… … …
"Do you have plans tonight?" she asked him, just before she left his office to head out on her own case.
He had been expecting this for weeks. He knew something was going on, he had seen the change in her. But she had not broached the subject, and he had respected her privacy. "Nothing I can't cancel if you make me a better offer, love," he grinned, waggling his eyebrows suggestively.
She shook her head to dismiss his teasing, a small smile on her lips. "Could you go somewhere with me? There's someone I'd like you to meet."
… … …
Gillian drove - necessary, really, as she wouldn't tell Cal where they were going. They headed out of the city and ultimately came to a stop on a suburban street, outside a large, well-kept house.
Cal watched her as she stopped the car, methodically turned the key, removed her seatbelt. He watched her glance at the house and try to fight the smile he caught edging onto her lips. He suppressed a smile of his own. He would wait until she was ready.
"Moving house, love?" he joked, endeavouring to calm the nerves he could see in her trembling hands.
It worked and she faced him and smiled. "No… Come on."
She hopped out of the car and he followed suit. He waited for her on the sidewalk and she smiled at him, briefly, before turning her attention to the house and fighting that anticipatory smile again.
As they walked up the path, Cal noted the children's toys scattered about the wide lawn; music he recognised as something Emily listened to drifted from an open upstairs window, and a glance at the deep pink curtains of that room suggested a female teen inhabitant.
Gillian knocked on the door, and glanced at Cal from time to time as they waited. Cal heard footsteps just inside before the door opened to reveal a woman Cal surmised was approximately fifty. She had a pleasant, welcoming smile on her face, and clearly knew Gillian well.
"Gillian, hi. Come on in… William's out back with James and Peter. We've told him you're bringing a friend to meet him."
Gillian stepped into the house. "Is he okay?"
"He's fine. He's been looking forward to your visit."
A wide smile spread across Gillian's features and Cal's heart skipped a little at seeing her so happy.
"Sorry," Gillian stuttered, quickly, moving out of the doorway so that Cal could enter. "Cal, this is Julianna. Julianna, Cal."
"Nice to meet you," Cal said as he and Julianna shook hands.
"You too," Julianna replied, with a smirk, and a pointed, knowing look at Gillian. Gillian just rolled her eyes and looked away.
Julianna closed the door behind them as she invited, "Go on through. I'll just go and see if April wants to say hello."
While Julianna headed upstairs, Gillian led Cal through the living room towards the patio doors that led out to the back yard. One door had been left open, propped in position by a door stop at the bottom. The sound of a young child's laughter carried into the house and Cal saw Gillian's back straighten and heard her take a deep breath.
She stopped in the doorway, resting her left hand against the closed door as she looked outside. Cal waited a second to see if she would continue and, when she didn't, he shifted to the left to stand next to her.
"All right, love?" he queried, his eyes following her gaze to where a young boy was running round in circles on the grass.
She appeared to snap out of a daze and looked at him with surprise. "Yeah. Sorry." Her lips curved into an excited smile and she looked like she was about to say something else when a voice from outside shouted,
Gillian's eyes widened and her head whipped round to look outside. The little boy was running towards her, and she stepped onto the deck and crouched down to meet him, wrapping him in her arms when he reached her.
She had her back to Cal, but when she looked up at the two men who were outside and spoke, he could tell from the quiver in her voice that there were tears in her eyes.
"Has he… said that be-"
One of the men shook his head, but he was smiling. "No. First time."
The other man also smiled at Gillian and she returned her attention to the boy.
"Hi, honey. Are you having fun?" she asked him, her voice soft with emotion.
Cal watched as the little one stepped back in Gillian's arms and grinned at her, bright eyed and so obviously infatuated. "I was being a plane," he told her, proudly. "And James took pictures."
"A plane? That's amazing," Gillian returned, tickling the boy's sides.
As he squealed and squirmed in her grasp, and Gillian's melodious laughter delighted Cal's ears, the two men seemed to remember they had not been introduced to Cal.
One, dressed more casually in jeans and a t-shirt, stepped forward and offered his hand to shake. "James Farnworth," he introduced himself.
The other man wore a suit, and an ID badge around his neck. "Peter Webb. I'm William's social worker."
Cal shook hands with both of them. "Cal Lightman." He inclined his head towards Gillian and added, "Gillian's sidekick."
Both men responded with short chuckles and Cal turned to find Gillian looking up at him.
"What?" he shrugged, smirking, and she shook her head slowly before turning back to William.
"William, James and Julianna told you that I was bringing someone to meet you, didn't they?" she said to him, softly.
William nodded and his eyes flicked past Gillian's shoulder to Cal. He regarded him uncertainly, narrowing his eyes a little as he seemed to study his face.
Cal smiled back at William. His little face was adorable. Blue eyes bore into Cal; brown hair had become tousled when he was playing; and he had a smudge of dirt across his left cheek.
Gillian had continued speaking to him, telling him that her friend's name was Cal. She asked him if he wanted to say hello, and William nodded his head, still looking, pensively, at Cal.
"Okay." Gillian shuffled round so she was now facing Cal, but remained at William's level. She placed her hands on William's shoulders and told Cal, "Cal, this is William… William, this is my friend Cal."
Cal stepped onto the deck and crouched down in front of William. "Hello," he smiled.
William frowned. "You talk different," he observed.
Cal withheld a laugh. "Yes I do. I'm from England."
"England is far away," William told him, looking worried.
"He likes maps," James supplied.
Cal explained, "England is far away. But I live here now. Near Gillian."
William's eyes lit up. "I'm gonna live with Gillian."
"Yes you are." Beside William, Cal could see the absolute joy in Gillian's expression.
"And you live with Gillian," William said to him.
Cal smiled. "No. I live in my own house. But it isn't far away from where you will live."
"I live with Gillian," William repeated, excitedly.
Cal nodded. "Yes you will."
"She's my new Mommy."
Cal smiled at William and then shifted his gaze to meet Gillian's eyes. "She's gonna be the best Mommy in the world!"
Gillian smiled, shyly, back at him, and ducked her head away. Cal laughed to himself, and turned back to William when he exclaimed,
"The world is really big!"
"Yes it is," he agreed.
"Do you want to see my map?" William asked, excitedly.
"I would love that," Cal enthused.
William's eyes lit up and he whipped his head round to ask James, "Can I get my map, please, James?"
James grinned at him and nodded. "Sure. Let's go and get it."
William surprised Gillian by giving her a quick hug before running into the house, James following behind him.
Gillian stood up and looked like she was about to speak when they heard Julianna's voice from inside the house, and a second later she and her daughter appeared in the doorway.
As Cal had deduced from the clues on the way up the path, the girl was about the same age as Emily. She exchanged greetings with Gillian while Julianna addressed Cal.
"I think you're a hit," she smiled, pleasantly, at him, before introducing, "This is our daughter, April."
Cal nodded and offered his hand for April to shake.
"Nice to meet you," she smiled, shooting the same knowing look to Gillian that her mother had done when they first met.
Cal frowned and looked between them. Gillian was ignoring April's smirk.
"Who would like a drink?" Julianna asked, cheerfully, clapping her hands together in front of her.
"Oh, not for me, th -"
"How about a cup of tea? Sugar?"
"No, thank you," Cal tried to insist. He failed.
"Okay. Tea, no sugar, for Cal," she said to April, as if she had to remember the order. "Gillian, usual?"
Gillian nodded. "Thank you."
"Coffee would be lovely…" the social worker replied, looking up from his Blackberry. "I just need to make a phone call. Excuse me."
As he passed Cal, Peter whispered to him, "She doesn't take no for an answer." He laughed and patted Cal on the shoulder before moving into the house.
"Hey!" Julianna protested as she and April followed Peter inside.
Chuckling, Cal turned towards Gillian. "They seem nice."
"They are. William's been with them for almost a year. He was very nervous when I first met him. They've done really well with him."
Cal couldn't help staring at her as she talked about William: She looked so happy. He had always thought that Gillian had the amazing ability to look happy most of the time. But this took it to a whole new level. This was deep, and this was real.
She frowned. "What?"
He shook his head. "Nothing."
"You're wondering why I didn't tell you sooner. I -"
"Nah, I'm not. You didn't want to say anything until it was certain."
She seemed surprised by his observation.
"I can read you like a book, love," he reminded her. "I've suspected for a while… So, how long?"
An uncontrollable smile curved her lips and crinkled the skin around her sparkling eyes.
"Should be a matter of weeks."
Tears welled in her eyes again and Cal pulled her into a brief hug.
"About time, love… Dinner will suffice as a thank you."
She pulled back and looked at him with a furrowed brow.
"What? I gave you a fantastic reference!" he grinned.
"I should think so too," she laughed, stepping away from him and gently wiping at her eyes.
"Emily's gonna be so excited… You realise you've got an on-call babysitter right there?"
Gilliam smiled, gratefully, but there was something behind it. Cal didn't have time to process it.
"They should get along well. William loves April. And I think having her and her friends around has helped him to learn to accept new people."
Cal was about to ask what William's history was when the boy in question came bounding out of the house, almost losing his balance as he landed on the deck. He stopped himself from falling with the skill of a surfer, and grasped the map that he held in his hands, tightly.
"Here's my map!" he declared, running to Gillian and dropping to his knees beside her. He scrambled round, unfolding the map and spreading it on the deck.
Cal moved to kneel down next to him. "Wow! This is a big map!" he remarked, exaggerating his amazement for William's benefit.
"That's cos it has the whole world on it," the boy grinned. "This is sea. This is America. And this sticker is where we are." He pointed to a sticker of a house.
"That's right," Cal smiled.
William continued to examine the map, but suddenly frowned. He looked closer before looking up at Gillian.
"Mommy, I forgot where England is."
Gillian knelt down on the other side of him. "Why don't you ask Cal if he knows where it is? That's where he lived when he was a little boy."
William seemed to like that idea. "He should know where it is."
"Yes he should," Gillian smiled. "You can ask him."
William turned round and looked directly at Cal, a sense of determination in his small features. "Do you know where England is on my map?"
"I do," Cal told him. "Can you find the sea near America?"
William went straight to the map, pointing to the Atlantic Ocean.
"Okay." Cal gently took hold of William's hand and trailed it across the sea. "England is over… here."
"Yeah!" William cried, leaning forward and resting both hands on the map while he inspected England more closely. "England is small."
Cal laughed. "It is small."
"Have you been to England, Mommy?" William asked Gillian, turning only his head to watch her respond.
Gillian nodded. "I went to England many years ago."
"On a plane?" he asked, sitting back on his knees.
"Yes. On a big plane… And we went really really high up in the sky," she told him, her eyes wide and her hands moving to tickle his sides again.
He giggled again and wriggled in her hold, and Cal found himself grinning once more as he watched.
"What's going on out here?" Julianna asked, laughing as she came out of the house carrying a tray of drinks.
"Mommy's tickling me!" William squealed as Julianna put the tray down on the garden table.
She turned round and Cal watched as she met Gillian's gaze and winked at her. "Oh, Mommy's tickling you?" she repeated William's words, emphasising the pronoun he had used.
Gillian smiled back and then returned her attention to William who was now lying on his map. She stopped tickling him and he gradually calmed down.
"Can we go to England?" he asked her.
Though surprised by the question, Gillian didn't miss a beat. "Do you want to?"
William scrunched up his nose in deep thought and then rolled his head to the other side, asking Cal, "Is England good?"
Cal held back a laugh - at the question and the endearing look of concentration on the little face. "England is really good," he answered.
William grinned excitedly and his head rolled back the other way. "I do want to," he told Gillian, emphatically.
"Okay then," she smiled, "Next summer, when you have lots and lots of weeks off from school, we'll go to England."
William's eyes nearly popped out of his head. "On a plane?"
It was visible how touched Gillian was to have been able to make William so happy. "We'll go on a plane."
William jumped up and threw himself into Gillian's arms, almost knocking her over.
"Maybe Cal could go with you," Julianna suggested, from over by the table, "And show you where he used to go when he was a little boy."
Gillian and Cal both looked pointedly at Julianna, while William looked thrilled with that idea. Julianna had her back to them, sorting out the drinks, and pretended not to realise they were glaring at her.
"Tea for you, Cal," she said, nonchalantly, "I'll leave it over here while it's hot… Gillian, your coffee is in the green cup… And, William…" Now she did turn round, looking at the boy to whom she was speaking, and still ignoring Cal and Gillian's looks. "April is making you a smoothie."
"Mmm," William responded, his eyes brightening even further.
"With strawberries and bananas," she added and William gasped.
Julianna smiled and then indicated towards the map and asked, "Have you shown Mommy and Cal where Marlin found Nemo?"
William shook his head. "No… Do you wanna see?" he asked Gillian.
He looked at Cal. "Do you wanna see?"
Apparently satisfied that he wouldn't be wasting his time, William looked carefully at his map and eventually pointed to a picture of the Sydney Opera House that was printed on Australia. "He found him here," he said, checking to see that they were looking, "In Austria"
"Australia," Julianna reminded him.
He giggled. "Australia… Austria is somewhere else."
"You know a lot about the world," Cal remarked.
"I like maps," William grinned. "Do you know where the Eye Tower is?"
"The Eye Tower?" Cal repeated.
"It's in France."
William suddenly gasped again and dropped on to the map. He was meticulously studying Europe. Cal and Gillian exchanged puzzled glances.
"France is near England!" William exclaimed, pointing to the picture of the Eiffel Tower that represented France. Then he scrunched up his nose again. "What's this picture?"
Cal and Gillian both leant forward, their heads coming in either side of William's. He was pointing to the picture that illustrated England.
"That's Buckingham Palace," Gillian told him.
"It's like a castle!" William announced.
"Yes it is," Gillian assured him. "That's where the Queen of England lives."
"Do you know the Queen?" he asked Cal, expectantly.
Cal shook his head. "No I don't. But me and your mommy have met the President of America."
William appeared truly amazed. "Mr 'Bama?"
Cal smiled, fondly. "That's right. President Obama… You're a very clever little boy."
"I ask lots of questions," William explained, but a look of apology crossed his features.
Cal frowned and glanced at Gillian who, in turn, glanced at Julianna - who was also frowning and shook her head to indicate this was the first time this had come up.
Gillian put her arm round William's shoulders, comfortingly, and softly asked him, "What's the matter, honey?"
He leaned into her and replied, "Michael said I ask too many questions."
The name didn't seem to mean anything to Julianna either.
"Who's Michael?" she asked William, gently stroking his arm.
"He's at my school," he told her, sadly.
She kissed the top of his head and held him closer to her. "Does Michael ask questions?"
He shook his head against her. "He never asks questions."
"I bet he doesn't answer questions either. Does he?" Cal joined in.
William shook his head again.
"See, if you don't ask questions, you don't learn answers," Cal grinned, trying to cheer William up.
William looked unsure about whether he should let it work. His little eyes looked up at Cal from where he was nestled against Gillian.
"Do you ask questions?" he enquired, voice filled with hope.
Cal nodded. "I do. And your Mommy does. We ask lots of questions."
William sat up, so Cal and Gillian sat up with him. "I like asking questions. I asked Mrs Rose where the Eye Tower is and she told me and she asked me to point to France on her map and I did." He grinned, proudly, and then was distracted by noticing April waiting for him with his drink. "Smoothie!" he shouted, climbing to his feet and running round Cal to get to the drink without standing on his map.
Cal envied the way that children could so easily move on from something that had been upsetting them. While April made sure William was sitting calmly in a garden chair before giving him his drink, Cal took the opportunity to watch Gillian again. He recognised the look of absolute love in her eyes, but it was still tainted by something else.
"Your drinks are getting cold," Julianna told Gillian and Cal, breaking his reverie and snapping Gillian out of the daze she had apparently fallen into.
Cal held out his hand to support Gillian as she stood up. She seemed surprised by his gesture, but placed her hand in his, nonetheless. Once she was standing, she offered her hand to help him.
"Too old for kneeling on the floor," he murmured as he walked towards the table on stiff legs.
William giggled, surprising everyone, and they all looked at him.
"Are you laughing at me?" Cal asked him.
Still giggling, William nodded. "You looked funny."
A burst of laughter came now from Gillian, and Cal faced her, his eyes wide.
She shrugged. "You did look funny."
William giggled again, and Cal shook his head. "Excellent. Another one for your team…" He explained to Julianna and April, "My daughter already teams up against me with her."
"We do the same to Dad," April stated.
Julianna nodded. "The previous three children we fostered were girls. James was hoping another male in the house would even things out. But William is on our team."
"James is funny," William contributed, obviously not fully understanding what they were saying but wanting to join in.
"He is quite funny," Julianna agreed with him, offering William a loving smile.
"Who's saying I'm funny?" James asked from the doorway. He came outside, followed by Peter.
"Me!" William admitted. "Tell Mommy and Cal the joke!" he encouraged.
"I don't know any jokes," James said, ruffling William's hair as he passed him, "I'm not funny."
William giggled again - and Cal decided that his giggles were entirely as cute as Gillian's. "You do…" he reminded James. "About a chicken."
Cal's attention was drawn away from William when he saw Peter talking quietly to Gillian. She nodded in response to whatever had been said, and then she told William, "I'll be back in a few minutes, honey."
William nodded, sucking some smoothie up his straw, and Gillian shot Cal a small smile before going inside.
He didn't realise that his eyes had remained on the open door, or that he was looking worried, until Julianna reassuringly told him, "It'll just be formalities."
He faced her and forced a smile.
"It's good that she's got you to support her… It's going to be a big change."
Cal nodded. "It is… But it's long overdue."
… … …
Later that evening, while Gillian put William to bed, James and Julianna filled Cal in on how William had come to be up for adoption. His mother had died when he was barely one year old, and though his father had seemed okay at first, ultimately, William was taken into care when he was found home alone and starving. The visit to the house had also revealed stashes of illegal drugs.
"William's father died in jail just over a year ago," Julianna explained.
"It took William a long time to adjust to being with us," James added, "He was scared of every sound; he cowered from new people. We can only imagine what he must have been through… We're glad they've found someone to adopt him."
"And someone as loving and nurturing as Gillian," Julianna continued. "And her background in psychology will help her to help him… She told us what happened with Sophie. I think this is going to be good for both of them."
Before Cal could respond to James and Julianna's comments, Gillian called to him from upstairs.
"I've been summoned," he excused himself. James and Julianna smiled and nodded to him and he made his way through to the foyer, stopping at the bottom of the stairs. Gillian was standing at the top. She gave him a soft smile.
"William wants to say goodnight to you, again."
Cal laughed and made his way upstairs. "He's a smart kid. Good judge of character."
Gillian rested her hand on Cal's shoulder as she pointed him to the right room.
"Hi, kiddo," he greeted as he entered. "Shouldn't you be going to sleep?"
William beamed up at him from his bed. He was snuggled under his Toy Story covers, ready for sleep in his dinosaur pyjamas. "That's why I'm in bed."
"Ah I see," Cal uttered, perching on the edge of the bed. "And who's this?" he asked, pointing to one of the characters on the duvet cover.
"That's Woody. And that's Buzz Lightyear. Oh, Mommy said your name is Light - … Light…"
"Lightman," Cal finished for him. "That is my name."
Cal chuckled. "Yes it is."
"Will you come see me again?"
William's voice was small as he asked, and his eyes were full of anxiety. Cal felt his heart break for this little boy and everything he had had to endure in his four years.
"Of course I will," he assured him. Catching sight of the bed covers again, Cal smiled widely and added, "You've got a friend in me."
William's entire being seemed to be amused and he laughed wholeheartedly. It took Cal by surprise, and when he glanced at Gillian, he found that she too was chuckling, although she had her hand over her mouth to suppress it.
"What?" Cal asked, looking between the two of them. "I like Disney movies."
"You know the song," William squealed, wriggling around in his bed as he laughed so hard.
"It's a good song," Cal defended.
"It is a good song," Gillian saved him, coming to stand beside him at the bed. "But it's time for you to go to sleep, young man. You have to stop getting Cal giddy."
William nodded, and shot Cal a look of reprimand. Then he settled back down in his bed and smiled at both adults.
"Good night, Cal Lightyear," he grinned cheekily.
"Good night, kiddo." Cal stood up from the bed, watching as William bid his 'Mommy' goodnight and tears formed once more in Gillian's eyes.
Cal's happiness that this was finally happening for Gillian was overwhelming.
He moved to the doorway. He watched as she returned his good night and tucked him in before kissing him on the forehead.
"I'll see you tomorrow," she whispered. "Close your eyes and have sweet dreams."
William grinned at her with adorable genuine affection before settling his head on his pillow and closing his eyes. Gillian remained in place beside the bed, just gazing at him, her face a mixture of love, admiration and disbelief.
And Cal realised what it was that he had been missing all evening. What had been just there behind every smile, and every hug. Gillian was telling herself that she wasn't allowed to get fully attached; she was trying to hold back lest it all be snatched away again. But she was failing.
Cal left the room, hovering at the top of the stairs, to give Gillian some time alone with her son.
When she eventually joined him, pulling William's door closed behind her, she commented quietly, "He likes you."
"I like him," Cal returned.
"So do I." She smiled but she looked like this concerned her rather than pleased her.
"And that's okay, love…" he said, understandingly. "You're allowed to love him."
She forced her eyes wider and looked away, but not before he saw her lower lip quiver.
"Hey." He stepped nearer to her and ducked to the side to capture her eyes with his. "I know you're scared. But this is a different situation. There's no one to claim him as theirs, Gillian. He's yours."
She nodded, but tears lined her eyes. "I know… I know that."
He moved even closer and took hold of her hand. "And in two months; in six months; in eighteen years' time, he'll still be yours."
She blinked back the tears and Cal pulled her into his arms. He held her tightly and she wrapped her arms around him, resting her head on his shoulder.
"Fear is healthy," he repeated advice that she had given to him in the past. "But instead of fearing what might happen, start fearing what will. In a couple of weeks you're going to have a little Alex Trebek living with you! And you're definitely going to have to revise your geography."
As he had hoped, Gillian laughed against him. "Thanks, Cal," she whispered.
"Any time, love…" He just held her for a few seconds before he added, "Although…", letting his voice trail off ominously.
She pulled back from their embrace and eyed him suspiciously. "Although?" she prompted.
"Perhaps I'm not the best source of advice on being a good parent."
He knew she could tell he was being intentionally self-deprecating, but she responded nevertheless with, "You're a great parent."
And Cal grinned, dropped his arm across her shoulders, and told her, "It takes one to know one, love."