He watches her sometimes. He comes to her house, at night—only ever at night—and watches through the window. He knew they would move him, but he didn't tell her goodbye—he couldn't tell her goodbye. This, he knows, is the choice he made—but when he made that deal, he didn't know, couldn't have known, he would be giving up Gillian. So he comes now to look at the life he lost, the woman he continues to love.
He'd spent years not falling in love, always able to remind himself that it wasn't a good idea, that he probably wouldn't stay. But with Gillian, he didn't have a choice. He knows, though, that even if he did have a choice, he would have chosen the same—loving her was too good, too right, too everything he needed.
He knows he shouldn't watch her, but he does it anyway. The first time was three nights after he left, he saw her in the living room, her eyes red from crying, and he cried with her. Since then, he has come once every other week, sometimes a bit more if he has had a rough few days. Every time he visits, he knows he shouldn't, and not just because he could lose his job or his life. He hides in the shadows, trees covering his unremarkable sedan so he won't be seen. Some days, he talks to her, whispers to her from the confines of his car, and his voice sounds warbling and sad, even through the gravel he has always had in his voice box. He tells her he misses her, he tells her he loves her, he tells her goodbye, he tells her he's sorry.
If she changes with the drapes open, he closes his eyes, knowing that he gave up his right to look at her like that the moment he walked out of her life. But he still dreams of her—of her slender arms wrapped around her neck, kissing her in the morning—they have a life together in his dreams. They snuggle and watch Netflix, laugh and play board games; it's all so mundane really, but in his dreams they are so deliriously happy. If he had been told 5 years ago that the life he would dream about was one with a pretty woman in the suburbs, he'd have said it was crazy. But now it's those dreams that bring him comfort.
It's been 8 months since he left, and in his gut he knows what he's been waiting for. It's what he's been dreading, what he can't help but think of when he thinks back on his time in that warehouse—he still has a tiny mark on his forehead, the white skin puckers slightly from where he was hit—but that's not the biggest scar he has from that night.
So, now here he sits—the October air outside is chilly, and dead leaves have hurled themselves from their branches to land on the hood of his car. He watches as they flutter softly to the ground, rustled by a gust of wind. And then another car pulls up—his stomach lurches, as the car turns off. He recognizes the man who steps out of the car, and his stomach flips as the man looks around, and then strolls casually up to the door.
The man's footsteps fall heavily on the walkway leading to Gillian's house, his feet point out, his distinctive walk carrying him to the door. When he arrives, he rings the doorbell, and then jams his hands down into his pockets, waiting.
Burns watches intently, as Gillian pulls something from the oven, takes off the potholders, and walks to the front door. He notices that when she opens it, she's smiling. His stomach twists tighter as he realizes he's seen that smile before. She reaches out to embrace the man, and leads him inside, her hand wrapping tightly around his as she closes the door behind them.
Burns can't see anymore, but he knows this is what he has been waiting for—he knows this will be his last night here.
When Gillian and the man enter the kitchen, he watches as they prepare for a meal together—he helps prepare the salad, puts his hand on her hip to reach behind her, and Burns hears his own words echoing in his head.
"What's your game? You jealous?"
He watches as Gillian serves him a meal—he can read the man's lips as he says "thanks, love," and then rubs the pad of his thumb over her cheek. Burns presses his eyes shut, the air in the car quiet.
"You can't stand me being around Gillian."
Burns sighs. He knows he should leave—it's the decent thing to do—it's always been the decent thing to do, but he can't do it. He doesn't know why he has to stay, but he knows he can't leave—can't say his true goodbye to Gillian and the life they could have had just yet.
"Your feelings for her are the only reason that you're here. You want the truth? Be honest."
Dinner is over, and they're putting the dishes in the sink after a quick rinse. Burns imagines Gillian saying "We'll leave these for later," and he feels sadness wash over him—there was a time that he was the man she grabbed by the hand and led out of the kitchen. He'd never even realized precisely how much he'd wanted to be that man to Gillian until he wasn't anymore.
"Admit it. You want her."
Burns is still, his breathing measured—he hasn't allowed himself to feel this sad in a very long time, not since that night eight months ago. He'd known this was the moment he'd been waiting for, but it somehow didn't take the sting away—it didn't cut him any less to know that, after all this time, it was truly over. More than anything, he wished he'd never left. More than anything, he wished he'd said goodbye, not to Gillian, but to his whole life before he her.
"Yes I do. In the worst possible way."
Dave Burns knew that Cal Lightman was telling the truth in that warehouse. He'd framed it as a lie, but Burns had seen the truth. He looked at Gillian, and he knew she'd seen it to. If he was honest with himself, maybe that's the real reason he left—maybe that's the real reason he didn't give up everything. He wasn't an expert on reading faces, but in his line of work he knew more than the average person how to read a face—so maybe it wasn't what was on Cal Lightman's face that made him leave. Maybe it was what was on Gillian's face, instead.
Dave started the car, and let it idle for a moment, taking one last look through the window, the soft glow illuminating the world outside, the night growing colder. He felt the heat in his car began to kick on, and he was thankful for the respite; it turned out, he was thankful for a lot. Through the sadness, he could see that much.
He watched, then, as Gillian leaned forward on her couch, her arm draped over the soft white fabric, and kissed Cal Lightman. When she pulled back, Dave watched her smile—he watched her lips curl up, he watched her eyes crinkle, and then he watched her laugh. He could hear the sound in his head, and he couldn't help but smile at the memory, at the sound that echoed through his mind even now, after so long.
This, he knew, was the moment he was waiting for. So, he put the car in drive, cruised down the street, his heart a strange sad mixture of sadness and joy, of letting go. After eight months of watching her, he had finally seen what he needed to see—what he needed to know she could be after what he put her through.
Gillian Foster, happy.