Playing the Field - Chapter 39 - MQWater (letsmunch) (2024)

Chapter Text

"Man, I can't believe Ann was dating that hot councilwoman from Eagleton," Tom said with genuine shock in his voice as he stared at his phone, pinching with his fingers to zoom in and out on Ingrid’s official Eagleton portrait on the town website. "She's like, insanely hot. Like, sitcom hot."

"Her name is Ingrid," Leslie replied with a roll of her eyes as she continued to work on her planner from her desk in front of Tom’s. "I don't know why you're so shocked. It's Ann. She's the most beautiful woman in America."

"I thought you said Sarah McLachlan was the most beautiful woman in America," Tom countered.

"She's Canadian," Leslie replied flatly. “And it’s essentially a wash.”

Tom smirked as he looked across his shared office with Leslie, meeting his friend and supervisor’s eyes.

"I just think it's crazy that your best friend was basically sleeping with your worst enemy behind your back. You're taking it surprisingly well," he noted as he swiveled in his chair.

Leslie shrugged as she closed her planner and looked at Tom wistfully.

"I actually was really starting to like Ingrid, shockingly," Leslie admitted. "She's been really supportive of me in this recall election... I actually didn't hate the idea of them dating."

"I very much like the idea," Tom replied as he set down his phone and flashed a lascivious grin at his friend and colleague. "I'm picturing it right now, what the two of them look like—doin' it."

"You're gross," Leslie said with an exasperated sigh. "Can you put a pin in that today?"

"A pin in what?"

"Being gross," Leslie replied. "This is Ann's first day back since the breakup and, if past breakups have proven anything, Ann's going to be a bit of a mess. Maybe worse than usual because this is an actual, real heartbreak."

"I told her dating women isn't all it's cracked up to be," Tom replied plainly. "As I’ve found, you can only get so far on your incredible looks. Maybe she's ready to throw in the towel and go back to dating sleazy guys..."

"Never gonna happen," Leslie interjected. "Her standards are much, much higher than that."

"I guess," Tom conceded. "She willingly walked away from Ingrid De Forest, so you have a point. She's like the Eagleton version of Ann."

"Blech," Leslie said with a fake gag. "That's an insult to Ann. And to Pawnee. And to me for making me hear it."

"What are you writing in your planner, anyway?" Tom asked curiously. "You've been working on that thing nonstop."

"It's my 40-step plan to help Ann get over her breakup. There are specific jobs and roles for everyone in Parks and other members of City Hall. It includes fun, light topics of conversation, snacks, small gifts and impromptu dance parties scheduled down to the minute."

"I don't think you know what 'impromptu' means," Tom countered.

"Regardless, this step-by-step plan is the key to shepherding Ann out of the doldrums and into a healthier, happier place mentally and emotionally," Leslie explained as she pointed at Tom with her pen. "So, I need you to get your head in the game, buddy."

Tom groaned and rolled his eyes. "What do I have to do?"

"Funny you should ask, step 1 of my 40-step plan involves you going to get me and Ann an iced latte from Bird's Beans. The one on Cedar Street, not the one on Elm. The coffee isn't any different but I'm currently feuding with the barista after she spelled my name wrong."

"Does she know about this feud?" Tom asked with a suspicious raise of his eyebrow.

"Step 2 involves you not questioning me," Leslie replied pointedly. "Now get going, Ann could be here any minute!"

Tom stared off into the distance as Leslie bore a hole into the side of his head.

"TOM!"

"Sorry!" Tom replied as he jolted back into action, standing up quickly from his chair and snatching his keys off his desk. "I was just picturing Ann and Ingrid again. To be a fly on the wall in that Greek villa. Am I right?"

"Go," Leslie commanded as she pointed at the door. "Iced latte. Step 1 of 40. Go."

Tom raised his hands in surrender and quietly scooted out of Leslie's office to put the plan into motion.

Outside Leslie's office in the main bullpen, Donna sat at her desk, smoothing her fingernails with an emery board, as she eyed the City Hall's newest department director walk past.

April wore a bright summer dress with a muted gray blazer over the top, practically symbolizing the elements of her evolving career. She was a department head, with several employees underneath her that she wanted to portray an air of authority over. But she also hated being put on the spot, hated being flashy or having anyone's judgmental eyes on her.

The outfit also reflected the complexity of her maturing personality. Effeminate yet tomboyish; warm and affectionate, but caustic and dark. She looked simultaneously beautiful and threatening.

As out of character as April's dress may have been, it wasn't even the strangest thing about her.

She seemed to be in a good mood. Cheerful even.

"Good morning, Donna," she said politely as she breezed past her coworker's desk.

Donna put down her nail file and folded her arms across her chest as she watched April walk by.

"Did you just say good morning?"

"Yeah," April replied lightly as she poured herself a cup of stale, jet-black coffee from the communal carafe, her eyes sharply focused on the main entrance to the Parks Department. "How was your weekend?"

April lifted the paper cup to her mouth and grimaced as the lukewarm liquid touched her lips.

"Yeah, I wouldn't drink that if I were you. I don't think anyone's brewed a pot since last Friday."

"It's fine, it's great, really," April lied as she forced the coffee down her throat with a faux-satisfied grin.

Donna arched an eyebrow and shook her head. It was next to impossible to sneak something past her.

"Okay... so what gives? You haven't said a single negative thing yet. By now you've usually called at least five things 'disgusting' or 'annoying' or described something as 'worse than hell,'" Donna noted as she picked apart her colleague's behavior. "If I didn't know any better, I'd say you seem… excited."

April didn't take the bait, keeping her gaze trained on the open doorway leading into the hallway. "Nothing, Donna. Can't I just be in a good mood for once?"

"For once is right," Donna replied with a hint of skepticism. "In all my years of knowing you, which is basically your entire adult life, I have never seen you this cheerful in the morning."

April shrugged and used a stick to stir nothing into her black coffee as she continued to stare out into the hallway.

Suddenly, Ann rounded the corner, clutching a manila folder, her attention fully focused on whatever paperwork was inside as she entered the Parks Department and approached Leslie's office in the corner.

"Uh, hi, Ann," April murmured softly, watching with rapt attention as the brunette approached.

Ann looked up at April's gentle call of her name and returned April's curious look with one of dismally polite recognition.

"Hi, April," she replied before walking past the permit counter and heading straight back to Leslie's door.

Leslie peeked out from behind her window, a wide smile filling her face as she pulled open the door to welcome Ann into her office.

April’s posture dropped immediately.

As the door closed behind Ann, Donna let out a long, satisfied 'ahhhh' as she finally connected the dots.

"I get it now," she said with a knowing glance.

April whipped her head around, her friendly demeanor nowhere to be found, replaced by the usual sour expression she sported.

"Keep your mouth shut and your thoughts to yourself or I'll release a horde of TB-infected rats in your Mercedes," she growled.

"Oooooh, you're coming for my Benz, huh?" Donna replied with a chuckle. "That's how we know it's serious."

April glared at Donna, her lip trembling as she teetered between genuine anger and crestfallen embarrassment.

She clenched her fist around her paper coffee cup, squeezing the container so tightly that it crumpled and spilled its contents onto the floor in front of her.

"Fine, fine, you don't want to talk about it," Donna replied as she turned back to her computer screen. "Just make sure you say something before it's too late."

"I don't know what you're talking about," April growled as she tossed her crushed cup into the trash can next to Donna's desk.

"Whatever you say, April," Donna offered, holding up her hands in surrender. "You have a citizen at the permit desk, by the way."

"Hi. Um, I need to talk to somebody about reserving a park," the curly-haired brunette behind the desk said inquisitively.

April sighed loudly as she turned to face the attractive woman in front of her, mustering all the patience she could find within her soul to help serve the public.

"Oh, we have a new policy. Parks can only be reserved for witch covens or slip-and-slide competitions," April muttered, her tone dripping with disinterest and a hint of scorn. "Which one are you?"

"You promise you're doing OK?" Leslie asked seriously, her concern written all over her face as she stared across her desk at Ann, who gave her an appreciative smile.

"I am, Leslie, really," Ann replied sincerely. "I mean, I'm bummed about Ingrid, of course, but I'm actually surprised how fine I am."

Leslie's expression remained unconvinced.

"Are you sure? Because I have 38 more steps planned in this 40-step plan."

Ann giggled and reached across the desk to touch Leslie's hand affectionately.

"Honestly, I'm glad to be back at work. Pawnee has never looked so beautiful," Ann said wistfully. "And the fact that you're going through all this trouble to make me feel better... I couldn't have asked for a better friend."

Leslie, genuinely surprised by Ann's even-keeled demeanor, smiled broadly and placed her other hand atop Ann’s and returned the affectionate touch.

"You sure are taking this breakup very well," she noted curiously. “That’s a bit out of character for you.”

Ann smiled slightly.

"It's honestly one of the best things that's ever happened to me," she replied brightly as she leaned back in her chair.

Leslie co*cked a skeptical eyebrow. "How so?"

A small, contented sigh escaped Ann’s lips and she folded her hands in her lap as she recalled the events of the past week.

"I really had no idea who Ingrid was, or how complicated her life was when I met her," Ann began. "But, being with her, it made me realize a few things."

"For instance?" Leslie probed.

"For instance, I know I am 100% ready to find love and be in a relationship. Maybe even find 'the one,' if there's such a thing," Ann replied thoughtfully as she smiled at Leslie. "I'm also proud of myself for sticking up for myself and refusing to be a home-wrecker."

"Again," Leslie interjected plainly.

"Again," Ann confirmed with a chuckle. "And I'm not going to settle for less than someone who wants to be with me."

"I don't think anyone could argue with that," Leslie said with a genuine smile.

"And I think the most important thing that came out of it, and promise me you won't freak out," Ann replied sheepishly, staring intently at Leslie to make sure she stayed calm.

"When have I ever freaked out?" Leslie asked incredulously.

Ann shot Leslie a knowing glare. "Seriously?"

"I promise," Leslie said sincerely. "I will not freak out."

Ann sighed and smiled nervously as she continued to stare at Leslie.

"I think I want to start a family. I wanna be a mom, you know?"

Leslie's face tightened, the corners of her mouth turning down and her eyes growing wide with surprise as she stared at Ann in disbelief. The shock and excitement in her brain manifested in tremors across her body and contorting facial muscles.

"Ann... you told me not to freak out..." she stammered through tight lips. "You can't just spring a bombshell like that on me and expect me not to have some kind of reaction!"

Ann smiled and sighed happily. "I give you permission to slightly freak out."

Leslie rose to her feet and bounced around in circles as she clasped her hands against her cheeks.

"Oh my god, Ann!"

The nurse shushed her best friend, who dropped her volume to an exuberant whisper.

"You're going to be a mom. Oh my god, I'm so happy for you!" Leslie squealed in a hushed voice before allowing herself to breathe.

"Eventually," Ann corrected with a kind smile. "Like, not anytime soon."

"I have to start planning a baby shower," Leslie said excitedly. "I'm already brainstorming theme ideas!"

"No, no, Leslie," Ann said gently as she shook her head. "I still need to meet the right woman, fall in love, get married, maybe. It's a long, long ways down the road."

"Still... the wheels are in motion," Leslie replied thoughtfully with a happy smile. "That's amazing, Ann. I can't believe you're finally ready for this."

"Neither can I," Ann replied as she stood from her chair.

Leslie pounced on the opportunity to wrap Ann in a tight hug, wrapping her arms around the brunette's neck as she pulled her close.

"You're going to be an amazing mom," Leslie whispered supportively. "And I'm going to be an amazing aunt. Man, I'm so proud of what a good aunt I'm going to be."

Ann giggled at Leslie's enthusiasm and returned her hug, rubbing an excited tear from the corner of her eye as they separated.

"Thank you, Leslie."

The two women stood in the center of Leslie's office in comfortable silence, the weight of Ann's realization hanging heavily in the air between them.

As Leslie retreated to the depths of her mind, making a list of possible themes and vetting potential vendors for Ann's eventual baby shower, her eyes landed on a curly-haired brunette who had just approached the permit desk and appeared to be getting the full "April Ludgate unhelpful public servant" treatment.

She sighed.

"I should probably go out there before April scares off another innocent civilian.”

Ann glanced over her shoulder and spotted April talking to an attractive woman at the permit desk, clearly making an effort to confuse and frustrate her.

"Yeah, good call. April can be pretty... ruthless," Ann replied with a fond chuckle as she turned back around to face Leslie.

"We'll talk about this more later," Leslie promised with a genuine smile. But as she began to head for the door, her office phone rang, prompting her to stop dead in her tracks and pick up the receiver.

"Leslie Knope. Uh-huh. Yes, of course, I can help you with that," she said cheerfully into the phone as she glanced at Ann with an apologetic smile before sitting back down at her desk.

Ann smiled and began to let herself out of Leslie's office before her friend recaptured her attention.

"Pssssst," Leslie whispered, covering one end of the receiver with her palm. "Can you rescue that poor woman from April? She looks entirely too nice and naive to be subjected to the cruel and unusual torture April likes to inflict on citizens."

Ann nodded and shrugged, pushing open Leslie's office door as she slipped out into the main bullpen of the Parks Department.

She made a b-line toward the permit desk, walking authoritatively as she joined April, acting, once again, as a surrogate for Leslie.

"April, are you torturing this nice woman?" Ann asked sternly as she turned to April, who grinned wickedly at the flustered young brunette.

April rolled her eyes at Ann and sighed deeply, her breath catching in her chest as she came face to face with the older woman.

She stammered, trying to come up with a deflection, to show Ann that she wasn't being rude or condescending to the stranger, but the real April, the April that couldn't turn down any opportunity to provide snark and mockery to anyone in her path, appeared in front of her.

"This witch wants to reserve a park for her satanic ritual," April finally grumbled. "That’s more your area of expertise, anyway."

Ann stifled a frustrated laugh as she stared at the dark-haired woman standing next to April, taking in her bright, energetic, albeit exasperated, face. Her long curls framed her dimpled cheeks, their eyes meeting at the same plane of their identical heights.

The visitor sighed, clearly frustrated by April giving her the runaround.

"I called earlier about the free vaccinations thing. We're hoping to set up a mobile hospital in one of your parks," she explained as she tossed her thick brown mane over her shoulder.

Ann flashed the attractive stranger a warm smile and quickly reached out her hand. "I'm sorry about my coworker here," she apologized as April muttered under her breath in protest. "What was the name?"

"Uh, Nadia Stasky," the younger woman replied as she accepted Ann's handshake. "I'm from Doctors Without Borders."

Ann's eyes lit up with recognition, the name of the organization immediately piquing her interest.

"That's so cool! Why does Doctors Without Borders want to come to Pawnee?" Ann asked excitedly as she continued to shake Nadia's hand.

Nadia twisted her head curiously, Ann's excitement catching her off guard. She could tell Ann was sincere and so she chose to humor her.

"Pawnee is like a petri dish of weird diseases. Did you know you have a higher rate of the West Nile virus than the actual Western Nile?" Nadia asked rhetorically as Ann looked on with rapt attention.

"Uh, no. I did not know that," Ann replied slowly as she released Nadia's hand and rested her palm on the permit desk. "But that's the least surprising thing I've heard all day. When is the event? Are you guys looking for volunteers to administer vaccines?"

Nadia gave Ann another confused look, raising her eyebrow inquisitively at the much nicer employee.

"Are you a doctor... somehow?"

"RN actually," Ann replied with a smile. "I work at Pawnee's Public Health Department. I would be happy to help however I can."

Nadia's eyes widened with surprise as she stared at Ann, her smile spreading from cheek to cheek.

"Oh, you're serious. I thought you were also messing with me like she was," Nadia replied as she gestured at April, who scowled at her from across the counter.

Ann looked back and forth between April and Nadia. April was just as hard to read as usual, while Nadia was glowing with energy and excitement.

"Nope! I'm totally serious," Ann replied brightly. "I've actually considered joining Doctors Without Borders. It's a great organization."

"Why didn't you?" Nadia asked curiously.

Ann paused for a second to evaluate the question.

"Honestly, it just felt really overwhelming. I wouldn't even know where to start."

Nadia folded her arms across her chest and tilted her head at Ann.

"I would be happy to give you more info about it if you're serious," Nadia replied. "We could always use more talented nurses on our team."

"Really?" Ann asked excitedly as she clapped her hands together. "Wow, that would be amazing, really. Do you wanna maybe get coffee? Talk a little more about it? Or some other time, whenever works for you. I don't want to bother you or anything."

Nadia beamed.

"Yeah, what time are you off? I'm free tonight if you wanted to grab dinner and talk about the organization, the clinic, or any other questions you might have," Nadia offered as she smiled warmly at the nurse.

April huffed and rolled her eyes so far into the back of her head that only her scleras were visible as she squeezed her fists tightly in her pockets.

"I can be free around 6? Let me give you my number, just text me where," Ann replied as she tore off a blank corner of the form on the permit desk and scribbled out her name and phone number, passing it to Nadia with a friendly smile. "That's super kind of you to offer!"

"Of course!" Nadia said excitedly as she slipped the number into her pocket and collected her backpack off the floor. "I'll text you later, Ann."

"I'm looking forward to it," Ann replied warmly as Nadia turned and headed toward the exit.

Suddenly, she stopped on a dime and turned on her heel back toward the permit desk.

"I still need that permit," she said with an embarrassed laugh.

Ann mirrored her and nodded politely. "Oh yeah, duh. April, can you get Nadia set up wi—"

She turned to her right to find that April had long since stormed off for reasons that were unclear. Ann continued to turn until her eyes met Donna's.

Donna rolled her eyes and got up from her seat, leaving the emery board on her keyboard.

"I'll take care of it," she replied with an amused chuckle as she picked up the pen and filled out the permit request. "I’m sure April just had to take a bathroom break or something."

Ann didn't question Donna's explanation, smiling apologetically at Nadia as she rejoined their conversation.

"So, I'll see you tonight?" Nadia asked eagerly as Donna finished filling out her half of the form and slid it across the counter toward the doctor.

"Yeah, definitely," Ann replied cheerfully as she walked Nadia back out into the main hallway of City Hall.

As they parted, April peeked from the edge of the blinds from the hallway-facing window in Ron's office.

"Can I help you with something?" Ron asked plainly as he put down his carving tools and examined the figurine taking shape in his hands.

April kept her eyes trained on Ann as she walked in the opposite direction of Nadia.

"You can plunge that knife right through my chest and end this terrible existence if you'd like," she replied plainly as she plopped down onto the couch in Ron's office.

"I would rather not," Ron replied nonchalantly as he continued to carve out specific shapes into the six-inch piece of redwood. "Do you want to talk about it?"

"No," April answered flatly as she stared at the ceiling.

Ron nodded in acknowledgment of her response as he focused on his whittling. "Good answer."

April sighed as she got comfortable on the old couch in Ron's office, folding her legs underneath herself as she sank into the cushions.

Playing the Field - Chapter 39 - MQWater (letsmunch) (2024)

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