… … …
Gillian dropped the pile of files that she had just brought back with her onto her desk, threw her coat over the back of the chair, and moved to sit down. She paused when she noticed a small box sitting on top of the notes she had been making that morning. It hadn't been there when she left.
It was a gift box, white with decorative silver circles on it. Subconsciously she glanced towards the door, but then she reprimanded herself for that action - if someone had just put it there, she would have seen them when she arrived. Deciding the best way to figure out who had put it there (although she suspected she knew) - and what was in it - was to actually open it, she picked it up.
It was quite light, which removed various items from the list of possible contents. She had always liked to study presents for clues as to what they were. It was a habit she had developed as a child, and now did without even thinking about it. But intrigue got the better of it this time, and she skipped further analysis in favour of satisfying her curiosity.
Removing the lid, she found neatly folded white tissue paper, but still no note or explanation. She returned the box and lid to the desk, and carefully lifted out the little package. She turned it over in her hand so she could unwrap the hidden treasure; unfolding, and rolling, until it was revealed.
Her eyes widened when she found a silver locket, flowers engraved on the front and back. She frowned then, admitting to herself that perhaps she should have been more suspicious of the mysterious parcel. Was jewellery a common stalker gift? But, logically, there was no way anyone could have got into her office. And, while she was being honest with herself, she hoped that Cal was behind this.
She put down the paper, holding the locket between the thumb and forefinger of her left hand so she could open it. Her breath caught at what was pictured inside, and she knew, without a doubt, that it was from Cal.
On both sides were photographs of her with William - and she recognised them as taken by Emily. She smiled, feeling tears prick at her eyes - not for the first time today. But this time, they were, in part, tears of gratitude to Cal. And not only for the locket, but for the gesture. And for knowing.
"Ah good, you found it. Now, grab your coat. Come on…"
She forced her tears back and looked at Cal with a grateful smile as he rambled on. He never had been good at acknowledging that he was being sentimental.
"…We'll pick up the kids, and we're going out for dinner. I've called Em, she'll make sure William's ready."
He hovered in the doorway, waiting for her to follow his instructions. "Yeah?"
"You don't have to do this… And you didn't have to do this," she told him, turning to face him, holding up the hand that held his thoughtful gift.
He shrugged. "It's an important day, love."
She was unable to stop the build up of tears along her lower eyelids, nor the lump that formed in her throat. She shook her head. "It's not really, it's -" But she couldn't get the words out.
Cal moved across the room and pulled her into his arms, stroking her hair as her chin came to rest on his shoulder.
"This is silly. It's no different to any other day," she murmured tearfully, as she wrapped her arms around his waist and held on tightly.
She felt his head shift, then his voice came from just beside her ear. "It's day fifty-eight, love," he whispered gently, "We're allowed to treat it differently."
His use of "we"; the gift… She put them together with the time he had spent with her and William in the last fifty-eight days; the reduced frequency of his reckless acts in that time… It was becoming increasingly difficult for her to remember that she was not supposed to be in love with Cal. She'd given up trying to convince herself that she wasn't.
She pulled back and found his eyes, hoping he could see how much she truly appreciated him being there and understanding what was going on. "Thanks, Cal."
He smiled, widely. "Don't mention it, love…" Then his features rearranged into a serious expression as he told her, "Now let go of that little voice that's been counting. William's not going anywhere."
Eyes welling again, she swallowed hard as she nodded, knowing he was right.
"I'm going to start saying random numbers to you so you'll forget where you're up to," he added with a mischievous smile.
A couple of tears dripped onto her cheeks as she laughed, and she moved back further to bring her free hand up to wipe them away. She couldn't go very far, because Cal's hands came to settle on her hips.
"Do you want me to help you put on the locket?" he asked her, softly, after she'd dried her eyes as effectively as she could.
She smiled, widely, and nodded. "Please," she replied as she handed it to him.
She turned her back to him, desperately trying to remind herself that this was what friends do for other friends. Nothing more. She gathered her hair and lifted it away from her neck, and a second later, felt Cal's fingers brush against her skin as he fed the chain around it, before fastening it securely. Then he rested both hands on her shoulders.
"There you go, darling."
If she turned around, he would move his hands. So, she allowed herself to indulge in a few moments more with them right where they were. She wrapped her hand around the locket and told him, "It's beautiful, Cal. Really: Thank you."
He squeezed her shoulders and pulled her back to him, stepping forward simultaneously. She felt him press a tender kiss to the back of her head, and he uttered, "Really: Don't mention it… Now are you ready to go?"
She nodded, slowly, reiterating to herself that she was reading far too much into this moment and had to get a grip. "Sure. I'll just get my purse."
And she stepped away.
"Em's going to ask William where he wants to eat," Cal told her while she was gathering her things.
She stopped and looked at him. He was acting as if that too was of little import, but she knew that he had made tonight's restaurant William's choice because of the significance of the day.
She wondered how much longer she could be so painfully aware of her feelings for him before he would notice it.
"Thanks, Cal," she said, again.
"I'm going to stop reminding you not to mention it," he grinned. "Now, come on, the kids'll be waiting!"
He walked towards the door and she followed him a second later. "You know, Emily's not really a kid anymore," she remarked as they headed down the corridor.
"Hey! When William's about to go off to college, we'll see if you don't try to cling to his childhood at every opportunity."
She laughed with him. "Fair enough."
"Thank God I have you two to keep me company after she's gone."
She tried not to gaze at him in surprise, not least because she knew she shouldn't be surprised by that comment. It wasn't the fact that he was pleased about spending time with her and William. It was more that it hit her that this was long-term. This wasn't going to end.
And as he held the door open for her, and grinned at her as she passed through, she concluded that she was never going to be able to keep her feelings to herself all that time.