… … …
Over the years he has bought her some interesting birthday presents. Sometimes useful ones - the beautiful pen set from two years ago sits proudly on her desk. Sometimes unexpected ones - the pony definitely fits that category! The shoes he bought her last year fit both categories, she supposes. She certainly never expected him to buy her shoes (doesn't even want to think about how exactly he knew her size!), but they are both beautiful and comfortable, and perfectly suited to a dressy night out, or a casual day. They are - though she will never tell him this - her favourite pair of shoes now. She doesn't know where he found them, but her feet are in pure heaven when they're in them. And her mind, too often, wanders to just how comfortable they are…
Anyway, given the range of gifts he has bestowed upon her in the past, she figures she should not be so surprised by this year's offering. And yet, standing in her living room, staring at what he is holding out to her, she finds herself temporarily speechless.
He is grinning - a mixture of pride and amusement - and watching her closely as she looks between him and her present trying to find some words.
He steps closer to her, encouraging her to take the small bundle, and her hands automatically reach for it. Her fingers brush over his, sending a now familiar wave of nerves shivering through her body. Her eyes shift to his face, self-consciously checking whether or not he has noticed her reaction. She sees that look that he has often had recently. It's intense and mysterious and she can't read it at all. It unnerves her; she finds her heart racing; her mind crowded with possibilities - a whole load of scenarios that she really should not be imagining.
She blames him, of course. If he hadn't said he loves her - that one time - then surely she would never have entertained such thoughts. It has been nearly a year, but, when he looks at her like this, she can't help but wonder. And it's too much so, usually, she, inevitably, looks away. Maybe one day she should hold his gaze; challenge him to progress from the look that has her so hot and bothered; dare him to follow up with whatever it means. Maybe that day should be today. It's her birthday, after all. And birthdays are for fun.
The only indication that he is surprised when she doesn't look away is a slight twitch of his right eyebrow. She feels quite proud to have deviated from his expectations; intrigued and nervous (and terrified!) about what he will do next.
What he does is hold her eyes captive with his. Every thought that she is in control of this - that she could decide to look away - leaves her head. He has drawn her in, and she is helpless to break free. He is good!
Seconds later his lips curve into the slightest smile and her heart leaps with anticipation. But the moment is completely shattered when her present wriggles within their hands. Naturally, their eyes drop immediately to the source of the movement, and Jane lets go, enabling Lisbon to hold the little guy in a way that may be more comfortable for him. That's assuming it's male.
She looks at his adorable green eyes, peeking out from his shiny black fur, and can't help but fall madly in love with him. She strokes behind his ears, grinning when he snuggles against her hand.
"'Why, thank you, Jane, what a thoughtful present'," Jane mocks from opposite her.
She tears her eyes away from her new love to glare at him. "Thank you, Jane. But you can't just buy someone a cat."
He shrugs. "You wanted a cat. So I've brought you one."
"I didn't -"
"Don't lie, Lisbon. You've been thinking about getting a cat. I know you initially came up with the idea one lonely, rainy night, deciding you might as well make a start on being a cat lady…"
She has not managed to find a verbal response to that before he continues.
"But you started to consider it more seriously."
"Yes and I had to decide against it."
Jane feigns a horrified reaction to her words, and theatrically covers the kitten's ears. "Don't say that in front of him."
She swats his hands away from her pet. Her pet. She really wants to keep him, but she really did have good reasons for deciding against it.
"Jane, we go out of town for days at a time - "
"Mrs Robson will take care of him when you have to go away."
"I can't ask her to -"
"You don't need to. I spoke to her before I picked him out."
"It would have been irresponsible of me to get you a cat without ensuring that he could be looked after when you can't be here."
"Lisbon, relax. She and I were talking that night I was waiting forever for you to get home. Her cat strolled by, we got to talking about cats, I said you've always seemed like a cat person to me and yada yada yada, she offered to help take care of any cat that you might decide to get. She offered, Teresa. I didn't ask."
"And I suppose you didn't use any mind games to get her to offer."
"Of course not."
Although he grins after that assurance, it does appear to be genuine. And the little ball of fur in her hands is so cute and cuddly and she had seriously wanted to get a cat. In fact it had occurred to her one lonely, rainy night. How the hell did Jane do that?
She plays with her present a little more. Stroking him; tickling him. And she really doesn't want to give him back.
Head still lowered, her eyes look up at Jane. "She offered?"
He nods. "She offered. And I checked with her again before I got him. Twice. I think she's quite excited to meet him."
She looks back down at the kitten, now snuggled against her chest. "He is gorgeous."
"He is. And, of course, your gift includes fitting out your home for its new occupant. And insurance. But all that is like small print: Boring, but necessary. Focus on how gorgeous he is."
She laughs and glances up at Jane to tell him, sincerely, "Thank you… I still find it frightening how good you are at buying gifts!"
He smirks, enigmatically. "I'm just glad you're going to keep this one. Don't think I've forgotten that you gave away the pony."
She rolls her eyes and returns her gaze to the little cutey - who really needs a name. "I could hardly keep a pony, Jane."
"I'm sure Mrs Robson would have helped out."
She laughs at this then gets lost in the kitten for another moment before observing aloud, "I see you chose jet black so the neighbourhood kids will think the cat lady's a witch."
He laughs, but his next words are delivered with such soft admiration, that she's certain her heart actually skips a beat. "Well, you've certainly had me bewitched since the day we met."
She freezes, her hand stills where it rests on the kitten's back. She doesn't know what she should say to that; what she should do. She suspects she should look at him and judge whether or not he meant anything by it, but she can't seem to move.
Then he steps closer, his fingers running over the kitten's head, and he tells her, "I chose him because I saw him and I instantly thought of you."
She immediately thinks of a response to that and just hopes her voice doesn't fail her when she tries to deliver it. "You were looking for a cat for me, of course you -"
"He made me think about how beautiful you are. Your dark hair; your green eyes… One of the volunteers actually came over to check if I was okay, because I'd fallen into a little trance."
Now she does chance looking at him, slowly lifting her head, immediately finding his eyes with hers.
"I know. I know. That sounded really corny."
She nods. Because it did. And because allowing him to talk his way out of this is easier. She does briefly wonder where her earlier bravery has gone.
"But it's true. All of it."
He steps even closer - space enough between them for the kitten, but only just. And when he smiles, she knows no one is talking anyone out of this. And she smiles back, feeling a blush rise to her cheeks, feeling her heart rate increase.
"Bewitched, bothered and bewildered, am I," he tells her in a whisper.
"Things don't end well in that song," she points out, but her smile is widening as his does.
"True…" He looks nervous; he looks scared; but, somehow, he also looks like he has made his peace with how big a step this actually is. And she realises that is what the looks have been about. He's been coming to terms with moving on. And now, here they are. "Is this going to end well?" he asks her.
"Not if you squash the kitten when you kiss me."
He appears relieved at her answer and any fear she had is replaced with excitement.
"When I kiss you?"
"When you kiss me."
He nods once. "I'll try not to squash the kitten."
"Good," she whispers.
Then it's not so much him kissing her, because she leans up to meet him halfway.
But they're both careful not to squash the kitten.