… … …
Gillian was still staring at the door long after Cal had left through it. She was still standing behind her desk. She still held in her hands the random piece of paper she had picked up to back up her excuse of 'work'.
But the positive façade had faded.
From the moment his back was to her, it had begun to slip. First the smile - from her eyes, then her lips; then her posture; then the wall that had been holding back her tears, stopping her from trembling, keeping back the thoughts about how he nearly died - again!
Now the paper shook as her hands did. Now her eyes stung with tears that had yet to make it as far as falling. Now her mind raced with relief that Ben had found him.
And all she really wanted to do - no, needed to do - was hug him. Hold him. Reassure herself that he was fine; that her inability to back him up had not cost him his life.
But she had stopped herself. She knew she must have seemed cold-hearted. She had seen the confusion in his eyes; the hurt that she was distancing herself from him at a time when he probably needed her to hold him as much as she needed it. But she couldn't shake off her conversation with Helen. Or rather, Helen's refusal to hear her lame argument that she and Cal were just friends; Helen's insistence that she be careful; Helen's warning that she would end up alone.
Women who had loved Cal would not recommend it.
And as a woman currently in love with him, she had to agree with them.
He was insufferable; he was reckless; he was obsessive and selfish and, at times, plain rude. But she loved him in spite of all that. Or because of all that. It made him who he was. It made him the man she had immediately agreed to work with; the man she had known would not let her down; the man she knew she could rely on to be there for her, no matter what.
So why had she let Helen's words get to her? Why had she let doubt stop her from being there for him?
Maybe he wasn't one for the long haul. Maybe she would end up a very lonely woman. Maybe she had known all of that when she allowed herself to admit that she was in love with him. Months ago.
Maybe he hadn't left yet.
She dropped the piece of paper back to the desk and wiped at her eyes as she rounded her desk and left her office.
She stopped just beyond the doorway of his when he was nowhere to be seen, her heart sinking instantly.
She was about to leave when it occurred to her to check his study. She knew he secluded himself in there sometimes, when he needed to think. When he needed to hide.
She slid open the door both relieved and heartbroken when she saw him. The sound of the door must have startled him, because he had quickly sat up and she had watched him swipe at his eyes. He turned to face her, a false smile plastered on his face; his eyes red rimmed but pleading with her not to mention that.
"All right, darling?" he quipped, aiming for upbeat, but let down by the rawness of his voice.
She nodded, unable to trust her own voice just yet, knowing she was probably the cause of some of his pain. Crossing the room, she sat down beside him on the couch, and looked at him. He was watching her, waiting, no doubt for an explanation. But also waiting to see what she was going to do. Cal didn't do raw emotion. There was a reason he was hidden away in the dim light of his study when he cried. He wouldn't want her to address it directly. Not right now. The hug could wait until he could be convinced it was for her and not for him.
She cleared her throat. "I decided that work can wait," she told him, softly.
Her heart broke a little more at the relief in his eyes.
"Are you sure?" he asked her.
She thought back on her reasons for giving him that ridiculous excuse in the first place. Alongside what she was seeing now, there was absolutely no question about where she would rather be. She reached out and closed her hand over his, giving it a gentle squeeze.