… … …
"What's this?" Cal asked, wandering into Gillian's office without knocking, as usual.
Gillian turned away from her computer and glanced at the item he held in his hand before replying, "Looks like a watch."
And he had to admit that it still unnerved him how well she could deceive him: She appeared genuinely innocent.
"You're good," he told her, sardonically, in reference to her skill at identifying the item in question.
She grinned at him, her eyes twinkling playfully. "Not just a pretty face," she quipped.
He perched on the edge of her desk, next to where she was sitting, and muttered, "Smart arse."
Pursing her lips, she adjusted in her seat, her eyes darting sideways, glancing towards her rear. "I try."
Cal's laugh escaped him before he had realised it was going to happen. He had definitely not expected her to say that.
He watched her smile widen with pride that she had not only surprised him, but amused him. And he loved her for trying to cheer him up… Well, he added it to the ever growing list of reasons why he loved her.
As the laughter subsided, Cal was drawn back to the reason he had gone to her office. Slightly shaking the watch in his right hand he told her, "You shouldn't have done this, love. Didn't we have an arrangement?"
Gillian brushed off his reprimand with a gentle shrug. "I thought it was time," - she emphasised her little play on words with a flicker of mischief in her eyes - "you had a new watch."
"It's Christmas next week, darling," he pointed out.
"I've got you something even better for Christmas," she answered him with a somewhat evil glint in her eyes.
"I dread to think!" he mumbled.
She reached up and playfully slapped his shoulder, then quietly returned them to the conversation at hand as her voice returned in a serious tone, and her hand settled on his arm, rubbing it softly. "I wanted to do this. Our arrangement is outdated."
Briefly Cal wondered how many of their arrangements they were talking about, but that was for another time altogether. So, instead of asking, he observed, "You and Emily really did have a good old chinwag, didn't you?"
Gillian's smile was of fondness and he recalled the point on his list that read: 'the way she loves Emily.'
"She worries about you."
He nodded, feeling no small amount of guilt at giving her cause to worry so frequently. "She's a good girl."
Gillian nodded as well and, in that way she had of just knowing what he was thinking - even when he thought he had successfully hidden it - she brought him away from those thoughts with a teasing tone. "She gets that from Zoe."
Cal pushed his amusement aside and faced her with nothing but feigned hurt. "Your generous gift does not entitle you to insult me at will."
"Oh I don't need to be granted that right," she returned.
Just seeing her radiant smile made the weight upon Cal's shoulders even lighter. She was right, of course, that their arrangement to ignore his birthday was outdated. He needed to stop worrying about developing the same problems that his mother had, He had surpassed her in age now. How many years was he expecting it to take before he accepted that he was okay?
It was time (he glanced at the watch) for him to move on.
Sensing, again, the turn his mind had taken, Gillian gave his arm a tender squeeze of comfort which he truly appreciated.
He tilted his head to let his eyes find hers, hoping she would read the gratitude in them.
"Do you mind if we - … Could we… talk about my mum?" he asked quietly.
Surprise, relief and sympathy were her reaction. With one nod, she answered, "Of course."
"But not here," he added.
Understanding, she told him, "I'm ready to leave whenever you are."
He pushed away from the desk, noting that he immediately missed the contact of her hand when it fell away from his arm. "I'll get my coat."
He walked away but stopped, barely past the desk. Turning back to her, he found her waiting patiently for him to speak.
"Thanks love." For the watch; for the talk; for knowing what he needed before he did.
She understood each level of his meaning. Shaking her head once, with a warm smile, she softly bid him, "Happy… day after your birthday, Cal."