Baird found that Stone had left the Library by the time she and Jones had discussed their plan of attack. There was a bar not too far from the Annex that they sometimes went to after a mission. She found him sitting at a back table, a bottle and a glass in front of him.
She set her own glass next to his and sat down next to him.
"Go away Baird, I'm not on the clock."
"Anyone tell you that you look like shit?"
Four days of growth on his face, rumpled clothes, hair a mess, Stone just chuckled bitterly and took a sip. "Who cares? Now would you leave me alone?"
"Not until you tell me what the hell is up with you."
Stone looked down at the glass, maybe how much he'd had loosened his tongue. "I made a mistake. I know better but I let her in. And she won't GO AWAY."
"She won't go away?"
"I need to let her go . . . need to let her go. But I keep holdin' on. And she doesn't . . .she doesn't love me."
Stone shot her a look that could kill, but Baird was not afraid of him. He said nothing in response though.
"Why do you think she doesn't love you?"
His laugh was bitter. "She loves someone else. I was too late."
"If this girl you love is the one I think she is, she doesn't show any signs of seeing someone else. I don't know if you've noticed but she pretty much just walks around like a ghost these days."
Stone scoffed. "Until she gets one of her precious texts or phone calls from her man. Look Baird, just leave me alone."
"Stone . . . ."
He just glared at her and Baird sighed. Then she got up.
"You aren't going to forget her in the bottom of that bottle. Believe me, I know."
He looked up at her blurry eyed but said nothing.
Baird's expression was kind, "Jacob, I think you're misunderstanding something with Cassandra. I don't think she loves anyone but possibly you. . . ."
He was drunk already so the tears came to his eyes before he could stop them.
"Can I at least take you home? Drinking is just going to make your pain worse. And maybe think about just talking to the girl?"
Stone sighed, but he pushed back on the chair. "Why do you care?"
"I'd give you some song and dance about work morale. But the truth is, I care about you and Cassandra." Baird bit her lip. "You especially, you're like the younger brother I didn't have. And you're hurting and I can't stand to see that."
"Should've took you to that wedding."
"Ha," Baird said, giving him a hand up. "They'd never believe we were in love."
"True that. You're such a pain in my ass." But the arm he'd slung over Baird's shoulder tightened just briefly, letting her know more than words could how much what she said meant to him.
Meanwhile, Ezekiel forced Cassandra to go out to dinner with him. She was quiet and picked at her food.
"Haven't seen much of you lately," Ezekiel said casually.
"My clippings book has been silent," Cassandra shrugged. "It's weird. Like no one wants me around . . . ."
"That's not true."
Cassandra sadly shuffled the food around on her plate again.
"What about that person who keeps sending you texts?"
"Tommy huh?" Ezekiel's eyes lit up and he leaned over the table. "Do you a boyfriend?"
Cassandra rolled her eyes. "Hardly. I've been helping him out."
"Well, Stone and I," she smiled softly when she said his name. "made up a cover story that I was a geologist working on his rig. Tommy's an old friend of Stone's and he had a thing for Laura, the actual geologist on his rig. He approached me since he thought that since I was dating 'just an oil rigger' too, I might have some advice. " Cassandra shrugged. "I jumped at the chance to play match maker."
"So he's just getting advice from you?"
"And keeping me informed how it's going. And now Laura texts me too. They're really doing well and we've become good friends. They keep asking me to come back to visit, a double date, of course." And Cassandra's happy mood burst once more. "I haven't had the heart to tell them that will never happen."
"Because you and Stone were just faking."
"And now Stone won't even talk to me," Cassandra's tone was so dejected that Ezekiel actually felt the urge to hug her. "I mean, I knew . . . but I figured we'd at least be actual friends after that weekend."
"You knew what?"
Cassandra's eyes filled with tears and she stared down at her plate. "I knew he doesn't feel the same way about me that I do about him. But it was so lovely pretending. And I thought we had a good time. But I did something to offend him."
Ezekiel shook his head. "So you haven't noticed?"
"That Stone looks like shit? That he wanders around the Library like a lost soul, a lot like you? When he's not drunk?"
"He's been getting drunk? But his daddy . . . ."
Ezekiel shook his head. "The man is IN LOVE WITH YOU. But he probably thinks you're dating this Tommy."
"Why would he?" Then Cassandra thought about that Sunday morning and Stone's face when she turned around. What giving Tommy her number and the hug must have looked like from the doorway. "Oh God."
"I was going to tell him, Ezekiel. Sunday when we came back. I was going to tell him how I felt. But he walked out on me. Because he thought I'd chosen Tommy. Oh that stupid, stupid man."
"You need to talk to him. Make him see."
"You think he'll listen to me?"
"Only one way to find out."
"I'll think about it. Thank you Ezekiel."
The next day, however, Cassandra's clippings book, as if sensing her change in mood, sent her a case. She took Ezekiel with her.
The day after that, after a long day of sobering up and soul searching, Stone came back to the Library. He'd shaved, showered, took care in his clothing. But found the place empty save for Jenkins.
"Where is everyone?"
"Ah Mr. Stone, you've returned from the dead."
Stone rolled his eyes and looked at Jenkins.
"Ah yes. Ms. Cillian and Mr. Jones are off on a case. They seem to think they will be back by evening, they left yesterday. Mr. Carsen summoned Colonel Baird." By the expression on his face, Stone could tell that Jenkins was under the impression that Flynn hadn't called Baird for a rescue.
"Huh, well I guess I'm going to get back into the Impressionists. . . Jenkins?"
"If Ms. Cillian comes back early, I'll summon you."
Cassandra hadn't returned by the time Stone's stomach started rumbling. He looked at his watch in shock, it was already 5pm. It was like old times, losing himself in the portfolios. Maybe the weight on his heart was starting to ease. He hadn't gotten over Cassandra, but last night he'd resolved to fight for her. The fact that Baird had mentioned that Cassandra hadn't gone to Oklahoma gave him hope. If she and Tommy were still only phone pals meant he had a fighting chance. He was done rolling over.
He put the book back and decided to go home and actually cook something.
Not long after he'd finished eating, his phone rang. Georgia was on the other end.
"Hey sis, what's up?"
"Just checkin' in with you. Hopin' you and Cassandra can drop by some weekend."
"What's wrong? You didn't mess things up with that sweet girl did you?"
Jacob sighed. Maybe once in his life, he was going to have to tell the truth to someone in his family.
"She was never my girlfriend."
"When you told me you were sittin' me with Mary Sue Baker, I panicked and pretended I had a girlfriend. Cassandra . . ." well part of this was still easier keeping the lie going. "Cassandra is the geologist on my rig, but she's just a friend. I wasn't seeing anyone, so I asked her if she'd go along with the plan. She's so sweet that she did me the favor."
Georgia clicked her tongue and Jacob was quite certain she was itching to hit him upside the head. "I cannot believe you Jacob Stone."
"Well, you saw Mary Sue, it was a good call."
"That is not what I'm talkin' about. She's just a friend? Do you think I am blind Jacob? I saw how you looked at her. And how she looked at you."
Jacob's voice was soft. "Maybe so but she's interested in someone else."
"Please, back on your rig?"
"No, in Oklahoma. Tommy." He blurted out.
"Tommy Langston? Jacob Stone, I do not know where you get your crazy ideas from! He's been seeing Laura from his rig for weeks now. They're over the moon happy and tellin' everyone that Cassandra gets the credit. You are an idiot. An idiot! Why did you think she was interested in him?"
"Well . . . she. . . they were dancing and she gave him her number and oh my God, she just wanted to know how it went?"
"I don't even know you any more Jacob. You used to be the smart one in the family. You didn't even try talkin' to the girl?"
"No," he said meekly.
"And you're head over heels in love with her? I just plain give up. If you don't have that straightened out by the end of the week, so help me little brother I am drivin' down to Texas to knock some sense into you!"
"I'm going to talk to her, I promise."
"Good." And then Georgia hung up on him.
He stared at his phone in wonder and then noticed a text from Jones, from almost 40 minutes before. He and Cassandra were back and Cassandra went home.
Stone didn't even think, he just grabbed his keys and flew out the door.
Cassandra hadn't been home very long. Just long enough to take a quick shower and change into comfy clothes. A pair of shorts with cartoon cats and blue tank top. She was padding barefoot across her living room heading to the kitchen when her doorbell rang. And before she could get to the door, whoever it was started knocking.
"Geez, I'm coming, what is . . . Stone?"
He looked out of breath like he'd run all the way to her apartment. "What is wrong? Is the world ending?"
"No! No, it's not work. I need to . . .can I come in?"
"Yes, sure." She was still confused but she stepped out of the way and let him in.
She closed the door behind him and they stood there staring at each other. In Cassandra's eyes, Jacob could see concern and fear, mixed with an emotion he was pretty sure he now understood and it was directed solely at him. Cassandra wasn't quite sure what to make of the emotions crossing across Stone's face, but by the darkening of his eyes, she was pretty sure one was desire and the other, the other sent a shiver down her spine.
"What's . . ." but before she could finish her question, he'd stepped forward, cupping her face in his hands. He only hesitated a half moment before his lips were over hers.
She was a little startled but she quickly sank into the kiss, parting her lips and bringing one hand up to rest at the base of his neck, the other hand sitting lightly on his shoulder. He dropped one of his hands to rest on her hip, pulling them closer together. This kiss was real, not that the other ones had actually been fake. But this time, they both knew there was nothing pretend about it.
When they finally broke for air, Cassandra panted out, "what was that? Not that I . . . ."
Jacob pushed the hair back from her face and said, "because I'm an idiot. Because I didn't see what was in front of me, just believed what I wanted to believe. And mostly because I love you."
She couldn't help it, she beamed and started laughing. He looked a little surprised by her reaction, but she was smiling, so that seemed good.
"Oh, you stupid man, I love you too."
He smiled back at her, his eyes crinkling with joy. They stood there, still holding each other, just smiling at each other. Then she leaned up and kissed him again. She was quite certain she'd never been kissed in pure joy before, she thought her heart would burst from it and she knew the feeling was mutual. He broke away from the kiss when it was obvious they were both laughing from delight.
He pulled her into a hug and spun her around once. When they'd both stopped laughing again, he kissed her forehead.
"God, I love you. And I'm so sorry . . . ."
"Shh," Cassandra put her finger over his lips. "Not now. We'll talk later. Right now . . ." She leaned up and kissed him again, this time passionately. It was like the kiss she'd given him when she was showing off to Mary Sue. Only this time there was no audience and they were both fully aware of the feelings involved.
Kissing lead to touching and soon Cassandra was working the buttons on Stone's shirt. He'd pulled her tank top halfway up when he realized suddenly that she wasn't wearing anything under it. He pulled back, eyes full of questions.
She nodded, then said softly, "I want you to make love to me."
"Do we . . .are you?" He blushed, he hadn't expected anything like this to happen tonight and hadn't come prepared.
"I have some in the bedroom, don't ask." And Cassandra rolled her eyes slightly and he knew exactly who had given them to her. But at this moment, he was thanking Ezekiel Jones and his weird sense of humor. "That is, if you . . . ."
"Oh hell yes," he said, suddenly lifting her up. "Lead on my lady."
She giggled, "second door from the left."
They attempted to kiss down the hallway but that ended in laughter, so she just settled for kissing his neck until they got to her bed.
He laid her down gently and whispered, "I love you."
"I love you too."
Then on that bed, they gave everything they had to each other: heart, body and soul.
Quite some time later, they were laying in each other's arms, finally getting around to talking it out.
"So you actually thought me and Tommy?"
He kissed her forehead. "I saw you dancing with him and I got so jealous. But then that whole thing with Mary Sue happened and then you nearly kissed me in the bedroom . . . ."
"That was totally real by the way," Cassandra said. "Not that I didn't mostly mean all the other kisses too."
"Same," Jacob smiled. "I kept coming up with excuses why you should kiss me."
"I thought so! Anyway, what made you think?"
"I fell asleep that night realizing that I was in love with you. I thought I still had a chance with you, so I was going to talk to you in the morning before anyone else was up. But you were gone when I woke up so I took my time getting ready thinking I could talk to you when we got back to the Annex. But then Allen told me Tommy was over. And when I went to find you, I saw you give him your number and hug him. I thought he'd asked you out. And then you were getting all those texts and calls from him . . . ."
She shook her head. "Tommy was telling me he'd asked Laura out. And I was so pleased with my match making skills that I hugged him. If you'd actually looked, you'd have seen that he was awkward about it. And I gave him my number to keep me posted! And these days most of those texts and calls are actually from Laura. She and I have become good friends."
"Cassie, I am so sorry, so sorry, I'm such a fool."
"Shh," she said. "I won't let you talk like that. I was very vague on what Tommy wanted because I didn't think it was important to us. I should have just told you about my match making. I just didn't realize. So I'm a fool too."
"Cassandra . . . ."
She kissed him gently. "That night I'd realized I was in love with you too. I planned on telling you when we got back to the Annex. But you were so cold and you walked out on me."
"I thought you were going to tell me that you were with Langston. And I couldn't . . .I kept telling myself that I loved you enough to let you go. But I've spent weeks drunk, Cassie. And I couldn't let you go. And if I'd only had let you talk, I could have spared myself the heartache."
"I should have made you listen to me. I knew something was wrong. Instead of confronting you, I just wandered around lost in my own heartbreak. And everyone was so worried about both of us, your drinking, my sadness. Baird especially but even Ezekiel. But I wasn't brave enough to confront you." She sighed. "We should have just talked Jacob. We could have spared ourselves all these weeks of misery."
"Well from here on out, we need to make a promise to make sure we tell each other how we feel. No matter what. No more misunderstandings, no more confusion. Deal?"
Cassandra held out her hand, "deal."
He shook her hand and they both grinned. "So," Stone said, "what happens now?"
"Well," Cassandra smirked at him. "Instead of being miserable we could have spent all of these weeks together. Don't you think we should make up for lost time?"
"I reckon so," he moved in close, his lips just inches from hers. "And I think we should start right about here." Then he kissed her.