I watch her as she talks to them, she smiles and laughs but none of it reaches her eyes. And I'm sure he notices this; his eyes narrow slightly, his brow furrows. It's not enough that the two women would notice, but from this vantage point I can see it all. It saddens me a little to watch this happening. I know how they feel about each other - everyone in the department knows how they feel about each other! But they are either oblivious to it, or they are denying it - probably out of a sense of duty, or fear. For two of the smartest people I have ever met, they are certainly dumb when it comes to their own happiness.
I continue to watch as she is left alone in the corridor. Her smile fades gradually once they have turned their backs on her and her loss and longing slip into its place. She is not oblivious. I watch her as she watches them walk away. Her lips twitch down at the corners and I can see the finality in her expression: She thinks this is it; she thinks she is the one. She thinks she has left it too long.
I'm not surprised that she is thinking that way. There's definitely chemistry between them; they certainly seem to enjoy each other's company.
But I see the way he looks at her every day. I saw the way he looked when he noticed that her happiness during their conversation was false. He may have been oblivious before today, but now he suspects at least. And that will be enough.
I wish I could go out there and tell her, reassure her that this isn't the end, but, in truth, I have no evidence; and I don't think my gut feeling would actually provide much comfort. So, instead, I stroll onto the corridor, looking for all intents and purposes like I haven't watched the whole exchange occur.
"Hey, Stell'," I greet her, and her false smile is forced back to her lips, as she returns the pleasantry.
"Hey, Adam," she chirps and if I hadn't witnessed the last few minutes I might believe that she is completely okay.
"I found something interesting on your memory stick," I tell her to take her mind off them, and I head in the direction of my lab.
She follows. "Oh good, I could use a break."
She's referring to the case but I know there is a deeper meaning, so, I do what I do best – I make random conversation.
"A couple of us were discussing, the other day, if Flack and Mac had a fight - hand to hand, no weapons - who do you think would win?"
She laughs and I'm pleased to see that this does manage to ignite a sparkle in her eyes. She shakes her head, as if my comments never cease to surprise her, and she tells me, "I would have to go with Mac."
I smile. "Yeah, that's what we thought."
As we move to the computer where I have the memory stick loaded, I continue the thread, seeing an opportunity to offer her a little comfort. "We were also discussing who would win if you and Aubrey had a fight."
She frowns, as if suspicious of what I am telling her. "Why would you discuss that?"
I shrug, innocently. "She walked past the window." It's a convincing lie; Aubrey has been here several times to meet Mac.
"Ah," she nods, slowly, the light gone from her face again.
I'm just mentally kicking myself for not realising that my lie would remind Stella how close Mac and Aubrey seem to be, when she quietly asks, "And?"
I smile, gently. "You'll win, Stella... I mean, you would win."
She smiles sadly and nods again. Then she turns to face the computer, no doubt thinking that will prevent me hearing her muttered, "I wonder who Mac would choose?"
Again I want nothing more than to reach out to her and tell her to cheer up, to promise her that she has nothing to worry about. But she quickly changes the subject, asking me, "What did you find?"
I follow her change of subject and explain to her what I found, but I don't stop watching her and though she's nodding at key intervals I can see that her mind is really elsewhere.
For a moment I curse Mac for putting her through this, but I know that isn't fair. They are both doing what they need to. There have been men in Stella's life – I know that firsthand. But I knew then that nothing could come of it, and I know the same now. There's too much history and friendship between Mac and Stella for someone else to be able to compete. Eventually they'll both realise that life's too short to hide your true feelings for reasons of duty or fear.
Until then, I suppose they have to do this: Love from afar; be the supportive friend; force smiles and laughter until their backs are turned.
So, I decide, until then, I will be the supportive friend Stella needs: I'll be there to remind her that she hasn't lost Mac. Of course she won't believe me. But I'll persist until the day Mac tells her it wasn't working out with Aubrey. And then I'll say 'I told you so.'
She thanks me for the information from the memory stick and with her sadness hidden behind the brave Stella front, she turns to leave.
I stop her with her name, and she looks back at me with a small, questioning smile.
"Mac'll choose you," I tell her.
For a second she looks surprised and horrified, and I realise she's not ready for me to know how she feels about Mac.
"If I ask him who would win in a fight between you and Aubrey," I clarify, as if that was my meaning all along.
Relief floods her face and she gives a nervous laugh. "Yeah… I'd like to witness that conversation."
I laugh in response. "You'd probably get to see who would win in a fight between me and Mac."
Her laughter now is genuine and full. "Yeah, you probably should pick your fights carefully." She grins at me, and with a small wave, slips from the room.
I watch her go, with a similar sense of loss and longing as I witnessed on her earlier. But my smile remains, because I'm getting over my feelings for Stella, because I know I can't compete. I know Mac will choose Stella, because destiny is at work here. And I'm not about to pick a fight with that!