It had been a while since Juliet had driven this route, and she'd only ever come a handful of times, but she still remembered the way.
Henry Spencer's house had been left to his only son. Somehow, thanks to a few well-exploited tax code loopholes and legal wrangling by one of the city's top law firms, it had stayed in his possession even after Shawn's disappearance. Most of the furnishings and decor had been put into storage or auctioned off to cover taxes, but the basic house and yardwork was kept up by police officers and various others as something of a memorial.
There were more than a few people in the city still privately hoping the old Spencer home might be occupied again, someday.
They would be surprised to see the light on in the living room now, behind the drawn blinds. The little black Honda was in the driveway. Juliet made note of the rental company sticker on the license plate as she drove past. She hadn't thought the car was really Shawn's style.
One pass to make sure no one was following her or patrolling the street, and then she parked a block away, jogged through the dark yards and empty back lots and climbed the fence to the Spencer house's backyard, glad she had changed to jeans.
Shawn opened the kitchen door before she could ring the bell, the smell of cheap lo mein wafting out from behind him into the night. "Hey!" he said, ushering her inside. "Thanks for coming in under the radar, I wanted to keep this party private."
"Hey," she said back. "No problem. Oh, I brought you a housewarming gift," and she handed him a bag of dried candied pineapple strips from one of her friend's favorite gourmet organic stores.
"Oh, you shouldn't have," he said, even as he ripped open the bag with his teeth and shoved a strip into his mouth, mumbling around it, "you really shouldn't've."
He'd gotten five dishes, all her favorites from a while ago; how he could remember her preferred menu after ten years was anyone's guess. There were no plates, so they picked bites straight out of the cartons with chopsticks; and no wine, just a few bottles of iced tea and hard lemonade. They ate sitting on either end of the couch, which was covered in a white sheet, like the rest of the remaining furniture.
"Feels strange to be back," Shawn said, dumping more red pepper flakes on his noodles. He seemed quieter than he had the day before, contemplative, almost distracted. It was probably just the house. "Being here, without Dad...I'm kind of glad everything's moved. Nothing's where it used to be...feels less like he'll come walking in and yell at me for putting my shoes up on the coffee table. If there was still a coffee table here."
"It's your house now," Juliet reminded him. "Most of the things in your apartment were put in storage, I could get them for you."
"I grew up here," Shawn said. "I couldn't wait to finally move out. Never thought about moving back in, never thought I'd have a chance, not with Dad ensconced here, and I never thought about if he...I never thought."
"You wouldn't. I mean, kids don't," Juliet said. "Not about losing their parents, it's just too difficult." And Shawn had never quite grown up, not really; and Henry Spencer had been such the ultimate parental figure...
"It's not just Dad." Shawn shook his head. "There's been...a few times, on the road, some of the places I've gone. I've bought postcards, I go to write them, I'll actually write his address before I remember there's no point."
He'd always sent Gus postcards. The Gusters had mentioned that at the wake, Gus's mother crying about the shoebox in the bottom drawer of his desk at his apartment, all those postcards, carefully filed by date.
"Maybe it's a good thing I can't go back to the old office," Shawn said. He picked up one of the lemonades from the cooler, put the chilled bottle to his temple as if he had a headache. "Might be better to have it blown up and paved over. Even by a health spa. Better than walking around there, alone."
"You don't want the reminders," Juliet said. "But, Shawn, sometimes it's better to remember. You have to think of the good things, the fun you had, so you don't lose those memories--keep them alive, in your heart. You can't just forget the people who were important to you; they're what make you who you are, and if you lose them, you'll lose yourself..."
Shawn was laughing at her, not meanly, but a little snidely. "Too touchy-feely?" Juliet asked. "I forget, you're not a cop but you are still a guy. But it's true."
"Not for me," Shawn said, stretching to put the lemonade down unopened. "I'm not going to forget. Anything. Best I can do is close it off--close off everything, long as I can manage it. Here, though," and he looked around. "Here, it's not that easy."
"It shouldn't be," Juliet said. "And you can't just lock it all down. It's good you came back--you should've come sooner."
She should have found him. She never should have stopped looking, not until she had found him and brought him back, dragged him home...
But maybe she couldn't have done it; maybe she couldn't have helped, not then. Not when he'd had no home to be brought to--his apartment, she'd never seen until after he was gone, and it had been uncluttered and ordinary, too generic to be Shawn Spencer's home. That had been the Psych office, had been his father's house.
She'd never known Shawn, not really. Not known the truth about him, not even been able to see how easily he'd been fooling them, making fools of them--though he'd never really thought of it like that, she knew. He'd never been insulting them, just having fun. And the help he'd given them, had given all the people who had come to him, that had been real, even if the psychic had not been.
Ten years ago, if Henry hadn't, only by chance, been the one to come to the Psych office, the one to open the front door, instead of his son...if Gus hadn't been there waiting for him, waiting to hear about the history of the drug ring they were trying to crack, waiting for the meeting Shawn had blown off to go--bowling, or the batting cage, or whatever it had been. Wherever he had been, when she'd called him from the scene.
--"What," he'd said; "no, there's gotta be a mistake. This is a joke, right. This isn't funny. No--"
Juliet had thought, many times before, how different it might have been. Not just that Shawn might have noticed the trigger on the door; or if he hadn't, if it had been the two partners of Psych caught in the explosion, as had been intended. She'd often considered that Shawn must have had that thought himself; had wondered if it was that realization that he had fled from, more than the ache of memories or the pressure of their sympathy.
But if there had been any mercy...if the only victim had been Henry, Gus wouldn't have let Shawn run; he would've held him in place, given him reason to stay, to keep doing his job. Gus had always been Shawn's anchor, tied to him, slowing him down and making sure he didn't drift into too dangerous waters.
And if it had been Gus--Shawn would've run then, nothing could have held him. But Henry would have dragged him back, eventually, sure as the tether snaps in the ball; he'd known his son better than anyone, well enough to track him anywhere, if he'd had to. And he would have.
But then they were gone, Shawn cut loose, no anchor and no tether, no one but herself, and Lassiter, and all those other people who cared, but didn't know Shawn, not well enough. They hadn't been enough.
He'd lost the two people closest to him, lost himself; and then they'd lost him, she and Carlton and everyone else. And Juliet wanted to believe that they might have him back; wanted so badly to believe, but she knew better than to be sure. "Shawn," she began.
And stopped when he turned his head toward her with a, "Hmm?" looking comfortable and content and so damn far away. Ten years apart from that pain and grief, and who was she to bring it back?
"Do you have any pictures?" she asked instead. "Any of those postcards on you, to show off where you've been?"
"Not really, sorry. I've never been one for that new-fangled pho-tog-raphy," and he gave it a stilted, silly pronunciation. "But I--"
Shawn stopped, angled his head to the side like he was listening, his eyes going even more distant. "Hold that thought, Jules."
When she listened, she heard a car in the street, the engine stopping. Maybe a couple doors down--but when she cast her mind back, she remembered only an empty lot there. It wouldn't be Lassiter, but if one of the agents had followed her...
"Sorry about this," Shawn said. He stood, picking up her chopsticks as he did. "I forgot to mention, I sort of invited someone else over. If you could get up--"
She took his hand, let him pull her to her feet. "Shawn, what is--"
"Jules, do you trust me?"
"I haven't heard from you in ten years, and you lied to me from the first moment I met you," Juliet said, just to keep the facts straight.
"Yeah, I know. Do you trust me? Please say yes. Quickly."
"Then get in here, stay quiet, and listen," and before she could say another word, he had pushed her into the dark kitchen, into the pantry, and quietly closed the slatted door before her, just as there was a knock at the front door.
to be continued...