... ... ...
"Can you believe that she wouldn't let us meet her roommates?"
Cal dropped his keys onto the kitchen counter then turned to face Gillian, unamused that she had not answered his question.
She had her back to him, closing the door, but he waited patiently. She simply offered him a patient smile when she turned.
"You can believe it," he accused, narrowing his eyes.
He got the distinct impression that Gillian was pleased that moving all of Emily's stuff had required them to travel in separate cars. Even he could admit that it wouldn't have been fun to hear this all the way home.
"You can believe it as well," she pointed out. Quite accurately.
"I'm always ever so polite to her friends," he defended himself.
"I know you are," she played along. "But she has to live with these people, Cal. She probably thinks that will be easier if her head isn't filled with your analysis of what they are lying about and may have done in the past."
"That might make it easier for her," he muttered, "I'd like to know who she's living with."
"And you will. One day. After Emily has formed her own opinions about them."
He huffed and shuffled himself onto one of his kitchen stools. "I'll still be sharing mine with her when I finally meet them."
Settling herself on the stool next to his, she responded, "She would expect nothing less."
He met Gillian's eyes and couldn't help but smile at the bright smirk that was etched on her face. "Thank you for coming with us, darling." Somehow everything was easier when she was with him.
"It was a pleasure. Plus, someone had to make sure you left!"
He narrowed his eyes again, but he didn't really mean it. "I still say we could have stayed longer."
"She needs some time to explore; settle in…"
"We could go back tomorrow."
"We could. But we won't."
"Oh, you're going to stop me, are you?"
"Yes. Because Emily asked me to."
His eyes widened at this and he pushed off his stool and into her personal space. "You two have been conspiring?"
She gently laid a placating hand on his arm. "Cal, even though you did an excellent job of hiding it…" No small amount of sarcasm dripped from those words. "… Emily knows you: She could tell that you're more nervous about this than she is. She just asked me to look after you."
There looked to be more to that than Gillian had said. Cal watched her closely. "That's all?"
Gillian nodded once. "And I wouldn't be doing that if I let you run back there tomorrow."
"So she didn't specifically say that I can't go back?"
"But she did say something else. You're holding something back," he accused, trying to figure out what she was hiding.
"You're not supposed to read me."
He slid his hands round her waist and pulled her to the edge of her stool. "You're going to tell me what she said."
He watched her lips quirk into a smile; watched her tongue sneak out to moisten them. And it clicked.
"She did see!" he announced. "What did she say?"
"She asked me to look after you."
"And?" he prompted, feeling like he was trying to draw blood from a stone.
"And she said we should feel free to make out in the kitchen now that she's gone… And anywhere else for that matter."
Cal's eyes widened. He had closely watched Emily since Thursday when she had arrived home unexpectedly and almost caught him and Gillian in a semi-compromising position in the kitchen. He had been convinced that she had not seen anything.
"She learned from the best," Gillian comforted, as if reading his thoughts. "Besides, I'm not sure she did see anything. But she certainly deduced that there had been something to potentially see. She's not stupid."
"No she's not," Cal agreed, wistfully. "She's growing up too fast."
Gillian stood up, looped her arms round his neck and smiled, sympathetically, at him. "She's only at Virginia Tech."
"It's not that far away."
"I know. I still feel bad about that –"
"Cal, Emily is happy with her choice. It affords her the freedom of college and the ease to check up on you. She made the choice, Cal. You know she'd have gone further away if she had wanted to."
"She's a headstrong young woman."
Gillian's right hand brushed gently through his hair. "She's your baby girl," she whispered understandingly.
His eyes flicked to hers, focusing on her instead of his thoughts, and he smiled, grateful for her patience. Grateful for her. "She is."
"She'll be fine."
"You'll be fine."
He nestled closer. "I know."
"It's only college."
Gillian smiled and leaned forward, landing a kiss – too brief a kiss – softly on his lips. Then she rested her forehead against his and sighed. "Wait 'til she gets married."
Cal groaned loudly before joining Gillian in laughter.
He kissed her tenderly as their laughter subsided, hoping she would read in it his gratitude.
"I'm glad I took Emily's advice," he told her when their lips parted.
"To make out in your kitchen?" she quipped.
"No. Well, yes, more of that later. But, I meant the advice to tell you how I feel."
She pulled her head back slightly to see him properly. "That was Emily's idea?"
"She asked me what I was waiting for."
"And the answer was 'an opportune moment on a Thursday evening in your kitchen'?" she grinned, teasing.
"I didn't have an answer. So I orchestrated an opportune moment on a Thursday evening in my kitchen."
"I suspected as much."
"You did?" He should have known she would have noticed it wasn't as spontaneous as he had intended it to appear.
"What gave it away?"
"I've never seen anything of the article you asked me over here to proofread."
Cal laughed, realising the mistake he had made there. He had just been looking for a plausible excuse to get her to his house. "The smile on your face after I told you I'm in love with you threw me off my con."
A light blush tinted Gillian's cheeks as said smile resurfaced. "The smile on yours after you kissed me made me forget why I'd come over here in the first place. So you got away with it."
"And when you finally realised what I'd done?"
"I loved you all the more for it," she shrugged.
A surge of adoration pulsed through Cal at that remark and he tightened his hold on her, reclaiming her lips.
She was pinned, delightfully, between Cal and the kitchen island when he eventually relinquished her. They shared several soft, brief kisses until he rested his forehead against hers once more.
"We should tell Emily about us. Officially."
"We should," she agreed, "It'll wait until Monday though: We're still not going back tomorrow."
That hadn't actually been where he was going with that. He laughed at her assumption, then it occurred to him that he didn't ask how Gillian had responded to Emily's consent to them making out all over the house.
"Well, I tried to feign lack of understanding," she told him when he rectified that, "But I think the colour of my cheeks probably gave me away."
Her sheepish smile was adorable and he felt rushed with love for her again. How the hell had he waited so long?
"She didn't seem angry that we hadn't told her?"
"No. I think she understands that we're being cautious."
"Yeah. Well… I think we've been cautious enough. What do you think? Monday we tell Em; Tuesday we tell the world."
Her answering smile actually told him everything he needed to know about her thoughts on that. Nevertheless she replied, "I doubt much of the world would particularly care," with a wide grin.
"Well, I'm telling them anyway," he murmured in a low rumble. He brought his lips close to hers but stopped before they touched. "I love you, darling."
She made him wait for her response, silence falling over them for so long that he moved his head back to meet her eyes. Playful mischief was written all over her face as she softly said, "I know."
Deliberately taunting him by not saying what he wanted to hear, her lips curved into a wider, teasing smile. And he knew of only one way to wipe that look off her face.
So he kissed her.