All the King's Horses
Part I: Chapter 11

The afternoon sun was shining through the windows, warming the tiny hole in the wall diner more than she knew it could in the middle of December. Her first shift after realizing her world was spinning in the complete opposite direction wasn’t going nearly as well as she had hoped it would.

When she woke up this morning, after two whole hours of sleep all night long, her first thought had been to roll over, cover her head, and ignore the real world. Hiding out sounded like a very good idea. Staying in bed until everything went away would be the best thing for her, if only she could get away with it. Of all the days to be busy. Come to think of it, that was still her main idea of how to get through this shift. To say it had been a long day would definitely be an understatement.

Tucking a lock of blond air behind her ear, Alison sighed softly. She was falling for her angel. Valerie and Livvie knew she was falling for Rafe, she still hadn’t managed to sleep for more than an hour straight, her grandmother went to spend Christmas with her parents, in Timbuktu for all she knew, without even bothering to mention it. And then she came to work to find the place completely swamped- the crowd hadn’t thinned out any since she arrived. Then of course, in the middle of writing down an order she realized something she should have noticed about twenty hours ago.

She still hadn’t seen or heard from Jamal.

Once again she was left wondering if it bothered her more that he hadn’t called, or that she didn’t even notice he hadn’t called. Not that she didn’t know where he was, Livvie had made it clear he was staying with Jack at their place. She also made it clear that he had no intention of returning home and she shouldn’t hold out hope for him to get his head out of his ass anytime soon. Alison found herself startled with the realization last night that she didn’t care nearly as much as she should.

Her hair was a mess, her shoes were untied, it was a quarter to two, and she hadn’t had a chance to sit all day. Busy, busy, busy. You would have thought that at the very least that meant she wouldn’t be thinking so much, but no such luck. Three mistaken orders later, she was more than a little certain that if she messed up again today she’d be wearing her mistake. If only there was an ‘off’ switch in your mind.

Order pad and pen in hand, Alison walked to the next table, smiling as brightly as she could manage to fake at the moment. “Hi,” she said cheerily, only to be cut off.

“We’ll have two coffees, black. One turkey sandwich, on white, with mayo, not mustard. A tossed salad with ranch dressing, on the side.” The lady forced a smile in return, tossed her long black hair over her shoulder, and pulled down her sunglasses enough to look her in the eye. “To go.” A beat. “Got that?”

Alison fought the urge to roll her eyes and won by the skin of her teeth. She smiled brighter. “I’ve got it,” she murmured, scribbling on the paper in her hand.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, ma’am.” She rattled the order back to her absently. “I’ll have it to you as soon as possible.” The only response was a dismissing wave of a hand and the back of the woman’s head.

She walked briskly to the bar, slapping the order down on it with enough force to make her hand sting. The action earned her more than a few strange looks. Alison pretended not to notice as she let out a long, heavy sigh and took a deep breath that she hoped would bring her patients.

“I see your day is going fabulously,” a deep, rich voice whispered into her ear, tickling the delicate strands of hair with his breath. And managing, somehow, to block out any other sound that may have been going on while he spoke.

Alison sighed again, leaning against him on instinct, knowing he’d take her weight easily. He’d catch her. She smiled again, this time really smiled, and closed her eyes. For the first time since he left the apartment before, she relaxed almost completely. “You have no idea,” she muttered finally. “I’m still contemplating just walking out and going back to bed. Maybe just skip this day entirely?”

“If you skipped the day entirely then you’d miss out. Every day is a gift, Alison. Even the tough days.”

She opened her eyes slowly, not bothering to remove herself from against his chest. Especially when he wrapped one arm around her waist. “You know, as cute as your positive attitude may be…”

“Livvie calls you bubbly,” he interrupted. “And I have to be positive. I think it’s part of the job description.”

Giggling, Alison shook her head. “You’re too much, Rafe. How’d it go with Lucy last night?”

He groaned. “Well, that depends on your point of view, I suppose. She is staying! And she’s here, refusing to let me out of her site if I’m going to be around you. And I somehow ended up listening to a lecture most of the night about the horrors of love, and how men are pure evil.”

“Oh, you shouldn’t have listened to her.” Alison patted his hand then reluctantly pulling away from him. Smiling slyly at him when she turned around, she somehow manage to keep the same light, worried tone. “You should have just sent her over to me. Valerie, Livvie and I had a ‘men suck- love sucks’ party last night. I’ll have to extend an invitation for her next time!”

Rafe shook his head and sat on the empty bar stool. “I don’t think I even want to know.”

“Jamal didn’t come home last night,” Alison replied, shrugging her shoulders and looking almost guilty. “He stayed over at Livvie and Jack’s house. Livvie got mad because Jack took Jamal’s side about the whole thing, because he was so wrong, you know? So they sort of had a fight and she stayed over with me while Jack got to deal with Jamal for a change.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Rafe groaned. Patting the stool, he helped her to sit. “Are you alright? I’m so sorry, Alison. I know that it can’t be easy for you. He didn’t go home at all last night?”

Her guilty look turned to one of confusion. “Rafe, you’re supposed to kind of be mad at me here, not apologizing or worried. Remember? I very well could have blown everything for you yesterday, and then because I dragged you up to my apartment m… Jamal got jealous and Jack took his side, which very well could have screwed up Jack and Livvie…”

“Alison, I’m not mad at you. Alright? You have no more control over his actions than I do. And you know, I can’t blame him for wanting to keep you all to himself.” The angel smiled shyly, a slight blush creeping onto his cheeks. “I mean, you… Your boyfriend obviously cares a lot… He loves you, Alison.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, I love him too, you know? But he didn’t come home last night. He didn’t call, he didn’t try to talk to me about it. He just told me how I felt and then what’s done was done, you know? I hate that. I can make up my own mind, I don’t need anyone to make it for me or tell me what I’m thinking or how I’m feeling. Jamal was totally out of line, and if it weren’t for Livvie I probably wouldn’t even know where he was…”

“Talk to him, Alison. Just-”

“No. I’m not calling him. I’m not searching him out. And if Valerie wants him? More power to her! She can have him for all I care. I do not need a judgmental, jealous, jackass boyfriend. I can do better that! I deserve to be treated better than that. I don’t care how much I love him. If he can’t respect me enough to know that I wouldn’t sleep around on him then he doesn’t deserve me.”

“No argument there, Alison. He doesn’t deserve you at all,” he murmured, tucking a loose lock of hair behind her ear. “I see you actually got everything out of your hair.”

She pushed at his chest lightly and laughed. “It only took three washings.”

Cringing, Rafe backed up a step with his smile once again firmly in place. “I’d say I’m sorry, but…” he broke off, chuckling at the threatening look in her eyes. “You started it.”

“Did not!”

“How old are you? Five? Come on, you gotta find a better argument than that!” he taunted. “What next? A Barbie sleepover?”

“Oh, and you were just soooo mature. ‘You started it.’” Alison raised an eyebrow. “What do you know about Barbie sleepovers anyway?”

“I’d tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.” His teasing expression faded slowly. “Your public is calling.”

She glanced over his shoulder to find the dark haired lady from before shooting daggers through her eyes. “Oh, she can wait.” Her eyes returned to his face, searching it, for what she didn’t know, just searching. “You know, this friendship thing, it’s supposed to work both ways. You wanna talk to me I’m here. Got it?”

“Got it.” Glancing in the opposite direction she had, Rafe groaned again. “Officer Coe is watching me closely, I can’t talk much longer. When do you get out? I’ll ditch the tail and meet you somewhere.”

Giggling, Alison leaned forward, her hand moving to his shoulder as she got close enough to whisper to him playfully. “Meet me in the park in two hours. Same place as yesterday. Then you can tell me what in the world you said to her.”

“Sorry, Ms. Barrington, that’s privileged information.” He hugged her quickly. “Don’t worry about Lucy, I’ve got her in town, I think that’s all we can hope for right now. And don’t worry about Kevin either. I promised to fill you in on that today.”

“Yes you did!” Her lips were brushing against his cheek before she knew what they were doing. Dammit. “Four o’clock in the park. I’ll try not to be late.”

“Yeah well, I guess I can wait on you for a change.” He took a step back. “I mean it, don’t worry about talking to Kevin.”

“I won’t.” She watched him take another step back. “I need to go and… do my job and… you know, stuff.”

“Right. So I’ll see you.”

“I’ll see you,” Alison promised. “Two hours.”

“Yeah, two hours.” Another step. This time she matched it with one of her own. “I…” He eyed Lucy suspiciously, knowing that she was trying her best to hear over the noise of the diner at ten feet away. She slowly started weaving her way through people with two cups of coffee in her hand. “Gotta jet, recess is over.”

Alison was laughing when Lucy approached them. “Hi, Lucy.”

“Oh, hello. I didn’t realize it was you my dear, sweet, innocent cousin was talking to.”

Both fought the urge to laugh at the obvious lie. “Actually, I think I was talking to dear, sweet innocent him,” Alison said smoothly. “But he did tell me you got to tell him all about the evils of love. I just wanted to invite you to come find me next time you feel like having that conversation.”

“I may just do that.”

“Well,” Rafe said. “Weren’t we just going, Lucy?”

“Yes! Yes, yes, yes!” A cup was handed off to him. “See you, Alison!”

Again Alison brushed her lips over Rafe’s cheek. “See you both!” she smiled, walking off before she could rethink the action.

“She kissed you,” she hissed. Lucy’s eyes were wide as she ushered him out of the diner. “What in the world are you thinking? Are you crazy? Rafe! I thought we agreed you were going to stay away from Alison before you got hurt!”

“Yeah? It’s harder than it sounds. I can’t brush her off, I don’t want to ignore her. I’m allowed to be her friend, Lucy! Aren’t I?”

Her eyes narrowed as snow crunched underfoot. “Not if you are going to end up getting your poor little heart broken when she goes back to her boyfriend you aren’t.”

“Well, maybe my ‘poor little heart’ can handle it.”

“She kissed you!”

Rafe cringed, locking eyes with one person that had stopped to stare long enough for them to scamper away. “Lucy, she didn’t mean anything by it.”

“Exactly! That’s just what I’m saying to you. She doesn’t mean anything by it, but your heart just soars! She kissed you.”

“On the cheek, Lucy. Calm down.”

“No! No! I will not calm down! I won’t. You don’t know what your getting into do you?”

“All I know, Lucy, is that I’m already in, and deep. And I know that even if I wanted to, which I don’t, I couldn’t find my way out. Can we just leave it at that?”

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