Rating: PG, to be safe.

AN: I wrote this for my creative writing class. This comes before The Proverbial Open Book, but the only thing shared between the two stories is the main characters. I'm not sure as far as the title goes, but I can't think of another one so I'm sticking with it. Constructive criticism is welcome.

Remy's grin fades a little at the tattered, rumpled look Ari carries as she walks into the bar. The firm hug, slender arms fastening tightly around her waist, is a surprise. Oh, Ari. Remy's arms tighten around the willowy blonde, wondering at the anxiety in the dark eyes and the slump of her friend's slight shoulders.

"That bad, eh?" Remy murmurs, nose tickled by close-cropped hair. A sharp nod is all she gets, her friend's face buried in her neck.

"Alright, come on," her voice takes on the sharp, all-business tone she uses with her charges at work. "Tell me all about it." With a slight shoulder rub Ari is guided to her seat. Remy takes the chair on the opposite side of the dark, pockmarked table set back in a shadowy corner of the dusty, deserted bar. Ari jumps when she slams her hand on the table. "Oi," Remy calls across the bar. "Surf Shop."

The blonde forty-year-old linebacker looks up, long-suffering compliance written in every line of his face. "What is it, Remy?" he growls from behind the bar, animosity in his voice betrayed by amusement dancing in his eyes.

"Whatever, Ron Jon," Remy calls back, laughing, "how 'bout something sharp and peppy over here, eh? What'll you have?" She smirks, Ari's jaw sagging down to the table before she catches up to the topic change.

"How 'bout the grilled chicken sandwich?" Remy continues, not leaving Ari any time to reply even if she hadn't hesitated. "Lettuce, tomato, onions and your choice of dressing – well, dressings, knowing you," Remy automatically corrects herself, a rather teasing note threading through her words.

Ari meets her gaze, annoyance to rival the barkeep's flattening her lips to a thin line. Remy doesn't even flinch; instead, she reads the other woman's mind easily. "Friendly to teasing in 2.6 seconds?" she asks, a knowing grin on her lips.

"You know me too well…" Ari groans. "And yes," she sighs. "I'll have the grilled chicken."

Ari licks a bit of ranch & honey mustard off her fingers, her unease from earlier long since replaced by pensive silence. She's more outwardly relaxed now, the anxiety and weariness pulled under her skin, vines guided back into place on their trellis.

There's still something on your mind, Ari…dare I ask what? Remy watches her silently, puzzling at the careful blankness just behind her friend's eyes.

"I need to tell Eric something," Ari confides to the salt & pepper shakers.

A delicately raised, questioning eyebrow is the only response. "And you don't know how to talk to him about it?"

"Yeah," she sighs. Fingers drag through short hair, pushing locks out of her eyes. She sighs, crossing her legs under the table. "It's just – he's said so much shit, you know?" Ari frowns, gritting her teeth to preserve her 'tough-chick' reputation.

"Believe me," Remy smirks, disdain etched in every line of her face, "I know. I was the target for quite a lot of it, remember?"

"Yeah, I know. I still can't believe he was disrespectful enough to say that about your brothers-in-law. I mean, it was just a fucking wedding invitation..." Ari shakes her head, disgusted. "What?"

Remy meets Ari's gaze sheepishly, a slightly guilty look on her face. "Ok, totally off-topic," she says apologetically. "But I love the fact that you use the correct plural form of 'brother-in-law' even when you're that stressed out," she smirks, gesturing to the napkin-confetti littering the table.

Ari sighs exasperatedly, letting the napkin she just finished shredding fall to the table. "I can't help it," she grumbles, "old habit. Can we get back to talking about the problem at hand, please?"

"Of course, 'Ri, I'm sorry." Remy squeezes her friend's hand across the table; the mirth from a minute ago gone without a trace.

Ari sighs, exasperated. "I just…never mind all the crappy stuff he's said, he's still…Eric, you know?"

"Yeah," Remy sighs, "I know. Your father's pretty damn dense."

Ari stiffens at the mention of Eric being her father and begins turning another napkin (this is the third one she's on) into confetti, shaking slightly."Aren't you going to ask what this is all about?" She sneaks a peak at Remy, cringing sheepishly away from the look on the other woman's face.

The hurt on Remy's face is mocking, though the reproach is not. "You know me better than that, Ari. If people want to tell me what's bothering them, they'll tell me. I don't ask. Not unless I think they're at risk of hurting someone. You aren't going to arm yourself with a straight razor and go on a rampage through town, are you?"

Ari looks away, cheeks crimson at Remy's sharp words. "No, no straight razor. I just…" she trails off with a sigh, shaking her head.

"What? Do you want me to ask you what it is?" Remy asks, peeling the hard edge from her words like the rind off an orange. "Would that make it easier?"

"I don't know," Ari slumps against the table, chin pillowed on her hand. "Maybe." She flicks at the jagged pile of miniature napkin-squares, idly watching the thin, shredded paper settle over the table. "So…" Ari stares around the empty bar, her distaste lingering before being carefully wiped away. "This is your bar. It's…nice."

Remy doesn't miss a beat: "Horse shit," she smirks. "It's not your scene and we both know it. You're more the coffee-shop type."

"Yeah…," Ari nods in agreement. Her eyes land on the man wiping down the bar. "Why do you give him such a hard time?" She asks, remembering the earlier exchange between them.

"Who, RJ?" Remy asks, playing coy.

"Yes, RJ," Ari cocks an eyebrow at her friend, amusement tugging at the corners of her mouth.

Remy merely shrugs. "When we first met, he was this big shot hippie surfer dude. We didn't exactly hit it off right away."

"What she means," RJ says from behind Ari, a pitcher of water in hand. She turns and looks up at him, surprised that he crept up on her so easily. "Is that I was an asshole. She's just too nice to say as much," he nods to each of them before heading back to the bar, pitcher left on their table.

"Anyway," Remy continues. "I started calling him 'Surf Shop' and 'Ron Jon' after this shop in Florida –"

"Called 'Ron Jon's Surf Shop'?" Ari finishes the sentence with a grin.

Remy nods, "Yeah, but now we're avoiding the original topic again," she says, attempting to heave the conversation back to its intended course. "Not to ruin the mood or anything, but why are you so conflicted over what Eric's reaction will be?" Remy asks, fingers playing idly with the condensation on the side of her glass.

"Reaction to what?" Ari replies, at first confused, though recognition creeps onto her face only seconds later.

"When did you know?" Remy asks, her suspicions confirmed when Ari freezes, just a little.

Ari begins to tremble visibly; being read so easily – and so often – is an uncomfortable feeling. "What?" she whispers, mouth dry, eyes fixed stubbornly on her food.

Remy elaborates with ease, "When did you know you were gay?" Unwilling to cause her friend any more pain, Remy reaches across the table to grasp her friend's hand. "It's ok, Ari. I'm just curious."

Ari relaxes, returning the reassuring squeeze. "…About six months ago," She whispers. Remy offers a comforting smile and she relaxes even further before continuing, "I had just broken up with Brian about two weeks before, and went into Caribou Coffee—"

"And it was completely packed, not a table left in the joint and some raven-haired beauty invited you to sit with her," Remy cuts in with a mischievous grin, sounding like she already knows the answer.

"Close….I walked in and a woman invited me to sit outside on the snow-covered balcony in the freezing cold with her – though not in so many words…and promptly blushed when she remembered what month it was," Ari smirks wickedly at the memory, some of the tension lifting from her shoulders. "….We went outside anyway."