… … …
Cal stopped, just before rounding the corner, when he heard the voices of Eli Loker and Ria Torres approaching – and their topic of conversation piqued his interest.
"Well she definitely looked happy when she was leaving," Torres said, the lilt in her voice matching the insinuation of her words.
"And you're sure she was going to meet Rader?" Loker sounded less certain about what he was hearing.
Cal's entire body tensed at the mere mention of that man's name and he listened more closely, to confirm his fear that they were talking about Gillian.
"He's been calling her and sending her flowers…" Torres' voice trailed off and Loker picked up:
"And you think she finally gave in?"
"Well he's cute… and why shouldn't she?" He could hear a smile in Torres' words.
"Because Lightman wouldn't – "
Though he wanted to hear more about what was going on between Gillian and Rader, Cal was aware that Torres and Loker were about to round the corner and find him listening. He decided now was a good time to interrupt.
"'Lightman wouldn't' what?" he asked as he turned the corner first and stopped in front of his two, surprised, employees.
Torres opened her mouth as if to speak, but changed her mind, and stopped, her eyes glancing guiltily away from Cal's gaze. So Cal turned it on Loker: With his vow of radical honesty, the younger man would have to admit to what they had been talking about.
Loker glanced uneasily at Torres, before telling Cal, "You wouldn't approve of Doctor Foster dating Jack Rader."
Torres shot Loker a glare and then tried to salvage the situation. "We don't know that she is dating him. I was just – "
"Surely the two of you have something better to do than gossip about Foster. Like going home?"
The pair nodded and Cal moved past them, feeling his anger towards Rader building in his chest with every step.
… … …
Cal's anger invaded his dreams that night, permitting him little rest. He was plagued by images of Gillian and Rader – at dinner, dancing, kissing. She was smiling; she was laughing: She was happy.
He woke up tired, grumpy and ready to admit to himself that some of his anger was directed at Gillian. Rader he knew would disappoint him, would let him down; but Gillian… Gillian was his partner, his best friend. She wasn't supposed to do this.
While he showered and dressed, he thought about asking her; about calling her on her betrayal, but this was personal and there was the damn line. It wasn't his place to ask. He had no right to ask.
Agent Reynolds contacted him about a case before he had even left the house, so it was after lunch before he went into the office. He had managed to push most of his thoughts about Gillian and Rader to the back of his mind while he worked, but as he stepped into the Lightman Group offices, he found Gillian and Torres grinning over some flowers and it all came flooding back.
Torres noticed him first and he saw her try to surreptitiously hand the card back to Gillian. Gillian took it and enclosed it in her hand before smiling pleasantly to Cal, only the slightest hint of guilt in her eyes. At least there was that, he thought, even if it wasn't a lot. He lost a little of his anger, knowing that she did at least feel bad that she was dating the one man in the world that Cal despised.
"Nice flowers," he muttered, not meaning it at all. He saw Torres glance between the two of them, looking as if she wasn't sure she should be around for the conversation.
"Yeah," Gillian responded, before changing the subject. "How was the case? Are you done already?"
Cal fought with himself not to call her on the deflection and instead answered her, "Yeah. It was quite straightforward."
Gillian nodded. "Good. Ria and I have made some headway on the Watkins case. Actually we were just on our way out to interview Regina Watkins when these arrived." She waved her hand to indicate the flowers. "So, I'll catch up with you later. Okay?"
"Sure. Whenever," Cal said, already walking away.
Her tone when she asked was that okay told him that she knew there was something going on. And he knew that meant that when she was finished with her case she would seek him out to talk. That gave him a few hours to figure out what he could say to her. He wasn't good at lying to her, and, in truth, he didn't want to. But he had spent all his time being angry about her relationship with Rader, he hadn't committed any time to why he was angry. And that was bound to come up.
… … …
Cal picked up his cup of tea and turned to leave the break room, when something in the bin caught his eye. Bending down to retrieve it, it was, as he had suspected, the card from Gillian's flowers.
'Last night was wonderful. Can't wait to do it again. J.'
His immediate reaction was to crush the card and throw it back in the bin: Which he did. But as he stalked out of the room, it hit him where he had found it. Why would Gillian have thrown the card away?
A slight glimmer of hope briefly made it through his anger and inner torment – until he stepped into his office and found Gillian waiting for him, a determined, unimpressed, expression on her face.
"Is there something going on that I should know about?" she asked him – one hand on her hip, the other hanging rigidly by her side.
"Well I don't know. Is there something going on that I should know about?" he countered, walking further into the room and trying not to meet her eyes as he knew she would see the answer to her question in his face.
"You're the one acting all weird and walking away from me with your mumbled 'whenever's."
"One whenever," he corrected, moving behind his desk, and risking a glance at her so she wouldn't realise he was avoiding her gaze.
She was frowning. "What's going on?"
She sounded concerned and it did tug at Cal's conscience to continue being angry at her when she obviously did care about him. But, when he thought about what the answer would be to this question, he saw Gillian with Rader, and he couldn't not be angry.
"You tell me," he responded.
"You think there's something I'm not telling you?"
Gillian feigned deep concentration for a moment and then replied, "No."
She was trying to be cute, but it wouldn't achieve the relief she was hoping for. He couldn't shake the images of her and his rival together, or the rage that caused.
"Nothing?... No relationship you'd like to confess to?" he pressed, watching her closely now to see if she would lie.
Her frown deepened, but there were no signs of guilt or shame. Cal was just beginning to wonder if somehow he had got it wrong when she said,
"If I were in a relationship, why would telling you be a confession?"
She wasn't denying it. He was right.
Cal had thought that he was as upset as he could possibly be about the relationship, until it physically hurt to have his suspicions confirmed. That in itself confirmed the only explanation that Cal had managed to come up with regarding why he was so affected by all of this: His feelings for Gillian were more than just being her partner and friend. And he had let Rader take her from right under his nose.
"Maybe if you knew I wouldn't approve," he told her, before his silence became suspicious.
Her eyes narrowed. "I don't need you to approve."
"That's okay then. At least I know where I stand." With that, he sat down, indicating that he considered the discussion to be over.
"I'm glad you do," Gillian responded, stepping closer to his desk and looking down at him.
Cal looked up at her, willing her to let it drop. They could carry on from here – if she pursued this further irreparable damage might be done to what remained of their friendship.
"Who do you think I'm in a rel – " He saw realisation sweep her features and she stopped mid-utterance. "You think I'm dating Jack Rader."
Cal frowned, that certainly sounded like she wasn't. "Are you?"
"Why do you think that?"
"Why are you avoiding my question?"
"You really think that I would date him? When I know that he is the one person in the world that you truly despise… I thought you knew me better than that."
There was nothing but disappointment in her expression. She wasn't lying. Somehow he had got it wrong, and they'd gone from her letting him down to the other way round. He wasn't sure how this had happened. He hadn't been thinking straight since he'd overheard Torres and Loker, and he was still finding it hard to think clearly.
"I do. I did. I thought I did. But Loker and Torres – "
"What do they have to do with this?" Her voice had taken on an edge of impatience. Her ire was building.
"Well they were talking about you and …" He didn't even want to speak the name. "They said he'd been calling you and sending you flowers."
"He sent me flowers that one time, after our case."
"And what about earlier today?" He absently waved his hand in the approximate direction of the foyer.
"Those were Ria's flowers."
"I thought she was still dating Dupree," he frowned.
"Then why did the card say 'J'?"
"It didn't. Cal, you didn't see the card."
"I saw her shove it back into your hand when I walked in," he insisted.
"She didn't want you to see it."
"For the same reason I'm not going to tell you what it said. So your attitude earlier was just because you thought Rader had sent me flowers again?"
"No," Cal said, frustrated that he couldn't get a clear handle on the argument. "Not just because of the flowers."
"But because you thought I was dating him."
"Because of something Loker and Torres said?"
"Yeah," he repeated, running a hand across his eyes, as he just grew more and more confused.
"And you just believed them?"
He dropped his hand back to his desk. "It seemed plausible."
He knew immediately that was the wrong thing to say. He actually saw the rage sweep up her face. She placed her hands intentionally on the desk and leaned towards him.
When she spoke, her voice was low. "Because if a guy sends me flowers I just can't say no?"
Cal fixed his eyes on hers, desperately wanting to fix this. "That's not what I meant."
"It's what you said, Cal."
"I said that Loker – "
"So you'd rather I think that you put gossip you heard from Loker and Torres above years of friendship?"
"That's not what I meant either."
"But you did it Cal. You believed them and you didn't even have the decency to ask me before you passed judgement."
"I didn't think it was my place to ask."
"But it was your place to be angry at me, to judge me, to feel betrayed by me…" she paused after that and Cal knew it was to let that sink in. He hadn't expected that she would know that's how he felt. And she knew that. "And all because Loker and Torres said – "
"It wasn't just that!" Cal defended himself. "I saw the way the two of you were looking at each other when I was in Mexico."
"You mean Loker and Torres told you – "
"No, I saw it!"
Gillian straightened up at this, but her eyes never left his. "What do you mean?"
There is no way she would have missed the guilt and shame that crossed Cal's face, and as he prepared to confess, she worked it out.
She looked up and then behind her, to where she knew the hidden security camera was located, and Cal decided to stand: feeling that was a better position to be in if he was going to salvage this.
"You know what a control fr – "
He stopped his attempt at a light hearted defence when she turned to face him: anger and hurt written all over her face. "You really don't trust me at all, do you?"
"That's not true."
"You watched us on the security cameras, Cal! You couldn't leave here for even a week. What did you think was going to happen? I am an equal partner in this firm! When I'm on vacation I trust you. I don't even think about whether or not I should worry. I deserve the same!"
"I do trust you. I just can't let go. You know that."
He could tell she could see the honesty in his body language because he could see her anger faltering.
"So, the sprinkler problem?"
Cal nodded. "I… really don't like Rader."
Her eyes made it clear that she was still mad at him, but her voice quietened. "I know… That's why I would never date him."
"I'm sorry I – "
"I don't want an apology, Cal. I want to know why."
"Because I know Jack Rader. And he is good. For all I know he gave you some sob story about how I was actually the one at fault and – "
"And you thought I'd believe that? Without even asking you for your side?"
Everything he said seemed to be digging him a deeper hole. "No. Well I know it looks like I thought that but I didn't even do any thinking. I couldn't think about anything except you and him and how happy he made you. And I was angry that he'd gone after you, and I was angry that you'd left me and I was angry that you were happy with him, and then I was angry at myself because I was angry at you. I've just been angry for like eighteen hours, I've done very little logical thinking. You have to believe me. I trust you… I just hate the thought of losing you. And when someone tells you that your worst fear is becoming a reality, you believe it. Because the fear takes over."
Gillian was silent for a moment, just staring at him, seemingly taken aback by his admission. Then she quietly asked, "Losing me is your worst fear?"
It had been something he had never actually thought about before, it was only when he thought that he had lost her that he had realised how deeply that hurt him. "Along with losing Emily," he nodded.
A small smile played on Gillian's lips for a moment and then, completely free of the previous tension she said, "You should have just asked me."
Cal nodded again. "I didn't want to cross the line."
"What did you think would happen?"
He shrugged. "I don't know… You'd get mad at me for interfering in your personal life."
Gillian nodded slowly. "Ah, I see you really saved us an argument there then."
When Gillian smiled after her statement, Cal allowed himself to smile too, relieved that they were okay.
"I am sorry, love."
"I know… Jealousy makes people do crazy things."
"Jealousy?" He hoped the minor panic he felt did not show.
"You did warn me that you're the jealous type," she grinned.
She didn't seem aware of the extent of his jealousy, but instead of another rush of relief, Cal felt disappointment. He had thought he didn't want to admit to her the depth of his feelings, but now that he knew he didn't have to, he felt oddly empty.
They shared a smile at the memory and Cal wondered if he had the courage to push the conversation. There was certainly an opportunity here; the question was whether he could take the chance.
He was just on the verge of deciding when Gillian's smile morphed into a frown and she asked him, "What made you think the card on Ria's flowers was signed 'J'?"
He frowned as well, puzzled at her sudden change of topic. "I saw it."
"There wasn't chance for you to see it."
"Not at the desk… It was in the bin in the break room."
Her frown deepened and he could tell she was piecing something together. "The card from those flowers?"
"It looked like it."
"And it was signed 'J'?"
Still not sure where she was going with the line of questioning, Cal told Gillian exactly what the card had said.
"Just…" That was all she said before she moved to his phone and dialled the reception desk. Cal watched her, totally bemused as to what was going on.
She asked how many bouquets of flowers had been delivered to the office in the last few days, then after saying thank you, she hung up the phone. With her hand still resting on the receiver, she faced Cal, a smirk spreading across her lips.
"What?" he asked.
"The card on Ria's flowers did not say any of what you think it did. Yet that is the only bouquet of flowers we've had delivered this week."
"So what card was I reading?"
Gillian's smirk transformed to a full blown grin and her eyes shone with amusement. "I think you've been conned."
"What? Don't be a – … Loker and Torres set this up?"
"I'd put money on it."
Cal paced back and forth a little, his hands curling into fists at his sides. He couldn't believe he had fallen for this.
"Cal, calm down. They probably just – "
"I don't care what they just. You and I just had a huge argument because of their little game!"
"And we're fine. It would take more than – "
Suddenly Cal realised what would have possessed them to try something like this. "Torres!" he declared out loud as it occurred to him.
"Cal you really – "
"When we were in Mexico, she said I was jealous of Rader. I wouldn't admit it."
"I don't – "
"Though this was probably Loker's idea. I can't believe I didn't – "
Cal had managed to rant through Gillian approaching him, but when she placed her hand across his mouth, he had to stop.
"Four times you interrupted me. You don't get to do it a fifth time. You're going to listen to me now."
Cal nodded, feeling suitably reproached, and expected Gillian to move her hand. But she left it where it was as she continued.
"This seems a bit extreme just for Torres to prove that she was right. However, I can't think why else they would dare to do this so… I say we ask them."
She moved her hand and Cal shook his head fervently. "Oh no. I'm not telling them that I know. They can think they got away with it. But ultimately they will regret it."
Gillian shook her head. "I don't think that – "
"They made me think that I had lost you – " Gillian's hand stopped him again.
"They played on your fear, Cal… Which meant your fear was already obvious. You were already worried about me and Jack."
He took hold of her hand and lowered it from his lips. "Yeah, I had suspicions, and they confirmed them."
"They obviously didn't know what effect jealousy would have on you," she told him, her lips twitching to smile.
"You think this is funny."
She stepped away from him and it was only then that he realised he had still been holding her hand. "I find it amusing, yes," she answered, then a grin spread across her lips. It was the excited grin she got whenever she was on the verge of learning something new. "But I'm mainly intrigued as to what possessed them. Even I wouldn't try to con you."
"You're going to ask them aren't you?"
"Not if you insist that I can't. But it'll really annoy me."
"My revenge would be amusing too," he tried.
"But not so interesting from a psychological point of view."
Cal had to admit that he was wondering why Loker and Torres had done it, and Gillian's pleading look was hard to ignore.
"Okay. We'll confront them."
"Thank you. It's better this way." She turned as if to lead the way out, but stopped and slowly turned back. "But we could exact a little revenge first if you like?"
"What did you have in mind?"
The smile that lit Gillian's eyes twinkled with hints of evil: Cal knew he was going to like her plan.
… … …
Loker snatched his headphones off as Cal burst through the door of the lab, the force of his entrance causing the door to rattle around on its hinges. The younger man looked first at his boss and then, fearfully, at Torres who was seated next to him.
"Is everything – " Loker started to speak just as Gillian followed Cal in, with the same dramatic entrance.
"Don't walk away when I'm talking to you!"
"You're not talking, love, you're yelling!" Cal yelled back.
"Well I have every right to yell! Whereas you had absolutely no right to tell Jack to stay away from me!"
As he rolled his eyes and turned away from Gillian, Cal saw Loker and Torres share another uneasy look, one mixed with surprise. So, apparently they hadn't believed that Gillian was dating Rader.
"Don't start this again. I had every right! You're my partner and he's my rival! I wasn't going to stand by and watch him use you to get at me!"
"Oh don't you think a lot of yourself? Did it ever occur to you that maybe he wanted me? That maybe it wasn't all some elaborate plot to get back at you for whatever the hell it was that happened between you!"
"No! Because I know Rader! He isn't capable of honesty!"
"Oh and you are?"
"I have always been honest with you!"
"You lied about where you were going last night."
"Did he tell you where he was going? Huh? Did he tell you he was meeting me?"
"No, he didn't. But he didn't lie. He said he wasn't free and I didn't question him as to why. It's called trust! Something you clearly know nothing about!"
"And clearly you don't either! The one man in the world who I despise and you decide to date him!"
"You don't despise him. You're just jealous because he's good at what he does and he gets attention for doing it."
Cal stepped towards Gillian as he spoke his next words. "And I suppose that's what attracted you to him wasn't it? The money and the fame."
"And his good looks and his charm," she added, looking at him defiantly, where he now stood inside her personal space.
"You know, you're right. I shouldn't have bothered warning him off. You two deserve each other."
Gillian's right hand connected with his face so fast that, if he hadn't known it was coming, it could have knocked him off balance. He seized her wrist and pulled her to him. Both breathing deeply, they stared at each other, forcing their masks of anger to stay in place.
Cal's cheek was stinging where she had slapped him, but the rest of his body was tingling with anticipation. She was so close that he could just lean down and kiss her. He knew their proximity was part of the plan – but actually following through with it was not. He had to remind himself that Loker and Torres were in the room – and they were not supposed to be right about his feelings for Gillian.
"Let go of me," Gillian ground out through gritted teeth.
Cal tightened his grip. "I should have known you'd do something like this."
Gillian struggled but he held fast.
"Let go of me," she repeated.
When Cal tightened his grip further, Loker stepped towards them. Cal hadn't even noticed that he and Torres had stood up.
"Doctor Lightman, she's asked you to let go."
"I'm aware of what she's asked. I asked her not to date Jack Rader. We don't all get what we want."
"You need to let her go," Loker said next. Cal could hear the panic behind the calm that the younger man was trying to exude.
"Thanks by the way," Cal said, as if ignoring Loker's statement, "For telling me about her and Rader."
Gillian turned to Loker now and shot the full intensity of her glare at him. "You told him?"
"Yeah they told me! Had you been wondering how I found out?"
"We didn't…" Torres tried to respond.
"How did you two know?" Gillian asked them.
"We didn't know," Loker answered.
"We knew Rader liked you," Torres added, "But we didn't actually think there was anything going on."
"But you told me they were dating," Cal snapped.
"We told you we didn't know for sure that she was dating him," Loker reminded him.
"But you knew I'd think she was."
"Well, we thought you might ask her," Loker defended.
"You'd thought about what I might do with the information even though I just happened to overhear your conversation in the corridor?"
Loker and Torres exchanged fearful looks now, and then Loker admitted, "We just wanted you to admit you were jealous."
Gillian looked, wide eyed at their employees. "You set this up?"
"We didn't know he would react like this," Torres argued.
"Of course I was going to react like this!" Cal shouted, "I'm in love with her!"
"You're what?" came as a chorus from the other three people.
Gillian was looking at him, eyes wide with surprise; while Loker and Torres looked torn between being shocked by this outcome, and being pleased.
"You're in love with me?" Gillian asked him quietly.
"I'm in love with you," Cal repeated, heart pounding in his chest with the warmth he felt at saying those words to her – even though he knew they were just acting.
"And you thought that rather than tell me, you would act like a complete jerk whenever anyone showed any interest in me?"
"I didn't – "
"Let go of me, Cal," she insisted again.
"Gillia – "
Cal released her and Gillian stormed out of the room.
"I'll go after – " a guilt ridden Torres started to say as she stepped towards the door.
"Stop!" Cal demanded in a tone he knew she wouldn't dare disobey.
She hesitantly turned back to face Cal, her eyes meeting Loker's on the way and silently questioning as to what was going to happen to them.
Cal waited until they were both suitably terrified then, in a quiet yet firm voice, said, "Don't you two ever… ever try to play me again."
Their fear became confusion, and then eventually understanding, as Gillian walked back into the room, her look as reprimanding as Cal's.
"You knew," Loker stated.
"Of course we knew! You can't con a conman. Don't try it."
"That was all an act," Torres observed.
Gillian nodded. "I just can't believe you two even attempted this," she told them. "That was bold. What possessed you?"
The younger couple shared another silent conversation and then Loker said, "We just wanted to see if Doctor Lightman would be jealous."
"Why?" Cal asked, still wearing his stern expression.
Loker shrugged. "You're difficult to read. Usually we can't see anything in you, but, on occasion you seemed jealous… We wanted to see if that's what it really was."
"It only seemed to happen when there was a guy interested in Doctor Foster, and it was more apparent when that guy was Jack Rader, so…"
"I must admit it was a good try," Gillian said. "The conversation, the flowers… I believed that you didn't want Cal to know Dupree had reason to be apologising."
Torres looked embarrassed. "There was always a chance you'd call Rader if we sent flowers from him. But we needed Doctor Lightman to - "
"Well it was worth a try," Cal interrupted, tired of the rehashing of what he should have immediately seen to be a set up. The longer they talked about it, the more he was reminded that he let a petty emotion cloud his observation skills. "But don't ever do it again."
He opened the door and waited for Gillian to walk out ahead of him. Shooting one last unimpressed look at Loker and Torres, he let the door slam shut behind him.
When he fell into step beside Gillian she was smirking.
"What?" he asked.
Smile widening she just replied, "They conned you."
"I'm glad you find it amusing."
"I'm in awe. First that they even attempted it, and second that they succeeded… They're good."
"We've taught them well."
Gillian laughed, the sound soft and gentle, in stark contrast to the tension Cal's body was still riddled with.
"Now it's laugh out loud funny?" he murmured as they walked into his office and he started to move past her towards his desk.
"If taking credit for this makes you feel better then you go ahead," she said, patronisingly, but still grinning widely.
Cal stopped and turned to face her. "Have you forgotten that I nearly screwed up our friendship?" He was staring intensely, directly into her eyes, and he saw all trace of amusement and teasing leave her face, replaced, rapidly, with concern.
"You're mad at yourself," she stated.
Cal just continued to stare at her. He didn't know if he was still caught up in the emotion from their feigned fight, or the remnants of his insane jealousy, but something was pushing him to be completely honest with Gillian.
"For falling for their con?" she asked, and he could tell she didn't actually expect a verbal response, she was watching him closely for a tell in his eyes. And she saw it. "No," she continued, "For letting your jealousy control you."
He knew his jaw had clenched, and the muscles around his eyes tightened.
"You really were jealous," she said, and she sounded like this was a new discovery and one that puzzled her.
Cal swallowed hard. He was about to cross the line. He just hoped another argument was not going to follow. "I really thought I'd lost you," he confessed, his voice heavy with the entire meaning of that statement.
Gillian's cheeks flushed a little and Cal knew she was understanding what he wasn't saying. "I didn't know you felt… like that," she said, softly.
Cal shrugged once. "Neither did I." His lips quirked into a small smile, and he watched Gillian's do the same.
"So really you shouldn't be punishing Loker and Torres, you should be thanking them for opening your eyes to the truth," she smirked.
"Yeah. I think I'll hold off on that."
"Can't have them knowing they were right?"
He shook his head. "I don't know yet whether I like knowing the truth."
Gillian's eyes held his and he watched her think. She was no doubt running through all the reasons that they shouldn't have this conversation – reasons Cal probably would have given consideration to if he hadn't been acting under the influence of jealousy for the last nineteen hours.
She was doing a very good job of keeping her reaction to her thoughts hidden from him. Her face was blank apart from the slight furrow of concentration in her brow and, as the silence started to draw on, Cal began to feel rather uncomfortable.
His mind began to run through the reasons that they shouldn't cross the line, why they shouldn't even hover this close to it. And as he watched her try to make a decision, he came to one of his own.
"I'm sorry, love, I shouldn't have said anything," he stated, firmly, interrupting the silence.
He turned to step away but Gillian's hand, placed quickly on his arm, stopped him.
"No," she insisted, and looking back he found that he could see the same indecision in her eyes as he had heard in her voice. But as she parted her lips to continue speaking, he felt sure that she was going to remind him about the line, and politely tell him she couldn't cross it.
So, he was surprised when she softly said, "I like knowing the truth."
He felt his eyes widen, and his stomach did a somersault. Surely he was hearing things. "You do?" he heard himself respond.
Gillian nodded, slowly, and then, with a smile, sighed. "For all we pride ourselves on being honest with each other, we seem to have some pretty big secrets."
He also nodded. "With good reason," he reminded her, though it was more for his benefit than hers.
"Yeah… You were married, I was married, we're partners…" She listed the reasons Cal was all too familiar with. Telling himself why he couldn't be with Gillian, had always stopped him from getting too far into thinking about the fact that he actually wanted to be with Gillian. These were the reasons that had helped him keep his feelings secret, even from himself.
She continued, "But I'm not sure we can ignore it anymore…"
Cal wasn't entirely sure this was really happening.
"… I'm not sure the Lightman Group would survive another outbreak of your jealousy."
Her words surprised him and drew his full attention back to her. She was smiling. It was small, and tinged with uncertainty, but it was there. She was teasing him… But, at the same time, she wasn't.
"So, now you're arguing that we should talk about this, for the sake of the business?" he asked her.
"I think it'd be best for the staff… You've been like a bear with a sore head today."
"And will the outcome of our conversation prevent that happening in the future?"
"I think… it would assure you that you don't need to worry about me and other men. It would never work," she told him and he became aware of the pounding of his heart, sounding loudly in his ears.
Cal nodded again – something to do to hide his nervousness. "Then that would probably stop a repeat of today… yeah. That could be good for the staff."
Gillian nodded also – obviously she was as anxious as Cal was. "Do you think…" She trailed off, swallowing hard and then taking a deep breath before continuing. "… it would be good for the staff for us to be… for us to think about – to talk about being an 'us'?"
Cal's heart skipped and he couldn't help but smile at how cute she looked, so unsure and nervous, but at the same time hopeful. "I think… What they don't know, won't hurt them," he grinned.
As he had intended, Gillian laughed at this: her eyes lit up and she ducked her gaze away from his for a second. When she looked back there was a hint of pink to her cheeks. "We're training them in reading body language, Cal. I don't think it's going to be a secret for long."
Cal didn't miss that change in her language. It was no longer hypothetical.
His recognition of that must have shown on his face, because Gillian suddenly looked like she had realised it also. Her eyes widened and met his, waiting for him to say something.
But Cal didn't know what to say, so instead they ended up standing in silence, staring at each other.
What was he supposed to say next? This was a life changing moment. They were already past the point of no return, so the question was: how far beyond it should they venture? If they already couldn't go back, then was there any logic in holding back? Should he just confess every epiphany he'd had in the last nineteen hours; tell her that he had wanted to kiss her during their little charade; admit that he had meant it when he said he was in love with her? After all, she hadn't run when he had taken that first step and let her see how deeply afraid of losing her he had been. And she had been the one to ask if they should think about being an 'us'. And she was looking at him now with a look of such anxious expectation and anticipation…
He felt his lips curl into a smile as he became aware of just how adorable Gillian's expression was. And that made his decision for him.
"I'd say we've proven today that we can act," he told her.
She nodded, but her brow furrowed. She didn't see where he was going with this.
His smile widened. Her confusion was cute. "If we want time to… explore this without our nosey employees watching our every move, I'm sure we can be convincingly… uninvolved."
Cal had always known that Gillian was beautiful, and not just in looks: her personality, her compassion, her sense of humour, her laugh – everything about her was absolutely gorgeous. But as understanding lit her eyes, and her lips curved into a smile of both relief and joy - and with the knowledge that she was smiling at him like that because she wanted this as much as he did – Cal's heart flipped: She had never been more radiant.
"The long con," she remarked.
Cal laughed. "Well, I'm not sure how long I'll be able to last before I need to shout it from the rooftops. I feel like doing that now, but I realise that may be a little premature…"
She pursed her lips and nodded once. "Perhaps a little… We probably should at least – "
Cal's attempt to finish her sentence resulted in them speaking simultaneously as she said, "Go on a date first," while he said, "Kiss first."
"Right. Of course, yeah. A date," he said, sounding serious, but he knew there was still a twinkle in his eyes.
Gillian's own eyes sparkled with amusement as she responded, "Well, why don't we call it a night here, then get some dinner and… like you said, explore this. Today has been a strange day, we probably shouldn't rush anything."
Cal nodded, knowing she was right, but reliving the moment in their 'revenge' when he was holding her against him, when she was so close that he could feel her breath on his face. "That sounds like a good plan," he told her.
He watched her eyes narrow in curiosity – obviously the intensity of his thoughts was showing on his face.
"But?" she asked, her voice full of suspicion.
"But…" He took a step closer to her and, as his entire body tingled at being so near to her, he lowered his voice. "I really want to kiss you, love."
She swallowed – hard – and moistened her lips. Cal smiled: She didn't even know she was doing it. That spoke volumes about her true feelings when she in fact responded with, "That could be classed as rushing."
Cal nodded and stepped an inch closer. He noted that she did not move away and her cheeks were a little flushed. "Could be," he agreed, "But I think it would be the best place to start."
She raised her eyebrows, intrigued.
"I mean," he continued, "You could be an utterly crap kisser and then all that dating and exploration would be pointless."
Her intrigue fell into a smile, and she took her bottom lip between her teeth as she stepped forward, eradicating the last of the space from between them.
Cal felt his temperature soar and sparks fly wherever her body now made contact with his: chest, hip, toes. She brought her right hand up and rested it, ever so gently, on his chest, her fingertips softly stroking his shirt.
She licked her lips and leaned closer to him. Cal tilted his head forward to meet her, but she pulled back before he made contact.
Her voice was a mere whisper, and danced across his lips on her breath as she slowly assured him, "I am not at all a crap kisser."
He didn't doubt it. He tried leaning forward again, but she edged away.
"And the point of all the dating and exploration," she continued, "is for you to find that out."
Cal's eyes darted to hers, finding the mischief he had expected. She had no intention of kissing him.
She smiled, innocently, and stepped away. "I'll be in my office," she said over her shoulder as she walked towards the door. "Pick me up at seven."
Cal remained rooted to the spot, completely transfixed.
She shot him a playful smile and then disappeared from his sight.
She was right, of course, about everything. That's why he hadn't tried to stop her. He wanted to kiss her, but the thrill he felt now – the build up, the anticipation – was just as exciting. If this was how she wanted to play it, then he could willingly comply.
When he was finally able to move again, he walked to his desk and sat down. He knew he was grinning like a Cheshire cat and he couldn't help but laugh. He had started the day feeling angry, hurt and betrayed. He hadn't imagined that he would end the day on his first date with Gillian.
Maybe he should thank Loker and Torres for their little experiment – after all without that catalyst, he and Gillian would most likely still be hiding their true feelings. But it didn't sit right with him to thank them for conning him… No, wouldn't it be more fun to let them see just enough clues to conclude something was going on between their bosses, and then watch them fumble over not being able to say a thing about it?