… … …
"Okay, what's going on?"
Gillian looked up from her notes, frowning at Cal as he entered her office.
"Hi," she greeted him, pretending she didn't know what he was talking about. In reality she knew he would not have missed the complete shambles she had made of every attempt to speak to him today. It really had been ridiculous. She was attaching far too much meaning to what she needed to ask him and therefore completely fluffing every attempt to ask.
He dropped into a chair opposite her, folding his hands together in front of him. "You've been trying to say something to me all day but you keep stopping yourself. So, come on, out with it."
She looked at him as she tried - once again - to work out how to ask him. It should have been a simple question, friend to friend. She knew the words she needed to use. The problem was what would be unsaid. Everything that could possibly be read into them; everything she wanted him to read into them. She just didn't want to know if he didn't want to hear that. Though her deepening feelings for him continued to drive her crazy whenever she permitted herself to dwell on them, she much preferred that to knowing for definite that he didn't share them.
Cal leaned forward in his seat. She had obviously been contemplative for too long. "Gill, you need to tell me now before I start to worry."
"Oh, it's nothing to worry about," she assured him quickly, feeling guilty now for causing him concern.
"Well then, just say it," he encouraged with a smile that was no doubt supposed to make her feel at ease. It actually made him look a little crazy. Which did, bizarrely, ease some of her nerves.
And, she realised that the longer she dragged this out, the more foolish she would look, and the more suspicious of her hesitation he might become. So, she shook her head as if what she was about to say was of little importance, and explained, "I've been looking into taking William to England this summer…"
"Oh, yeah." Cal confirmed that he remembered the promise she had made when they had visited William at his foster home. She hadn't been sure that he would.
"Well, if you remember, Julianne told William that you could come with us…" Gillian had been outwardly unamused by that, but inwardly hopeful that it would one day be a reality. But that was back when she was trying to convince herself she was not in love with Cal. Sometimes she missed those days. "… Well I've tried to tell him that you're busy and we can't both -"
She stopped to narrow her eyes at Cal who was now looking rather amused, probably at her inability to get to the point. Mentally snapping, 'Fine', she just came out with the question. "Would you like to come?"
If he was surprised that she was inviting him, he didn't show it. Nor did he look horrified at the thought. But it was Cal, and she only saw what he wanted her to see.
He watched her for a moment, features completely blank, revealing nothing. Then he enquired, "What do you want my answer to be?"
Disappointment swept over her as she took his question to mean that he wanted to say no. And she made a feeble attempt to believe she was disappointed for William.
Her delayed response must have prompted him to elaborate. "I don't want to say yes if you'd prefer me to say no," he told her, "If you want it to be just you and William. It is your first family holiday… But I don't want to say no if you'd be happy for me to say yes…" He grinned at her, cryptically, intentionally making her wonder whether it meant something more than she might first assume. He really could be infuriating at times. "Because I really want to say yes."
Her disappointment dispersed, Gillian couldn't help laughing at his explanation. "You can say yes, Cal."
"You're not just saying that. I'd understand if you -"
"You can say yes," she repeated, trying to contain the thrill of excitement she was already feeling. "If you want to," she quickly added. "I know you've spent a lot of time with us, but twenty-four-seven in another country is different."
"I think I'll survive. Besides, it won't be twenty-four-seven, will it? You are planning to let us sleep at some point?"
"There's a lot to see. William's made a list," she told him, smiling.
A fond smile crossed Cal's lips and Gillian's heart gave the same little flutter it did whenever she saw Cal with William; or whenever he mentioned William. She reprimanded it. This was exactly the behaviour that was going to make the trip to London agony for her… But, still, she was glad that Cal wanted to go with them.
"Well, with or without sleep," Cal was saying, "My answer is yes."
Gillian tried to keep her responding smile at an acceptable width. "Good… William will be delighted."
Cal's eyes stared straight into hers, keeping his thoughts hidden while she was pretty sure he could see every single one of hers.
"William," he echoed.
Gillian nodded. "Mm-hm."
His gaze bored into her a second longer and then a wide grin swept across his lips, but the verbal response she was expecting never came. Instead, he jumped out of his chair and stepped towards the door. "Right, so does this mean I can torture Loker and Torres for a while so they can prove they can run this place while we're both away?"
Relieved that he had changed the subject, Gillian answered him, "If I say no, are you going to do it anyway?"
Cal just grinned at her again and swung open the door, shouting, "Loker!" into the corridor.
Smiling, Gillian shook her head and returned to her notes.
Her mind, though, would only focus on the fact that Cal had said yes, and that it felt even more like a "family holiday" now that Cal and Emily were going with -. Emily. In all her schoolgirl giddiness, she had forgotten to mention Emily.
"Cal!" she called after him, standing up and rounding her desk to follow him.
She heard him shout for Loker again before he met her in her office doorway.
"I just need him to -" He stopped, correctly interpreting the look she offered that told him not to even bother with the excuse.
"I forgot to say that Emily is of course invited as well. If she isn't too old to go on vacation with her Dad and his business partner and her five year old son."
Cal smiled, that mysterious, knowing smile again. "I'm sure she isn't. She'll jump at the chance. She loves my 'business partner' and her son." His emphasis on 'business partner' designed to point out that he had noticed her distancing language. And that it was a ridiculous way to have referred to herself. "I'll find out what she has planned and then you and I can talk dates, yeah?"
Trying not to show that she felt sheepish, Gillian nodded. "Okay."
Cal watched her for a few more seconds, maddeningly unreadable. Then snapped himself out of wherever he had been, exclaiming, "Right… Now, where the hell is Loker?"
Gillian watched him walk away, feeling an unsettling mixture of relief, anticipation and fear. Cal knew something was going on. Whether or not he had worked out quite the extent of her feelings, she didn't know. But she was going to have to be careful. Ninety-nine percent of the time, she thought, she did quite well acting perfectly normally. But it was displays like today that were going to cause trouble; awkwardness that would shatter the nice little relationship they had going on right now.
William adored Cal. She couldn't do anything that might push him out of her son's life.
She was a grown woman. She could handle this.
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