Dearly Beloved: Kalifornia
Written by K

The plane skidded to a stop just as Mike Kellerman unbuckled his seatbelt, stood up, and pulled out two carryon bags from the overhead compartment. The stewardess glared towards him for not waiting for the "UNFASTEN YOUR SEATBELT" sign to flash on, but Mike ignored the admonition. He stepped to the side to let Julianna Cox into the narrow aisleway in front of him, glancing straight ahead to the already open door. By now others were making their way slowly toward the exit in front of them, as Mike pressed closely to Julianna, pushing gently and teasing her in the process.

"Not a bad flight," she smiled, as she nudged up close to him once they were out in the airport. Mike returned the smile, and shifted the two bags he carried off the plane with him.

"I'll take that," she said as she reached for her bag, which was already slung up over Mike's shoulder.

"I got it," he replied, "You just figure out where we're going."

"You're the brawn, I'm the brains?" she smiled comfortably at him.

"You got the brains.... that's why you're with me," he nodded with a dimpled grin, as they pushed their way forward through a crowd that seemed to disperse into every direction.

Once out into the balmy Pacific air, they hailed a cab, as Julianna rummaged through her shoulder bag for the address of their destination. She handed the cabbie the slip of paper and warned, "Take the direct route, and for the record.... I hear it should run around 10 bucks."

The cabbie grabbed the slip of paper and looked at it, as he waited for the lighter to pop out to light his cigarette. Easing out into traffic, he turned and talked towards them over his shoulder while trying to keep his eyes on the road, his smoldering cigarette hanging out of his mouth. "LaPlaya Avenue... Ya wanna direct, or ya wanna fast? I go direct, we gona be stuck in traffic, maybe 45 minutes, I go fast, we pull in say.... 20. But it gona cost ya."

Mike took a heavy breath, leaned forward over the front seat, and looked directly at the cabbie, even tho the driver kept his eyes focused on the road, "Look bunk, just don't pull a fast one on us...understand? Now... how bout a smoke?"

The cabbie shrugged and reached for his pack of Winston's and handed it to Mike. He took one out of the pack and tossed the pack on the front seat, then sat back, reached into his shirt pocket and snapped open his lighter, lighting the tip in one deep puff. Rolling down the window he looked over the landscape and then to Julianna. "I thought San Francisco was spose to be cold and foggy."

"San Fran? This time of year? Nope, that's London...besides you think I'd have said yes to this if we were going to be miserable?" Julianna asked, thankful to be that much closer to their destination.

Mike shrugged, "Guess we can't complain, a free condo for a week..."

"Overlooking the ocean...and all we gotta do is feed the cat." Julianna said.

Mike reached his arm up over the back of the seat and smiled down at Julianna, as she snuggled up into the crook of his arm, the cigarette still dangling from his mouth. "A whole week, just you and police work, no dead flesh," he sighed, then took the cigarette out and exhaled, " yeah...yeah... I think I can handle that....and probably put up with a damn cat...but I'm not so sure 'bout you,." Mike teased quietly.

"Thanks, Kellerman," Julianna looked up with a faux pained look. "But I think we'll get along just fine and you'll get along with Peaches, too..."

"Peaches?" he clarified.

"The cat," they both said together.

"Well, cats are cats. I mean, they don't come to you when you call them...greet you at the door... beg ya to take them for a walk...or even wanna play fetch," Mike recalled happy childhood memories with his dogs.

"Tell ya what. I may wanna play, but I'm not gona beg..." Julianna leveled with him, changing the subject slightly to tease him.

"Oh.... I'll get ya to beg," Mike interrupted confidently, his brows raised in exclamation, his arm extended out the window with the cigarette still smoldering.

She continued, "Well....maybe I'll greet you at the door...if you're nice to me," Julianna said in jest, a twinkle in her eye. He chuckled then asked seriously.

"So,'d you pull this off?...collegue of yours owe ya one or something?" Mike continued, taking slow drags on his cigarette and trying to get into a relaxed state of mind.

"Truth?" Julianna eyed him.

"Nothing but, and don't forget, I can tell when people lie, I'm a cop," Mike nodded with a cock-eyed smile, as he took one last drag and flicked the butt out the window.

Julianna chuckled silently, then admitted, "Off duty...."

Mike sighed with a distant look in his eye, "I'm never off duty."

He gave a concilitory shrug, as she continued, "Yeah, well try? OK...So the truth? well... yeah, she said she was going away, but I sorta," she eyed him for his reaction, then continued. "I just thought it'd be great to get away for while. And this didn't sound like such a bad idea....I mean, I thought we could find something to d......"

Mike interrupted her remark, by pulling her close to him and kissing her warmly, his hands searching warmly for her under her shirt.

She reciprocated as she felt his warm breath against her, realized where they were and pulled away, pressing her lips together, savoring the tender sweetness. She smiled at him, as they settled comfortably into silence as the cab made it's way through the rolling hills of San Francisco towards the shoreline drive.

"The view is great," Julianna said as she patted dry her thick dark hair, gazing out the 4th floor balcony doors towards the ocean. Her skin was still damp under the soft terrycloth robe that was tied loosely around her waist.

Mike eyed her up and down appreciatively, warm thoughts lingering at the memory of the smoothness of her skin. "Yeah.... that's just what I was thinking." Getting up, he encircled her with his arms, finding more of her soft exposed flesh and pressing her close to his bare chest.

"The ocean," she nodded towards the Bay.

"You," he whispered in her ear, squeezing her tighter still. " are great...."

"Oh no you don't," Julianna stretched away, though still caught in his grasp.

"What?" Mike asked innocently, his expression matching the intention.

" I know what you're thinking..... you think if you can wrap me around your finger we'll wind up doing everything you want to do," she eyed him speculatively.

"Get out of here....." he answered sheepishly, as his hands played with her damp dark hair.

"I think you know what I mean?" she sighed with her brows raised, as she began to push him away playfully.

"Yeah? Well.....I just want you to feel....appreciated," he looked at her cockily, as if to try to explain, pulling her back to him.

"Yeah....well....forget it....this is my vacation,'s not gona be that easy, appreciated or not," Cox eyed him straightaway.

"OK, OK, you're right....of course, we'll do what you want to long as we do what I want to do... first," Mike chuckled as he continued the sensual teasing, releasing his embrace one arm at a time, and sliding his hands beneath her robe, pulling her closer with his hands resting on her bare hips.

Julianna conceded, "Well, you are the one really needing a break.......ya know, finally beating the arson charges and've been through a lot these last few months," Julianna said empathetically.

"Let's not talk about the arson charges, ok?" Mike whispered into her ear, as he swayed her tightly against him as he began to get lost in the moment.

"Sure...we can act like it never happened," Julianna looked at him seriously.

Mike's tone changed quickly as he recalled the grueling battle against the feds, the brass, and his disappointment in the brotherhood of blue. "Fuck the arson charges," he replied, as he released his embrace and took on a harsh posture, and an angry expression emblazoned his deep blue eyes, as he moved away from her.

"Hey, take it easy...I'm on your side here," Juliana paused with exasperation, realizing again how easy he was to set him off.

"Take it easy?" Mike asked as he ran his hands through his hair, obviously feeling the pain of the circumstance again. " On my side...," he snickered, "That's what I mean, no matter where I go, it's gona always be the against them...even tho I've been cleared, people are always gona wonder ...." He turned away from her and continued passionately, "'re on my side?.... that's the point, isnt it....I was cleared... I'm innocent...but people still are gona think I'm dirty...or..or if not...that they have to take sides for me. If I'm so innocent, why...why does anyone have to do that?"

Julianna wrapped her arms around him, the robe gaping open allowing her warm skin to contact his bare chest. "Mike, gotta let go of it...forget it... ....relax."

"Try to forget it when no body else can? How am I going to do that? ...tell me, am I gona do that when you...and Lewis...and...and....even my family....can't," he stuttered, then snickered to himself, "....just relax....that's a good one.... ." Mike pulled away and walked out onto the balcony, the warm salt air bathing his frayed emotions. He looked distantly off to the boundless horizon before him, feeling as lost as the a small boat must feel way out on the bay.

Julianna gave him a moment of solitude then joined him, leaning on her elbows over the railing, her damp hair mussed around her face. "You wanna talk about this, Mike?" she asked.

He turned towards her and shrugged. "Let's just forget it, ok?"

"Well, yeah....why waste a perfectly great night...." Julianna reckoned, as she gazed westward towards the dimming light.

Mike gathered her in his arms and drew her close. "Ya know, you're right. I do need to're've *been* great through all of this...and... I...I shoulda said thanks.... thanks for asking me here, for trying to help out...." he sighed, as his warm mouth met hers, searching for reconciliation.

Julianna clearly felt his intentions. "You are impossible," she answered him softly, pulling him back into the condo.

"What can I say? You make me crazy," he quietly whispered as conscious reason gave way to their heightened emotion.

Mike and Julianna crossed over to the sandy beach, as the blazing sun was making its slow arc towards the shimmering water, changing colors before them as it slipped easily from view. Cooling foamy waves pounded the shore quietly. As they walked arm and arm, they kicked at the waves now and again, and continued the long slow jaunt along the beach. Occassionally, Mike would stop and pick up a pebble, rubbing it smooth before he threw it sideways in to skip along the water.

"This was a great idea, Julianna," Mike said, as they slowly made their way down the shoreline.

"The best," Julianna nodded assuredly. "I'm the brains."

Mike chuckled. "The farthest west I ever was before was St Louis..... to visit my sister, and well...lets face it, whats there to do in St Louis!" Mike shrugged nonchalantly.

Julianna thought outloud, "The Mississippi, the Cardinals, the Arch..."

Mike nodded, "Whatever....but you gotta admit, the Mississippi isn't the Pacific." He paused as he looked out at the lapping waves, then continued, "Oh....yeah...I almost forgot....I went to that wedding in Idaho...was there three nights.... felt like a month....dead of winter. No wonder I wanted to forget that."

"Yeah, well, I took a road trip to Kalifornia once. I was pretty young, but ya know, it all sounded exciting....and it was....with the wind whipping through my hair as we sped along the interstate....things were going great, till we picked up some hitchhikers," she looked pensively out towards the Bay.

Mike looked with concern. "You should never pick up's like swimming with could have gotten killed..."

Julianna smiled, "Yeah, well.... that was a long time ago. Don't tell me you never did anything dangerous....risky..."

"Hey, I'm here aren't I?" Mike teased as he pulled Julianna down onto the sand where they sat and watched the sun make its final descent. The muted hues of fading daylight cast shadows against them.

Silence fell upon them for moments as the beauty of the sunset faded into darkness. "You ever think about moving?" Julianna asked thoughtfully, as the seabreezes brushed her hair back. "Ya know, maybe out here? California of opportunity."

"California? No," Mike shook his head and answered in a breathy tone. "I mean, why would I want to leave Baltimore? My life is *there*, everything that really matters to me is there." He squeezed Julianna as he ended the remark.

"Yeah, but say...for instance, things changed...for some reason you weren't a cop anymore...than what?" Julianna asked matter of factly, recalling how close that had almost come.

"That's not gona happen....ok?" Mike answered emphatically. "I'm a cop, that's what I do...that's who I am...there's nothing else for me..."

"Yeah, well, I think about how it would be to pack up....maybe settle in somewhere along the coast here, maybe down by LA...I mean you could *be* a cop anywhere, Mike, or maybe even run a charter service," Julianna continued the speculation.

"Why....why leave Baltimore?" he pressed.

"Oh, I don't know...for the change....and well, ya know what they say, California dreaming and is kind of catchy," Julianna replied.

"Yeah....well ....let's leave the dreaming to everyone here in California. Right now, my dreams suck......maybe one of these days, they'll stop being haunting ones," Mike answered sullenly, as he stood up and extended his arm down to help Julianna up to her feet, trying to find the respite from the unrelenting agony he still tried to forget.

Mike Kellerman awoke to the sound of seagulls out in the bay. Although he was used to the sound of the winds coming in off the open waters, San Francisco had more seagulls than Baltimore's inner harbor. Mike rolled over and eyed Julianna who laid sleeping quietly beside him. These were the moments that you live for, he thought. The moments that really mattered.

He laid silently beside her and watched the gentle beauty of the rythym of her breathing. How well aware he was of how quickly life could change. In just a matter of moments. He'd seen it. Felt it. Watched it change, right in front of his eyes. Working homicide had taught him that. But, this is what you promise to hold on to, and not to let go of, these are the moments that really matter. The ones you lose when the promise is forsaken, and the ones you remember when you look back.

Mike rolled over and faced Julianna, as he blew a wisp of her dark hair away from her sleeping face. She flitched slightly, as he chuckled quietly to himself. Doing it again, Julianna opened one eye, and squinted towards him.

"Come on Mike, we can sleep in, we're on vacation," she looked over to him sleepily.

She started to roll over away from him, but with his strong arm, he pulled her back. Rolling over on top of her, he quietly whispered in her ear. "Exactly....and I thought you were gona help me relax!"

She reached up around his broad shoulders and pulled him down on top of her. "C'mon, Mike," she said, "go back to sleep, we can can relax....later."

"Now," he said with a persistent grin, "and later," he nudged into her ear, and Julianna knew she had no choice but to give in.

"OK, what kind of car do you want?" Mike asked as he held the phone in the crook of his shoulder and neck.

Julianna eyed him. "You choose. Just make it fast....and a convertable."

"Did you get that?" Mike asked to the rental agency on the other end. "Great, we'll be ready."

"So, they bring it right to the door?" Julianna asked.

Mike nodded, as he began gathering a few things for the day. "Now all we have to do is decide where we're heading."

"That shouldn't be too hard, there's miles of coastline to cover. I'm thinking," Julianna pointed out on the map that she held in her hand, "heading south, down towards Half Moon Bay."

"Yeah, well, I'm in charge of how we're in charge of dinner," Mike said, looking over her shoulder at the map. "And as long as we stay on the Pacific Coast Highway, it'll be great. But tomorrow, you promised, we head to Alcatraz," he added enthusiastically.

Julianna got up and kissed Mike warmly, as he pulled her hard into him, urging her for more. Pushing him away, she stopped him firmly with her hand. "You really do have a one track mind, don't you, Mike?"

"C'mon, Julianna...we've got time," Mike eyes still lit with the pleasure from her kiss, grabbing for her as she made her way towards the bedroom to gather her things.

"I'm talking about you being a just can't leave it behind, can you?" Julianna eyed him before slipping out of site into the bedroom, leaving Mike holding the map, a deep dimple pressed into his face.

The white Sebrine convertable squealed to a stop into the parking space near the entrance of the little bayside grille. Outdoor seating with wrought iron tables and umbrellas were randomly scattered around the patio. Enjoying the salt air, Mike and Julianna nodded to the waitstaff to seat them there, rather than inside.

Sitting across from eachother, they felt both comfortable and content. Kellerman ordered a longneck Corunna which the server brought with a lime wedge on top. He squeezed the lime into it, popped it into the bottle and took several big gulps, swallowing the amber brew with great enjoyment. Julianna sipped more slowly on her Wild Turkey on the rocks that had been placed on a cocktail napkin in front of her.

Mike stretched out his long legs under the table, his well worn jeans snug against the cooling temperatures. Darkness was beginning to set in, and he was glad he had opted for the t-shirt and v-necked sweater. He casually fingered for his lighter out of his jeans pocket and lit the candle that sat at the center of the table, then pulled a cigarette out of the pack in his pocket and lit it slowly. Julianna relaxed in the seat across from him, propping her right leg on top of his thigh. They were in no hurry to order dinner, and preferred quiet conversation to the pounding decadence of the rock band inside.

Julianna ran her foot up and down his leg, as she leaned casually back in the chair, then reached for her second Wild Turkey. Putting her foot back down on the patio, Mike eyed her. "Don't stop," he pleaded with a smile.

She smiled at him, and moved her chair closer around the table where the view of the bay was better.

"This has been great," Mike whispered quietly towards Julianna, placing his arm around her shoulders. "Getting away....with were right, it was just what I needed to relax," Mike sighed at his good fortune of having Julianna look out for him.

Julianna eyed him, "Relaxed is good for you, Mike. And good for everyone else, too... good for us."

"What's that suppose to mean?" he asked inquisitively.

This time she shrugged. "When you're shows."

"It shows?" he repeated, his tone asking for clarification, as he took a swig from the clear long neck Corunna, his brows raised quizzicably.

"Yeah..." Julianna answered, pausing to take another sip of Wild Turkey. She thought a minute longer than asked, twisting her glass in front of her. "Where do you see us in a couple of years, Mike?"

"Us?" he asked, then added without hesitation, "together." His eyes remained lit with anticipation, "Why?"

"Ah...I...I don't know..." she answered. "I mean....ya never know, where you end up....things can change....sometimes there are good reasons to...say move on."

"Sometimes there's even better reasons to stay, " Mike replied warmly in her ear, as he cradled her closer against the ocean breeze, wrapping both arms snuggly around her. The candle flickered in the breeze as the stars began to peek through the darkening sky.

Julianna Cox poured herself a cup of freshly brewed coffee and sat down next to Mike on the balcony of the condo. He had been up for hours watching the world come to life on the street and bay below and had just made the second pot of coffee. A steady flow of traffic was now making it's way northward into San Francisco and the morning light was bright, the fog now lifting leaving a just a smoky screen across the ocean, although a few fishing boats could be seen out in the distance.

" 'Bout time you got up," Mike eyed her affectionately, pressing over towards her to give her a morning kiss.

"Yeah...." Cox coaxed, "I was waiting for you to come wake me up...."

Mike chuckled. "Now... you tell me," he sighed. Adding smuggly, "And I'm the one with the one track mind...."

Julianna got up and straddled Mike in the chair, sitting with her knees flexed beneath her. Pressing into him, she kissed him warmly, as he searched the warm flesh beneath her t-shirt. With a sigh, she smiled and got up, picked up her coffee and leaned back onto the rail, eyeing him. "You had you're chance, Kellerman," she teased, "you blew it....."

"Now why is it...I feel I'm gona get a second chance," Mike teased her back, as he stood up and wrapped his arms around her. After a long passionate kiss, he looked at his watch then sighed, "But not right now...," he said. "We've got to get going or we'll be late."

Julianna looked perplexed. "Late.....for what? We can't be late for anything, we're on vacation..."

"Yeah...well, while you were still sleeping, I made reservations...we've got to get to Pier 41 by 10," he smiled at her.

"Pier 41?" Julianna asked.

"Yeah....we have a ferry to catch," he answered, his face dimpled. "Alcatraz.... remember?"

Julianna sighed. "I was hoping you wouldn't," she chuckled.

"Get outta here," he mused. "It'll be'll see," he said enthusiastically.

Mike parked the car, then enthusiastically pulled Julianna along with him hand in hand. The ferry was clearly in view, but Mike glanced at his watch, "We're going to miss it, Julianna."

"There'll be another," Julianna sighed, as she kept pace with him, boarding the ferry with the last of the passengers.

It was a short windy ride over to the island, about ten minutes, but Mike loved the feel of the ocean waters beneath him. They stood at the rail, rather than taking shelter inside the cabin. Mike cradled Julianna from behind, shielding her from the harsh gusts, blanketing her as he supported himself on the railing. He had thought about renting a cruiser during their visit, but found their time more limited than he liked. And, truthfully, he did want Julianna to have some say over what they planned. She had her sites on some of the coastal villages with their quaint shops and restaurants.

The ferry pulled into the dock and Mike and Julianna exited and started the steep long walk up to the prison. The view of the San Francisco skyline was remarkable, and didn't go unnoticed, as Mike scanned the landscape all while keeping his arm wrapped around Julianna. The wide expanse of the Golden Gate Bridge stretched across the bay, the busy storefronts were visible along Fisherman's Wharf, and the taller buildings of downtown cast shadows on the shoreline in front of it.

Mike and Julianna joined the others in a tour, then took a self pacing audio tour themselves. The cold dark walls of the prison and the steel iron cellblocks with bunks with narrow foam mattresses left Julianna feeling cold. Mike on the other hand, loved the sense of history, the seeming presence of the incarcerated ghosts that still haunted the confines. He envisioned the inmates during the 30 or so years it was a federal penitentary, going about their day to day routine. They even had a chance to enter into a cell, and feel the sense of isolation when the steel bars were closed behind them. Locked down with a pause between passing tourists, Mike backed Julianna into a corner and whispered, "God, I've missed you," he teased, "it's been weeks," letting on like a secluded inmate finally getting a conjugal visit. Ravenishly, he moved in to kiss her, as if it had really been weeks.

Julianna matched the passion, until they could hear a group of tourists approaching, interrupting their play. Mike sighed, "You just don't get any privacy in this hellhole," he whinced, as released his embrace, and headed towards the cell door. As he opened it, he imagined how it felt as a real inmate with the cell locked shut, at the mercy of the guards.

Julianna followed behind and closed the heavy steel iron wall behind her, "Things are looking up, Kellerman, you just got paroled on good behavior."

They spent a good part of the day on the island, having lunch in the small cafeteria. By the time they got back to the condo, it was late and they decided to order pizza and spend a quiet evening in.

The weather had cooperated with Mike and Julianna's plans, as the summer sky remained clear and the breezes warm for most of their visit. They took adavantage of their free time, enjoying the restaurants, shops, and culture of the city and surrounding area. Arising early on their 6th day, a pounding rain greeted them and they opted to wait it out in the condo. Unfortunately, the rain lasted longer than the morning showers that had predicted, and Mike had to put his cruising idea on hold. Julianna answered the phone on the 3rd ring.

"That was Laura," she announced, as she clicked off the phone. Mike was sacked out on the sofa, stretched out with his finger clearly stuck on the remote control.

Mike looked up from the television, his finger still pressing the channel forward button, as the screen flipped from one horizontal screen to another. "Laura?" he asked.

"The home owner," Julianna answered, lifting up his feet and sliding underneath them, then placing them back comfortably on her lap. "She's coming home early.... tonight."

"Great, we're not leaving til what," he asked feeling disappointed that they may have to check into a hotel.

"She said sit tight, there's plenty of room, and she'll fix us dinner," Julianna said, as she ran her hand through her dark hair.

"Dinner? Get outta here. We've been sleeping in her bed all week, using her condo, and she's going to fix *us* dinner? We'll take her out...." Mike said thoughtfully.

Julianna shook her head. "You don't know Laura. If she wants to fix us dinner, she'll fix us dinner. Says we've probably been eating out all week....besides...she's a great cook," Julianna offered her assessment.

Wisely Kellerman conceded, "She's already made up her mind, huh?"

"Yep," Cox asserted.

"And.... she is a great cook," Mike nodded for clarification.

Cox smiled, "Stopping at the market on the way home. Her plane lands around 2, she'll be home before 4 and we'll be dining by 7," she laid out the plan.

Mike shifted his position, as he sat upright, faced her and leaned in close, his weight balanced on one knee, his other foot flat on the floor. "In that case," he nudged up and whispered close to her ear, "we better have an early appetizer."

The door to the condo swung open and Laura Murphy entered carrying a brown paper sack stuffed to the top with fresh meat and produce. Following close behind her was a neighborhood boy, who was dragging her two big suitcases. She should have been exhausted, given the week long activities at the conference she had attended in Boston. She wasn't. Instead she was excited to have visitors. And she hadn't seen Julianna Cox in ages. They were childhood friends and had aspired to their chosen professions at the same college.

Laura kept the San Francisco Police Department running. As the Executive Secretary to the Chief of Police, she found herself involved in the day to day affairs of the department, running the Community Education Project, and Public Relations. She enjoyed her job, took it seriously enough, and was easily one of the nicest persons you'd ever want to know.

Mike picked up the remote and flicked off the tv as he immediately came to his feet to assist her. "Need some help?" he asked.

"I got it," she said scanning the room. Her eyes lit up when Peaches scooted across the floor in front of her. Placing her bag on the countertop, she squatted down and rubbed the cat affectionately. After a lingering hello, she again focused on the two guests.

"Julianna," she greeted her enthusiastically, as she reached out and gave her a warm hug. "Great to see you. And this must be.... Mike Kellerman."

He nodded with a cocky smile and half-hearted shrug. "The one and only."

Laura smiled back at him, her face showing no fatique from her cross country flight. "I bet you are."

He passed his eyes up and down her, then back up to Laura's face, and she noticed. "I'd have taken you as a cop, right off the bat....I mean without even knowing."

He met her gaze. "Oh....yeah....Why?" he asked inquisitively, his mouth pressed into a smile and a dimple deep in his cheek.

"For one thing, a cop generally will give you the once over when they meet you," she explained, calling Mike on it. "Always sizing things up.....even when they're off duty."

Mike shrugged. "Well, it's not like I cased the joint...checked out what's in the cupboards, drawers, looked in the medicine cabinet or anything....But if I did," he pointed his finger politely at her, " I'd probably already know alot about you and .....and I'd have to say.... I like you already."

Laura looked to Julianna and uttered quietly with a shake of her head, "Charming."

Mike ignored the comment and looked at the two, asking seriously as if it were his home, "So, make yourself comfortable....can I get you a drink or anything?"

Just as Julianna had suspected, Laura was showered, unpacked and had dinner prepared and ready to serve by 7 pm. Mike had taken off to scout around the city one last time before their early morning departure, as Julianna stayed back to help with dinner. Laura enjoyed filling her in on all the antics of the San Francisco Police Department, and Julianna had plenty of her own personal experiences to match the banter.

Turning down the flame on the stove, Laura bent down to watch the flame dim to just the right temperature under the grill pan.

"So, Mike seems like a lot of fun," Laura said, changing the subject from career issues to those of greater interest.

Julianna agreed, "Oh, yeah, Mike's fun alright."

"Hey, you deserve fun, Julianna. Much better than the mopes you usually hang out with," Laura took a knife and started slicing red and green peppers.

Julianna shrugged, not feeling like getting into that discussion again. Yeah, she knew her track record wasn't that great, but who the hell had time to spend on a relationship while getting through the grueling forensic residency program and advancing in a field dominated by men. She liked Kellerman. Alot. And he certainly seemed to reciprocate.

"So, how serious are you and Mike?" Laura asked, with a raised brow, her auburn hair picking up highlights from the sun streaming in as it made its downward descent.

"How serious am I or how serious is Mike?" Cox asked matter of factly, taking a stack of plates out of the cupboard.

Laura stopped and eyed Cox directly. "How serious is serious?"

Cox paused and smiled. "We get along," she said.

"And that's it?" Laura pressed. "You've been going out for what.... 3 months, invite him for a week vacation, and you just get along..."

Julianna wasn't sure she wanted to think this out to clearly. After a pause, she added... "You know, you really do hang around with too many cops....all the questions....but ...OK.....well, so maybe we get along.....great...most of the time."

With that the door opened and Mike walked in with a bunch of flowers in warm shades of yellow and violet, wrapped in florist tissue in one hand, a bottle of Chardoney in the other. A smile emerged from behind the ruddy glow of his face, as he asked enthusiastically. "Dinner ready? I'm starved."

Laura had prepared a wonderful dinner of Herb Rubbed Grilled Pork Chops, Garlic Mashed Potatoes, and Dry-fried String Beans with Peppers. She fancied herself a bit of a gourmet cook and enjoyed having someone besides herself to cook for.

Mike eagerly took his seat at the table, reaching to the center to light the candle first. Casual conversation wafted through the room as easily as the smoldering smoke from the flickering flame. Kellerman filled his plate, finished it off, and took a second helping, while Julianna and Laura continued to catch up on their news. "This is great," he interrupted, nodding towards Laura as he hungrily took another bite. "I can't believe you're not married."

Cox interjected. "Contrary to popular belief, Mike, the way to a man's heart is not always through his stomach. As an Anatomy major, I feel safe in saying that."

Laura took a sip of wine and leveled with him. "I've had offers. Cops mostly. Let's just say, the fantasy is usually better than the reality."

The remark passed over Kellerman without much thought. "Whatever," he shrugged, as he shoved another bite into his mouth. "But I'm telling ya, this is great stuff."

Dinner was finished and the kitchen was cleaned up in no time. A cool breeze blew in through the balcony doors that were left open just for that purpose. Feeling a need for the Pacific air, Laura got up and suggested, "How bout we sit out on the balcony."

Mike and Julianna followed the lead. After arranging the patio chairs to their liking, they settled in and watched the waves glisten in the moonlight. The view was great. But from here, it was truly to be enjoyed by all the senses. If you closed your eyes, the ocean would seem to swallow you up in one fell swoop, as the sound of the waves pounding mercilessly on the shore echoed in the distance. Taking a deep whiff of the salt air was welcome for any seafaring man. And whether it was imagination or not, you could almost feel the spray on your face from the beating waves and taste the salt residue left in its wake.

Laughter and light hearted conversation filtered into the night, as the threesome truly enjoyed eachothers company.

"Ok," Mike said, "tell me again, this is beer imported from China.....Chinese beer?"

"Yep, there's nothing like an Asian brew," Laura sighed, taking a sip.

"Ok...OK....I get that..." Mike shrugged. "But I gotta tell ya, in Baltimore, imported is anything brought in west of the Mississippi."

They laughed as they finished a second bottle, then headed to bed just hours before their flight was to depart from San Francisco International Airport.

Mike wandered into the squadroom, punched in and gathered his messages as he made his way spiritedly to his desk. It wasn't until he eyed the board, with the overwhelming contrast of names in red and black that the reality of his day set in. Still, he was feeling too good to focus on that just yet.

Lieutenent Giardello passed by with barely a nod, mumbling as he made his way to his office, "You're back. Kay needs to see you."

Mike sifted through his pink memo slips and shrugged. "Yeah, I had a great time, Gee," he mumbled under his breath.

"Hey...hey...hey," Lewis eyed Kellerman, as he firmly patted him across the shoulder. 'You'll be happy to know we still be in business, Partner."

"You missed me, didn't you?" Mike asked.

"Well, it ain't like I'm gona send ya flowers or anything, but yeah, welcome back," Meldrick said.

Mike looked around and the busy hustling attested to the fact that there had been no pause in homicides during his westerly trip.

Kay walked quickly into the squadroom, stopping at Mike's desk. "Kellerman, you're back. How's things."

Mike smiled and nodded, "Great...yeah..things are great. Hey... Kay," he asked quietly, "did you know you can go a whole week without a donut or seeing any dead bodies and not miss a beat?"

"Yeah?" Kay responded. "Well, that's great, hmm, cos you know that Winters case..... just got called to trial. They need you in court this afternoon." Kay handed him the file, as the phone bleated in the background.