Title: Embarrassed
Fandom: Ghostwriter

Pairing: Tina/Alex, Hector/OMC, Lenni/Jamal
Rating: PG

Summary: Rob’s in town and meets up with the gang. As the nights winds down, he’s given an offer.

Notes: Written for day 19 of my 23 Ficlets project to celebrate my 23rd anniversary in the community




As evening turned into night, the members of what used to be the Ghostwriter team headed home from the restaurant. Alex and Tina left first, needing to get home to relieve the babysitter. Casey had to meet some students in one of her college courses for a study group the next morning, so she went soon after. A little while later, when Gaby had just about run out of things to say, she decided to call it a night as well, and Hector offered to walk her home, as the apartment he shared with Jules was just around the corner from the Bodega.


That left Jamal working on his third beer, Lenni sobering up after her cocktail, and Rob nursing the same beer that had been put in front of him hours ago. It was warm now, so even less appealing than it had been when he’d ordered it. He wasn’t really here for the drinks, though; catching up with all his friends after so many months traveling had been the best. Despite how weary and stiff he felt from his flight, he wished tonight could go on forever. “So,” Rob began, stopping almost immediately to cough and clear a scratchy throat. He couldn’t help but notice Jamal and Lenni exchange a look. “What?”


“Nothing,” Jamal said quickly.


But at the same time, Lenni replied, “We think you’re coming down with something.”


Rob’s eyebrows rose as he chuckled. “Oh really?”


“Lenni! I thought we weren’t going to say anything!” Jamal whispered not nearly quiet enough. Rob could easily hear every word and inflection even over the noise in the bar.


“Yeah, well, I changed my mind. He doesn’t look so good.”


“He’s sitting right here,” said Rob in the third person, looking down at himself to make sure he hadn’t turned invisible all of a sudden. “And I’m just tired after the flight.” He saw Lenni bump Jamal’s side with her elbow and narrowed his eyes. “What?”


Jamal explained, “She said that you’d say that. Which is why we agreed not to say anything until we were sure.”




“Look at all the evidence, though!” Lenni gestured to Rob and then listing it all out as it were fifteen years ago and he had suddenly been turned into a Ghostwriter mystery casefile. “Fatigue, coughing, sore throat, runny nose—”


Having had enough of this, Rob started to protest that he didn’t have a runny nose… but the words vanished before he could speak them. He kind of did have one. Had she heard him sniffling earlier? And this didn’t exactly feel much like jet lag, to be honest.


Emboldened by Rob’s lack of an argument, Jamal leaned forward, elbows on the bar, so he could make better eye contact past Lenni, who sat on a barstool between them. “Where are you staying while you’re in town?”


Rob thought for a moment. He’d been hopping from location to location for so long it was hard to keep it all straight. “I’ve got a reservation… at some Hilton, I think.”


“Stay at my place,” Lenni said to this. Not expecting it, Rob already began shaking his head. “I’ve got a spare bedroom and a full medicine cabinet.”


 “I don’t want to impose.”


“You’re not. I’m offering.”


Rob still hesitated. He knew these were the best friends he’d ever had. And he knew she was offering him a kindness because she wanted to, not because she had to. She’d been the one to bring up the subject, after all. But even after all this time, he was no better at accepting help when he needed it.


“I’m afraid I can’t match Hilton room service in the morning, but I do have all the ingredients at home already for my dad’s special pancakes.”


He remembered having those once. He’d never figured out what had made them so delicious, but he remembered having seconds and thirds along with the others. As long as Mr. Fraizer kept flipping them, the gang had kept eating them.


“He’s smiling,” Jamal pointed out. “I think that means he’s in.”


“Hey, still sitting right here!”  Rob laughed and then coughed into his sleeve. He decided it would seem much more definitive to make a decision standing up, and slid off the barstool. But a sudden wave of dizziness seized him. He gripped the bar, trying to keep himself upright, then he found Lenni holding onto one arm and Jamal behind him, an arm around his middle. Rob closed his eyes until the dizziness passed entirely. Then he straightened and they let him go, staying close out of an abundance of caution. “Too much to drink, I guess.”


Jamal eyed his drink, knowing full well he’d only had a sip or two. But, friend that he was, he didn’t call Rob on it. “Right, man.”


Lenni patted his arm. “Now I’m really going to worry about you alone in some hotel. Please do me the honor of lending my guest room out to world renowned author Robert Baker?”


After a few more seconds of hesitation he finally nodded. Rob hadn’t expected to see such a genuine smile on her face, and he wondered why he had been resisting in the first place. It seemed so easy to say yes now that he was on the other side of it.


“Great!” She led the way to the bar’s coat check.


Jamal got his goat and passed Lenni hers. “Do you have your ticket?” he asked, and Rob passed his coat check claim ticket over. Just as the guy was handing Rob’s coat and backpack to Jamal, Rob realized he was going to sneeze. He scrubbed his wrist at his nose, thinking that might do it. When it didn’t, he tried pinching the bridge of is nose.  


That didn’t work either. “h’Ahschhhh! Hahshoo!” he buried both in the crook of his arm, feeling his cheeks flush with embarrassment. He was almost afraid to open his eyes again. He sniffed to buy himself some time and wiped his nose on his sleeve. When he finally dared to open his eyes, Jamal was holding out his coat as if nothing had happened. And Lenni was rooting through her purse.


“Ah-ha!” She pulled out a small pack of tissues. She took nearly all of them out of the pack and handed them to Rob. “Let me know if you need more.”


He felt self-conscious but grateful as he took them. He wiped his nose with one as he folded the others and slid them into his pocket for later. Then he took his coat and put it on, zipping it up all the way to his throat. Having spent the last week in Florida, his body was not yet prepared to face a cold New York winter night like the ones he remembered from his middle school years.


“Well, at least we have an idea of what you’re coming down with now, don’t we?” Lenni joked, snapping her purse shut and adjusting the cross-body strap so it was secure. “My place is about eight Subway stops away. Probably best we don’t walk it. We could flag down a cab if you don’t feel up to the Subway, though.”


“We’d have to walk over a block,” Jamal said. “All these are going uptown.”


“It’s a block to the Subway anyway,” Lenni said. “You’ll be all right, Rob?”


He smiled and nodded. “I’m all right.” But he wobbled slightly as he set foot outside and the fierce, biting cold struck him. Jamal took his arm and held tight. “I’m okay,” Rob repeated, his nose really running now. “Sniff! You don’t have to… sniff! I can make it to the Subway.”


“I’m sure you can. But… I’m going the same place anyway.”


It took Rob a second to understand, but then he nodded. “Oh! You live near Lenni?”


“In a manner of speaking.”


Lenni laughed as she pressed a button to signal they wanted to cross. Then she snapped to Jamal’s side, rose up on her toes, and kissed his cheek.


Rob’s own cheeks went pinker than they had when he was embarrassed about sneezing and pinker than they had when the cold wind began biting at them. “Ohh.” His mind was spinning, and this time he was glad Jamal had a hold of him to keep him grounded. The walk indicator turned on, and they started across the street. “Ohhhhhhh,” Rob said again, drawing it out as he realized now what the full extent of that look they’d exchanged earlier. “I mean, that’s great. Congratulations, you two. But why didn’t you tell me earlier?” Surely they couldn’t have thought he would disapprove? Alex and Tina had fallen for each other and now they were happily married with three kids, and Rob couldn’t have been happier for them.


“We haven’t told anybody,” Lenni explained. “Well, my dad knows, because he was staying with me while he was recovering from the car accident. My guest room is really great, by the way. But none of our friends know yet.”


“Not even Casey?” Jamal was so tight with his family; he couldn’t imagine him not telling his cousin.


But Jamal laughed. “You know Casey. If I even hinted about it, she’d go blabbing it to everybody in about a minute.”


“We thought it best to keep it a secret, in case it didn’t work out,” Lenni explained. “With Jamal’s dating record and my public profile, we wanted our private life to stay private until we knew if we were just staying friends or if there might be something more.”


Rob smiled. “So how long has this something more been going on between you?” The entrance to the Subway and the stairs leading down were dead ahead. They’d only been walking a few minutes, but already he was looking forward to getting out of this cold.


“Since we danced at Hector and Jules’ wedding.”


Rob’s eyebrows shot up. “That was more than six months ago!” That had been the last time he’d been in New York, actually. Since then, he’d finished up his research in Asia then had bounced around the states from one writing retreat, residency, or conference to another. He was back in New York to meet with his agent and some of the publishing house reps. Ugh, that meeting was going to suck with a head cold.


Lenni talked to him about Jamal finally getting up the courage to ask her out as they waited for the train. Jamal vanished for a minute and returned with bottles of water for each of them and a small pack of tissues for Rob. Rob turned to see a small shop just now closing down for the night. Excellent timing, and quick thinking on Jamal’s part. With all the running his nose was doing now after being out in the cold air, he had been using up the tissues Lenni had given him, so Rob was thrilled.


The train car they boarded was empty, apart from them, and Rob was grateful. It was embarrassing enough to be sick in front of his friends; having strangers stare at him was more than he could handle just now.


By the time they got to the right stop, he was pretty much up to speed on their relationship though still surprised at how they managed to keep it a secret from everyone this whole time. Surely Gaby must suspect? She noticed everything! Though she hadn’t let on that she’d known, and she hadn’t said anything about Rob coming down with something, either. Maybe something was on her mind and distracting her? They were planning to meet for lunch later this week; he’d have to make sure she was all right then. Assuming he felt up to having lunch out.


hah-AHshoo! Hachoo! H’shhoo!


“Bless you. It’s just right up here,” Lenni said, point to a tall building on this side of the street that looked pretty similar to all the other tall buildings on this side of the street and the other side as well. He nodded and kept his head down, braced against the wind as he walked.


“Hello, Ms. Frazier, Mr. Jenkins!” called a man seated at a large desk just inside the front door of Lenni’s building.


“Mr. Arnold, this is my friend, Rob Baker. We went to middle school together.”


Rob gave the man a shy kind of smile and wave while trying very hard to not sneeze.


“Nice to meet you, Mr. Baker. Have a good night.”


“Thanks!” Lenni said, cheerfully, grabbing the small stack of mail he set out for her as she led the way to the bank of elevators.


“Wow,” Rob looked back over his shoulder. “You’ve got  building with a doorman and more than one elevator.”


“There are four members of the security team, but Mr. Arnold’s the nicest by far.” As they filed into the elevator, Lenni hit the button for the twenty-seventh floor.


“So… the doormen know you and Jamal are dating, but you still haven’t told your friends?”


Jamal groaned. “Okay, okay. We know we need to tell them. We’re just worried that doing that will jinx us.”


As they entered Lenni’s home, Rob couldn’t help but notice how much of the place reflected not just Lenni but also Jamal. There was a keyboard in one corner of the living room, and an African mask hung on the wall just above it. There was a framed photo of Lenni’s parents on a coffee table right next to a video game controller. One shelf of the bookcase was filled with vinyl records while the next was filled with comic books. In fact, Rob suddenly couldn’t tell where Lenni stopped and Jamal began in this space. He didn’t think they needed to be worried about jinxing this.


His eye was also drawn to something intensely familiar sitting on the couch.


“Oh no!” Lenni raced over and picked it up at once. “Okay, now I’m embarrassed.” She walked it over to the bookcase and found a spot for it.


“Don’t be,” Rob said coughing and laughing in equal measure. “I’m flattered that you’re reading my latest book.”


She shook her head. “I meant to finish it before your visit, but I’ve been so busy. I only made it as far as chapter three this morning. See? Embarrassing!”


As he pulled another tissue from the pack, Rob still thought he had her beat. “hahh-IHShoo!” He blew his nose and coughed and just wanted to crawl under blankets and hide for the rest of the night.


Jamal patted his back. “Let me give you the nickel tour so you know your way around. “Living room,” he swept his arm out, gesturing at the room they were currently in. Then he pointed toward stairs along the far wall. “Up there’s our bedroom and bathroom and Lenni’s studio. The guest room has its own bathroom so you’ll have your privacy.”


“I’m going to go get you some cold medicine. I’ll be right back.” She headed off in the direction of the stairs.


Rob followed Jamal down the hallway. “Kitchen’s through there, help yourself to whatever. Plates and glasses are along the back wall, silverware’s in the drawer by the microwave, and trash is under the sink.” They passed an office and a washer-dryer set hidden by folding doors. Then came the guest room.


It was bigger than any bedroom Rob could remember having in all the different homes he’d had over his years as a military kid. If this was the guest room, the master bedroom must be absolutely massive. He set down his pack, feeling a bit overwhelmed.


“Sheets are clean, and there are fresh linens in your bathroom,” Lenni said. “We’ve got an amazing housekeeper who comes twice a week and cleans various spots on rotation whether they’ve been used or not. So it’s always ready for drop-in guests.” She placed a hand on his back. “I’m sorry you’re sick, but I’m glad to have you here, Rob.”


Despite the flush in his cheeks, he gave her a smile. It was short-lived, however. “hahh-Ahshoo! Ahshuhh!


“Oh, there should be a couple boxes of tissues under the sink…” She walked into the adjoining bathroom and came out with one, holding her hands up in triumph. She put it down on a side table along with a bottle of pain reliever and a couple boxes of different pills. “I wasn’t sure what you took, so I brought it all. Just don’t take it all, got it?”


“I’ll stick with the Nyquil capsules, thanks,” he said, recognizing that green and white box immediately. The last time he’d had a cold, he’d been in Nepal and would have killed for some Nyquil. Sure, the herbal teas had been superb, but they didn’t pack the same punch as good old Nyquil. “I appreciate this Lenni. And Jamal. Sniff! Both of you.”


“Don’t mention it,” Jamal said. “This is what friends do. Just get some rest and feel better.”


Lenni added, “And text us if you need anything during the night. Don’t hesitate, okay?”


“Okay,” he promised, though he had absolutely no intention of doing anything but letting the Nyquil knock him out for eight-to-ten hours. “Just don’t let me sleep through pancakes.”


“Oh, around here we’re in favor of breakfast foods for every meal. So don’t you worry. Pancakes are just as good for dinner.”


Rob hoped he wouldn’t sleep quite that long, but he was pretty tired from the flight even without the head cold. “hahh!” As long as the sneezes left him alone. “ahhHShhoo! Hahshoo!


“Aaaand I think that’s our cue to leave. G’night, man.” Jamal clapped him on the back.


“Night, Rob!” Lenni echoed. “Sweet dreams!”


He cleared his throat and wished them the same.


They left, heading toward the upstairs master bedroom. But Rob stuck his head out into the hallway to watch them go, seeing them kiss. It was a strange sight in the way of something unexpected. But the way they’d beamed at each other while telling him their stories on the train made him believe this was going to be something lasting. Smiling, he shut the door to the guest bedroom to start getting ready for bed. He could really use a warm shower before taking the medicine and collapsing into what looked like an extremely comfortable California King-sized bed.


But as he reached for his backpack to grab his kit and a fresh change of underwear, he noticed the art framed on the wall. It was the last panel from that Hoodman comic, the one they’d been in after winning that contest all those years ago. It had been his first case with the team, and he could still remember how reluctant he’d been to even join the team. But there he was in the illustration with the rest of them, dressed like a superhero and smiling like this was where he belonged. He touched his fingertips to the frame, sliding them across the bottom where it read in comic book script: HOODMAN THANKS LENNI THE WISE AND HER FRIENDS OF FIVE. And here he was now, after all this time: in her home, still her friend.


The words glowed, startling him for a moment. “Ghostwriter,” he whispered with a smile. The glow faded until it only highlighted the word FRIENDS. He nodded. “That’s right.” The word kept glowing as he collected his things and headed to the bathroom. At least Ghostwriter couldn’t hear him sneeze and cough, so there was no reason to be embarrassed. But he tried to remind himself that there wasn’t any reason to be embarrassed in front of his other friends either.