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Raúl Esparza drawing Nr. 83: Rafi the red-nosed Barba from “December Solstice”.
❄️😘 Hope you have a wonderful start into the weekend. ❤️

What a Way to End a Day

For you @svu-stories! Thinking of you and sending so much love!!!

An intern can be a very dangerous thing.

You liked Erin. She had waitressing experience in her back pocket and dreams of running a restaurant rushing through her head. Derek was wary but welcomed the extra set of hands. We had the birthday bash for the doctor’s daughter at noon and an anniversary party for the actuary at night. Erin was on board for the first event, seeing to the honey graham crackers made to look like teddy bears with vegan marshmallows for snouts and ears and the blueberry/strawberry/banana ice cream cake. Not your first choice for ten-year-old tummies. Maybe you should have taken pause when Erin used a butcher knife to slice into the sweet. But just because she was green didn’t mean she wasn’t deserving of a chance.

Rafael was on a different wavelength when you stole a few moments, and a few party favors, before phoning him.

“The defense keeps parading one expert after another into the ring,” he moaned.

“What did you expect?” you asked. “Tortured childhoods are the soup du jour.”

“Don’t talk about food right now.”

“Think I’d better end this phone call right now,” you teased.

“Something I said?” he queried.

“Well you’re obviously not my husband. If anything you should be stress eating your way through a bag of pretzels. Where is my competitive eater who could have been and what have you done with him?”

“Dreading a lonely dinner,” he said, the sound of his laughter making you smile. “But I give you my word I’ll polish off the coin toss casserole and wait up for you.”

Coming home to find him fully fed and stretched out on the couch with a scotch in hand was the sweetest sight your heart could summon, and you sank deeper into the corner as you lowered your voice.

“There’s also double fudge brownies,” you purred. “With walnuts.”

“Are you serious?” he asked, his voice hitching as he spoke.

“Sometimes I think my cuisine is the only reason you popped the question.”

“Well it was either that or subsist on takeout for the rest of my days,” Rafael replied. “Much better being married to the menu.”

You intended a snappy retort, but the sound of another voice grumbling over the line cut into your banter.

“Everything okay?” you asked.

Another surprise witness,” he whined. “I have to go.”

You pictured him having to confer with the squad, sending his anxiety to eleven.

“One more thing,” you whispered.

“Yes?”

You glanced at your engagement ring, remembering the way his entire body trembled as he fell to one knee and brought the bauble before your eyes. Never any reason for him to be so nervous, and you wished that you could hold him now as your own tough case demanded immediate attention.

But not before…

“I’ll love you even more tomorrow.”

No proposal had ever been more perfect, and you swore you felt him relax as he geared up for his fight.

“That’s my line,” he reminded you. “But as long as you’re borrowing from the best…”

“Through you wouldn’t mind. Go get ‘em, tiger.”

“Jingles and I will save you a brownie.”

“Please don’t give the cat chocolate.”

“Sometimes you’re no fun,” he joked. “See you soon?”

“As soon as I can.”

Te amo.”

Derek was his own form of panic mode. The guests would show at any moment, and the hors d'oeuvres had to hit the floor post haste.

“Erin can do that,” you suggested. “Where is she?”

Vanished. Had one party soured her on the food service scene? You imagined her hiding in the pantry curled in the fetal position when she appeared, shaking her head and clicking her tongue.

“There you are,” you said. “Problem?”

“Oh yes. I know I’m the new kid on the block. But you’re really setting up the chafing dishes there?”

You were too stunned to answer when she pulled on your sleeve and pointed to the wall at the farthest end of the main room.

“Of course,” you said. “Where else would they be?”

“In the center,” she chided as if you were new to the game and didn’t know a melon from a marrow spoon.

“Not the best idea,” you gently responded.

“You don’t want the food to be the topic of conversation?”

You wanted to keep the heat far away from too many flowing gowns.

“Erin, you have a lot to learn. But this is why you’re here.”

“I guess,” she scoffed. “Don’t really get the point of the lesson if it’s wrong.”

“Excuse me?” you challenged.

“Forget it,” she said. “Guess innovation just isn’t your thing.”

Now you were speechless and would have fired her right on the spot if the guests didn’t start pouring in and the party became the priority.

“Just serve,” you said through clenched teeth. “Think you can handle that?”

“Uh… yeah.”

Derek saw you seething when you returned to the kitchen and handed Erin two trays.

“Is she or real?” he asked.

“It’s fine. I’m fine. We were all young once.”

“Doesn’t mean we were assholes. Maybe me. Just a little.”

“Around the edges, right?” you said.

“But seriously; I’ll pick up the slack if you want to ditch her right now.”

“We’re not making a scene,” you said. “How’s the poached salmon—?”

“Exactly! Care to give me a hand?”

You flew out of the kitchen forgetting the fish. Not only had Erin handed the stuffed mushrooms to the hostess; she enlisted two early arrivals to move one of the food stations, rattling on and on about the convenience of her crazy idea.

“Erin!” you said, your tone bringing Derek to your side. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Everyone else is down with it. You can thank me later.”

The statuesque society matron who might not pay the bill charged forward.

“Mrs. Barba, these are not the sort of shenanigans I expected from—”

Her voice stopped short as the hem of her dress caught under the leg of the table. Sides of wild rice and the promise of a perfect party crashed around you in a whirl of grains.

“That’s it!” Derek barked at Erin. “You’re out.”

“I didn’t really think that—”

“Jesus Christ!”

His pale face seemed so far away. Flecks of orange singed your ankles through your stockings and you were the one panicking as you tried to bat the fire back as it climbed up your legs.

“Mrs. Barba!” Erin shouted. “I got this.”

The intern plowed into your body and knocked you to the ground. The pain still raged, creeping closer to your knee, but it ceased when your head smashed into the marble.

No more furious orange. Only darkness.  

Your entire body ached. The bottom sheet covering the paper thin mattress itched against your skin, and the top sheet did nothing to ward off the cold. Why the chill? The last thing you remembered was fire and falling. Shuddering as you tried to blink away the harsh lights, your eyes forgot the need to flutter when a visage wracked with worry entered your line of sight.

“Mi amor?”

Rafael clutched your hand and kissed your brow as you sought the safety of his fingers and tried to make sense of what was happening.

“I… there was… I think there was…”

“Someone who did not know their place,” he practically growled. “I’d like to press charges.”

“Is there a law against being arrogant?” you asked as you struggled to sit up against the slim pillows, his warm hand cradling the back of your bruised head.

“I’ll get it on the books if I have to,” he insisted as he kissed your cheek and cuddled closer. “You could have been killed tonight.”

“I don’t think it would have come to that,” you said even as your leg throbbed, your head pounding as you eased the sheet aside to see your limb wrapped in gauze.

“That’s going to leave a mark,” you mused. “I’ll have to rethink my sandal collection.”

“Can you not?” he pleaded. “You were nearly burned alive.”

“Don’t be so dramatic.”

“Forgive me for hating you hurt!”

His lip quivered as he turned away from the bed. You watched his back heave and reached for him, loathing the feeling when he flinched.

“I’m sorry you were scared,” you started. “That’s the last thing I want.”

“Weren’t you scared?” he asked.

The whole thing was too quick to register any emotion but shock. Threading your fingers through Rafael’s hair, you sighed as he leaned back into your touch.

“I can’t think about that,” you said as you let your lips meet the top of his head. “Did your case come together?”

“I couldn’t care less.”

The force of his embrace overwhelmed you, but his hands tenderly splayed against your back as he returned you to the poor excuse for a bed.

“I’ll love you even more tomorrow.”

“Your line,” you said.

“But it’s not true anymore.”

Was it the concussion? Why was he suddenly speaking in tongues?

“Are you saying that you… what are you… I don’t understand—”

“Now I’m being dramatic.”

He kissed your hands one after the other and let his lips move down your legs. His mouth minded the gauze, but his moans worked like a balm before he ran up your body again and rested his chin in your lap.

“But I’ll never love you anymore than I do tonight,” he said. “When I thought that I was going to lose… but then there you were. I don’t know what I did to deserve it. But please. Always come back to me?”

He lifted his head, and the tears that you had kept at bay slid down your cheeks. Where were you going if he wasn’t along for the journey?

“Didn’t mean to make your cry,” he swore.

“Like I have a choice when you bring out the big guns.”

“Not tonight,” he said. “You have to rest.”

The sheets seemed softer when you could laugh with him again.

“But here?” you whined. “I want to go home.”

“We’re staying,” he promised. “Mami’s looking in on the cat. No chocolate.”

“You listened to me.”

“Hanging on your every word.”

Pressing his fingers back into his breast pocket, he presented your rings and carefully slid them back on your fingers. It was the best medicine, and you kissed his cheeks, hugging him forever.

But one more thing…

“Have you eaten yet?”

“Not on the top of my list.”

“If you’re taking care of me, I’m returning the favor, Rafael. Is my purse…?”

He found a lonely graham cracker teddy bear and feasted on the marshmallows as you sighed.

“That’s what I live to see.”

“Me with a cookie?” he asked.

“Your smile,” you countered. “That’s why I’ll always come back. No matter what.”

vine

Me as a detective