence of her collar bones below the thin silk of her blouse. And he can't help but wonder if Victor is taking care of her.
"How is LA?" Grace asks.
"The same. Traffic is terrible. The smog is worse. How is New York?"
Grace shrugs. "It's different. How is the restaurant business doing?"
Michael grins. "Well... it's different."
Grace nods and looks slightly wistful. "Do you miss the law?"
"Sometimes." Michael doesn't dare to say more. He remembers the cold sting of burnout, of his pure anger and the bridges he left in flames when he said goodbye to McKenzie-Brackman. He knew his options then, knew that he couldn't go back.
"Mickey." She covers his hand with hers. Her touch feels the same, light, soft. "It's me."
He loves the way she says it, the way it comes out as a whisper at the end. He loves the way she thinks he can still confide in her, the way he used to, the way she used to. He hates to think that even though they aren't the same people anymore, the emotions - the way a person feels to another - those are the same.
He clears his throat. "Yeah. I miss the law. I miss you."
The last part is unintentional, and to his surprise, Grace doesn't pull her hand away. Michael clears his throat.
"Yeah?" she sounds faintly amused. "Well, good."
He wonders how much he should push. And then he thinks, hell with it. Gracie already left him years ago. He can't even begin to think about the edges of that particular wound, of the amazing numbness he felt as he stood in the courtroom, when Gracie told him she needed some time apart. He had thought it would be a short break, nothing too serious. He never expected that it would be for what has amounted to forever.
"At least you're okay with it," Michael says. He grins at her, but she doesn't smile back. Instead, she has that distant look in her eye. "It's been hell for me."
"Don't you think that's a little overdramatic?"
"Maybe." He lifts his water glass and takes a sip. "But we had something good going, Gracie."
"I know," she says it very softly. Her lips press into a thin line. "Are you dating anyone?"
"No." He's been on dates, but nothing long-lasting. There was that one woman, Avery, and he thought that maybe she'd be the one. But in the end, she ended up leaving, telling him, "It's not you, it's me." He hadn't tried very hard to keep Avery and maybe that's what the difference was; he hadn't made the effort. "I'm starting to get used to this single life."
"We shouldn't have split up," he says finally.
Gracie looks down at her hands. "I know."
She shrugs, still not looking up. "You know things were crazy then. We were constantly fighting, somehow... it didn't seem... it didn't seem we would make it." She shakes her head.
Michael leans back in his chair, his breath a sharp pain beneath his heart.
"We would have," he says quietly. "I know we would have."
"Yes," Grace says, "but... I can't. Not now."
The waiter brings their food and they eat in silence for a few minutes. Michael has to admit that the chicken marsala is delicious. Grace, true to form, picks at her salad.
"I've given the gorilla suit away," Michael says suddenly. Grace stares at him. He can't describe the expression in her eyes - a cross between shock and genuine sadness. "It was - it was taking up space in the closet and-" He stops, because he can't really go into the real reasons why he gave it away. He can't even begin to explain what the reminder of the gorilla suit meant to him, all of the possibilities of the future which never materialized.
"I fell in love with you in that suit," Gracie says softly. She bites down on her lip. "Oh Mickey."
He wants to tell her not to "Oh Mickey" him. After all, she is the one who said good-bye - she's the one who needed some time to herself.
But all Michael can say is, "Yeah." There's a long silence and they do their best to look everywhere but at each other. Michael shifts in his seat.
"I want to come and see your restaurant," Grace says suddenly. She sounds unusually perky. "I haven't been there since..."
"You've never been." He doesn't mean to sound accusatory, but he can't help it.
"I know. I should have come. I will come. Next time I'm in LA."
"And that will be...?"
"I don't know."
"You really should. Come back, that is."
Grace looks at him. "I know, Mickey. I keep meaning to." She sighs. "But with one thing and another..." She puts her fork down. "I can't believe you gave away the gorilla suit." Her voice cracks slightly.
"Don't apologize." Grace glances at her watch. "I've got to go, Mickey. I've got an appointment at one."
He doesn't flinch when she lightly kisses him on the cheek.
"It was lovely seeing you again," she says it quickly. "I'm so sorry..." She moves through the restaurant and at one point, bumps into the back of a chair. He waits, thinking, maybe she'll change her mind, maybe she'll come back.
It takes him fifteen minutes of sitting there before he realizes that Grace is truly gone. He finally signals for the bill and rises to his feet. Out on the street, he looks up at the New York sky. Gray clouds, a brilliant halo of the sun, and a wind whipping through the streets and between buildings.
He takes a deep breath and keeps walking.
~ the end ~
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