Cal was still shaking his head at how bad Emily’s latest joke had been, when he opened the front door to see who had knocked.
His amusement was quickly replaced by concern when he found Gillian standing on his doorstep.
“Hi,” she said, with a smile that reached no further than her lips.
It hurt to see her looking so lost. He was used to the sparkle in her eyes; the fun-loving attitude. But lately he had watched it fade. Now, it was gone completely.
He knew the day’s events had been hard on everyone, but all day Gillian had additional things to worry about as well. And all day he’d wanted to make her feel better.
Not for the first time, he cursed the line that he had agreed to respect. He had seen this coming: He should have refused to ignore it.
“Hey,” he responded softly, “Come on in, love.”
She forced another smile and stepped inside with a whispered, “Thank you.”
He closed the door, never taking his eyes off her as she stood awkwardly in his hall. “Are you okay, love?”
She nodded. “Yeah, I just didn’t - … I couldn’t face being alone yet. Not today, not – ”
Cal inwardly cringed when Zoë and Emily’s laughter filtered through from the kitchen and Gillian stopped mid-utterance. Surprise, disappointment and then shame flashed across her face and she quickly said, “I’m sorry. I should have asked if you were busy. I’ll go.”
Cal followed as she stepped towards the door. “I’m not busy.”
She looked at him pointedly. “Well you’ve got company. I’m sorry. I should have called. I don’t know – ”
He raised his hand and gently rested it on her shoulder. “Gillian, you do know why you came. And you’re not interrupting anything.”
“Cal, you’re not good at lying to me,” she quipped, and for a split second her smile reached her eyes.
“Damn it,” he muttered.
Gillian smiled appreciatively as she reached up and patted the hand he had on her shoulder, before slipping away from the contact.
“I’m going to go… I’ll speak to you tomorrow.”
“No don’t go.”
“Cal, I’m fine, honestly – ”
“People who say – ”
“Yes I know. Okay, I will be fine…” She emphasised the ‘will be’. “… tonight. And then I’ll speak to you in the morning… Go back to them.” She tilted her head towards the kitchen.
“Are you sure?”
She nodded, but he could tell she didn’t mean it. As she moved towards the door again he could also tell that she wasn’t going to change her mind about staying. He would have to come up with a plan B.
“Gillian,” he stopped her just as she opened the door, “Where are you staying? Have you got somewhere to – ”
“I’m booked into a hotel… Don’t worry, Cal. I’ll be fine… But you might not be if you’re gone any longer,” she joked.
“Okay. Well call me if you need anything.”
She smiled gratefully, “I will. Night, Cal.”
He watched her get into her car and then closed the door and walked quickly into the kitchen. Zoe and Emily both turned towards him as he made his way to the table.
“I need to go out for a bit. I’m not sure how long,” he told them as he picked up his keys and phone.
“Was that Gillian?” Emily asked.
“A case at this time of night?” Zoe asked, her disdain for Gillian clear in her voice.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Cal told them, ignoring Zoe’s attitude.
He kissed Emily on the forehead and then jogged out of the house. As he reached his car he was relieved to see that Gillian was just turning out of his street.
He jumped into the vehicle and started the engine as fast as he could, and set off after her.
Cal kept Gillian’s car in sight as he wove through the streets, and watched as she pulled into a hotel car park.
He too turned in when he reached the entrance and stopped his car in the first available space. He intended to give her chance to go inside and then hopefully catch her in the hotel foyer. He wasn’t about to approach her in a dark car park.
He had just unfastened his seat belt when his phone started ringing on the seat beside him. Expecting it to be Zoe, reprimanding him for the way he left, he snatched it from the seat. But his frustration dissipated, replaced by amusement, when he saw who was calling.
“Are you following me?” the voice on the other end of the phone said before he had even said ‘hello’.
“Well I needed to talk to you and you didn’t tell me which hotel you’re staying at,” he replied, “It was very lucky that your car was still visible.”
“Yes it was.” She was indulging his lie, but he could hear in her voice that she was grateful he was there. “Cal, you should be at home – ”
“You need me.”
“Emily and Zoe need you – ”
“Gillian, you need me. So I’m here. Now are we gonna do this over the phone or can we meet face to face?”
There was silence on the other end of the phone until eventually Gillian answered, “I’ll meet you in the hotel lobby.”
Cal smiled with relief. “See you in a minute.”
He ended the call and locked up the car before crossing the car park. He could see Gillian a few feet ahead of him, and she stopped just inside the doors when she reached the building.
He soon caught up with her and could see the relief in her eyes. He’d been right: No matter what she had said at his house, she wouldn’t have been fine if she had to be alone.
“You shouldn’t be here,” she told him, her guilt about taking him away from his family evident in her tone and expression.
Cal shrugged, “But I am. It’d be rude to turn me away now.”
Gillian shook her head a little as the corners of her mouth turned into the slightest smile. “Okay… Then, thank you.”
He shrugged again. “There’s no need.”
Gillian nodded and then waved her hand a little in the direction of the stairs and started walking. Cal followed.
“I’m just on the second floor so it’s not too many steps,” she commented as they walked.
Cal could tell Gillian was nervous so stayed quiet, allowing her to lead the conversation when she was ready to.
They walked in silence until she stopped outside room 212, and she turned to face him before opening the door.
“Cal… Erm… I do appreciate you coming, I’m just… I’m not sure how much talking I feel up to doing.”
Her features tightened as she continued and he knew her thoughts had returned to her separation.
“… I found myself at your house earlier before I even realised where I was going. I just didn’t want to be on my own and that’s where I ended up.”
Her eyes were glistening with unshed tears and Cal longed to be able to comfort her. He took a step forward and opened his mouth to speak, but she raised a hand to stop him.
“I hadn’t considered what would have to happen while I was there…” She took a shaky breath. “… I’m not ready to talk about what went wrong or what I could have done differently.”
“If you don’t want to talk, we won’t talk,” Cal assured her.
She frowned but a small smile played on her lips. “We’ll just sit in silence?”
Cal shrugged again. “If that’s what you need.”
She shot him another grateful smile, and then shyly said, “I need ice cream.”
Cal laughed. “Room service?”
She nodded slowly.
“We’d better go in the room then.”
Gillian seemed to only now realise that they were still in the corridor. “Yeah, sorry.”
She removed her room key from her purse and unlocked the door, pushing it open.
“You’ll have to excuse all the cases,” she said as she led him in, “I brought as much as I could so I won’t need to – ”
She was in front of him when she stopped, so Cal couldn’t see her face, but from the way she put her hands on her hips and took a slow breath, he could guess what he would see if he could.
He closed the gap between them and laid his hand on her shoulder, caressing it supportively, waiting patiently for her to speak again.
“I’d seen this coming for months,” she said, quietly, her voice quivering, “I just tried to pretend it wasn’t happening.”
“I didn’t want to face it… I still don’t want to face it. But I couldn’t do it anymore. I’m tired, Cal. I’m tired of being two people… You know,” she turned to face him, tears gathering in her eyes, “when Alec told me that you’d followed him to return his glasses, I knew instantly that wasn’t the whole story. I had to ask you to stop, because I couldn’t handle you knowing. I’d known that you’d noticed things weren’t right, but I didn’t know how obvious it was. I couldn’t ignore it, if every time I saw you, I was reminded that you knew.”
She wiped her eyes and turned away, moving a couple of steps before turning back, obviously needing to get this out, no matter what she had said about not being ready to talk.
“But it didn’t matter. You did as I asked, but it didn’t matter. I couldn’t pretend anymore. I tried to talk to him about it but he said I was overreacting. That I wasn’t being supportive of his attempts to stay clean, that I was – ”
She stopped, a brief look of panic sweeping her features, and then she turned away again. Cal frowned, wondering what she had been about to say, but he wasn’t going to push her. There was probably a lot that she wasn’t ready to talk about. He would listen to whatever she did feel up to sharing.
“I’m sorry,” she said quietly, turning around, “Apparently I did feel like talking about some of it.”
“I’ve been doing okay today, mostly. I managed to push it aside for the case, but whenever I’m on my own it sneaks back.”
“You won’t be able to ignore it all the time,” he told her, moving closer to her so she would definitely see the sincerity in his eyes. “Some days will be easier than others. Some days you’ll need someone to shout at, and others you’ll need someone to just sit with you while you decide whether you need to talk, or scream, or … cry.”
He saw the recognition in her eyes as she realised she had been that person for him after Zoe left.
“But you’ll get through it,” he promised her, gently touching her arm, “Eventually it’ll get easier… And one day you’ll be able to remember the good times.”
Her lips trembled as she tried a smile and a couple of tears dripped onto her cheeks. “I don’t know how to do this,” she whispered, looking more vulnerable than he had ever seen her.
“I know, love,” he said, taking hold of both of her hands, “But I’ll help you. Whether you’re shouting, talking, screaming, crying… or eating ice cream. Whatever you need. I will help you. And you will get through this.”
More tears flowed down her cheeks, and Cal moved his hands to gently wipe them away with his thumbs. “You will,” he reiterated, seeing the doubt and fear in her eyes. He put his arms round her and pulled her into a hug.
She seemed hesitant at first and then she relaxed into his embrace, wrapping her own arms round him and holding on tightly as she cried.
Cal held her until the crying subsided and she pulled back to meet his eyes.
“Thank you for being here.”
“You already have, love.”
“Cal,” she light heartedly reprimanded, “Will you let me thank you?”
Cal smiled, mischievously. “One day.”
Gillian gave a short laugh, and softly patted Cal’s chest, before moving away and dropping herself onto the end of the bed.
“Do you want me to order that ice cream now?” Cal offered, watching her, observing the exhaustion in her now reddened eyes.
She wiped at her eyes and flicked her hair back out of her face as she looked up at him. “I think I’ve lost my appetite.”
Cal nodded. “Okay.”
“Can we just sit for a while?”
“Sure,” he acquiesced, sitting down in the seat beneath the window.
She looked across at him, and he smiled.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
He laughed at her determination to have him accept her thanks, and responded, “Whatever you need.”