Over the years I had become adept at many things. There was one skill that had always remained elusive. I had never bothered trying to control it, because to be honest, I had never had anything that anyone would have ever wanted.
I was usually the one that coveted what others had. I wasn't used to this feeling.
Someone wanted something I had, and I didn't like it.
I never noticed anything between them until Angela tasked me with looking over hours of footage from The Company, namely Peter's room from when he'd been here. It was a boring job. But I needed to stay close to her, and she needed me close without doing anything too important.
For hours I stared at the footage, watching Peter pace, and talk to himself for hours on end. The only time it got interesting was when she came in.
I leaned closer, focusing the screen onto her face.
She smiled at me, but it had never been as bright.
She always greeted me warmly when I arrived home in the evenings. The arm that wasn't holding our son would wrap around my waist as best she could, a kiss would follow, and the standard questions.
I had become skilled at reading other people, with or without the ability to read their minds. I never saw anything in Elle that made me doubt her feelings towards me. Things had been difficult at first. We were both incredibly new at this kind of thing, we made mistakes, we fought, but we remained by each other's side.
I know that I love her, and I know that she loves me in return.
I just couldn't shake the feeling that maybe I wasn't the only one who loved her.
There were few constants in our life together. We both wanted to create a normal family for our son, and for the most part we succeeded. My new arrangement with Angela meant I was home most nights for dinner, with Elle staying home and looking after our little Noah during the day. It was a struggle at times, neither of us really having any idea just what we were doing, but we got there.
We were our only little family, we happy together just as we were. There were times when I think Elle felt overwhelmed with everything. She would do it all with a smile on her face, unable to let me see that she was struggling. I could feel it though. She would fall asleep on the lounge before we'd even put Noah down, the smile often failing to reach her eyes.
I didn't know how to make this easier for her, I, just like her was learning as we went along. There weren't a lot of people that we trusted that could help us, and the books only guided you so far.
One person was able to show us how to do things though; he had been trained after all. Elle would tease him with a smile. He would always flush when she did.
Peter had become the only real family that we had.
I would sometimes come home in the afternoons, and find them together. Just sitting together on the lounge, Noah playing on the floor in front of them.
I always felt uncomfortable, like I was interrupting something that was just between them.
Which was ridiculous – this was my house. This was my family.
I became grateful to Angela for her giving me this mundane task. To her it was nothing but a way to keep me around, but out of the way. To me it gave me an insight into something I wanted to know more about, but didn't dare ask. She would brush it off if I asked, so I didn't.
There were many long hours of watching Peter sitting by himself, pacing the floor. The only time it got interesting was when Elle came in. She would sit close to him, a brilliant smile on her face. I knew I shouldn't compare this Elle to the one who loved me. This was a different time, back when her life hadn't been so complicated.
I wouldn't swap the life I had with her now, but I couldn't help but wish that her smile came as easy as it did back then.
Elle asked me what I was doing at The Company. I wanted to tell her, I almost started to. Then I began to recall the things she told me, the feelings that still lingered when she remembered everything about her relationship with her father. She would wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, she wouldn't tell me what she dreamed about, but I could hear her muttering before she awoke about him.
She didn't remember him fondly, or that time in her life. It would only hurt her to know what I spent hours looking at each day, thankfully Noah gave a short cry from his bedroom, and Elle dashed down to him.
I couldn't tell her.
Peter had little to do with his mother anymore. He didn't trust her, and she couldn't manipulate him any longer. Their relationship faded away.
He didn't come into the Company that often, so I was surprised to find him outside the little room I was holed away in. Angela and his voices were raised as they came towards the room. I changed the monitor to one of the security cameras on Level Five as he came in. He didn't need to see me watching Elle and him having dinner in his room one evening.
Peter took me down to the cafeteria for lunch. Normally I ate a sandwich in front of the screen, watching the same moments over and over again. As he talked I couldn't help but see the smile that he gave her, wondering if he hadn't been faking everything back then.
It wasn't healthy, I could see what it was doing to me, but I carried on. Watching the same scenes repeatedly, taking so much from very little. He touched her shoulder, she laughed a little louder than she did when I amused her.
I started watching them closely at home. Sitting down with Noah on the floor, pretending to be so engrossed in the train making its way around the tracks, but I was listening to their quiet words. They would talk about his work, what Noah had done that day, it was all so simple. It was when they stopped talking that I really started listening. Sitting close together, they were watching us, but their attention still seemed locked on each other.
I took a lot from those moments, telling myself that I was being a fool for thinking these thoughts. There was nothing there.
She loved me.
I decided that I had to do something. I couldn't carry on watching these tapes, and not ask her. When we'd finished dinner, with Noah tucked away in bed, we were putting away the toys in the living area when I asked her.
If there had been anything between Peter and her while he'd been at The Company. She looked confused for a moment, asking me if I meant now or when he'd been staying there.
There was nothing there; he didn't like her in that way at all. He'd just used her naivety to escape. She could hardly fault him for that.
But did you like him? Was there ever a moment when you felt something for him.
One Mississippi. Two Mississippi. Three Mississippi.
No, she didn't.
There was a faraway look in her eyes when we went to bed that night.
She held the book in her hands. I noticed that she didn't turn a page. As I put my book to the side, turning off my light I asked how it was. Flashing a smile quickly at me, she said it was fine.
A small kiss on my cheek and she rolled over, shutting out her lamp.
It was several hours till I heard her heart slow as sleep took over.
The next morning Elle was her normal cheery self, fixing me some lunch before taking Noah to the park. I told her I would come in late, maybe join them down there. She shook her head, saying it was important that I go to work. I could always join them another day. There was a light dusting of snow covering the ground as she pushed the stroller down the path away from me.
She didn't look back.
Several days later, Angela came into my small room, a black case in her hand. She had found it clearing through the boxes in Mr. Bishop's former office. From the dates it was from when Peter was here, it probably wasn't important as it was kept away from all the others. Nonetheless she wanted me to watch it, and see if there was anything of value.
I ignored the tiny smirk on her face as she left, inserting the new disc into the computer.
It was Peter. I had never seen this footage before. I watched him pour a handful of pills into the toilet, flushing it quickly as Elle came in. They sat together on the edge of his bed, Peter practising his new ability. She departed with a short spark to the back of his head as she went.
I speeded through the next twelve hours of footage till she returned. Focusing the screen on her face as he pulled her down next to him, wishing for not the first time that audio accompanied the visual. Her smile faded as surprise took over, eyes widening as he moved closer. I leaned as close as possible as I slowed it down.
Before I left that day I took the disc back to Angela, throwing it onto her desk.
There's nothing important there, but you already knew that didn't you?
Her smile answered my question.
I think I had always known that there was something there. That something had to have happened between them. It was too awkward at first; it had taken them several months for them to relax in the others presence. I had thought it was because of Peter's stay at the Company, and the part that Elle had played, looking on the other as the enemy. Holding onto grudges from their former lives, Peter actively avoided his mother as much as was possible.
I had never thought that it was because of anything of the romantic persuasion.
They weren't home when I got there. I pulled one of the photo albums off the shelf, flipping through the pages as I sat on the lounge. Happy snaps of our son, us with him, birthday dinners. It was all so normal, the happy little family that we had both longed for. Plus one, he appeared in most of the photos. Whether behind it or smiling along with us. I knew he was a big part of our lives, I didn't realise that he was always there.
Elle and Noah arrived home a little later. I took the bags of groceries from her hand. She let Noah down with his toys, before moving into the kitchen to put the shopping away. She was going to attempt to make meatballs again, third time's the charm.
Sounds good to me, will Peter be joining us?
He was in New York for the week, didn't I remember?
Maybe next time.
She smiled when I said that, hopefully she'd have them figured out by then.
Later after Noah was down for the night, I told her to leave the dishes, and took her by the hand. Shutting the door behind us, I led her to the bed. Taking my time I slowly pulled her clothes off. Showing her just how much I did love her. Kissing her softly, moving my hands over her, I knew just where to. I was the only one who knew this. I was the only one who could love her like this.
Holding her in my arms I believed the declaration that she echoed, I fell asleep easily that night.
She loved me.
The next week passed happily for me, I brushed off my thoughts of the last month. It was nothing. Elle didn't care for Peter the way she did for me, he was just a friend to us. Elle needed to have people other than me that she could talk with, I could understand that. It didn't matter if they had kissed once two years ago now.
What mattered was now, and now she was with me.
Angela gave me a new task in the office, far away from the footage from the video cameras. It helped me to forget my suspicions. I didn't tell her that I had burnt copies of all the tapes weeks earlier, including the one she found.
I told myself I was keeping them for all the right reasons; whatever they may be.
I went to the park that weekend. Pushing the stroller down the sidewalk with Elle beside me, we were all bundled up as a light snow fell. I pushed the swing for Noah, built a snowman out of the small amount of snow on the ground, chasing and catching her as she put a handful of it under my collar.
It was seemingly taken right from one of those incredibly cheesy holiday stories, the perfect, happy family, playing in the snow. I loved every minute of it.
Peter returned the following week. I came home from work, and he was sitting on our lounge, reading a story to Noah.
He stayed for dinner; I told myself that Elle's smile when he approved of her meatballs was just the same as when I had.
Seemed it was easier to ignore the thought that there were some lingering feelings between them when he was hundreds of miles away.
I couldn't sleep any longer. I lay awake all night, listening to Elle sleep, my thoughts taking over.
I began analysing every moment that they had together. Last Christmas when Peter gave her a present, or the hug on her birthday. All the words that passed between them ran on repeat. I pulled them apart searching for meaning in every word.
After awhile I couldn't lie there any longer, so I'd go downstairs, and pull out the discs from the Company. I'd watch them till the sun came up, when I'd return to bed, and wait for Elle to awaken. Then I'd go to work, before returning home to do the same once again.
I didn't spend all that much time alone with Peter. Occasionally he'd come into the Company, but he never stayed long. His life was elsewhere, he wanted nothing to do with what they were doing. Elle saw him alone, he'd come around the house during the day when I was at work. I never used to worry about it. I was glad that he was keeping her company.
I started to come home for lunch, and they'd be in the kitchen, preparing Noah's lunch. After that I'd start coming home early. Sometimes they would be there, always doing something normal, regular.
That weren't home when I got there a few weeks later, Elle's car was parked in the garage, but the stroller was gone. The snow had been falling steadily when I was driving home, so there was no chance that they were out for a walk.
They were with him.
I waited for several hours; the sky was getting dark outside of the windows. I know they would be safe with Peter, he would never let any harm come to them. He was as protective as I was, I could trust him to look after them, but I didn't trust him as much as I used to.
They came in the door an hour after I got home. Elle carried Noah in, placing him in the play pen. She went and held the door open for Peter, as he dragged in a tree.
Isn't it great? She asked me, a large smile on her red face.
They went and bought a Christmas tree, without me.
Noah's first tree - and she'd gone with Peter.
I had worked so long at controlling my emotions, containing my rage, stopping myself.
Around Elle, especially around Noah, I stayed calm, and in complete control.
They had gone to the shops, to pick up some things for Christmas. I had stayed home, with the premise of hanging the lights outside. I didn't go outside though. I remained inside, unable to take my eyes off the tree.
It had given me something to watch every night when I couldn't sleep. I could spend hours looking at it, it was a simple tree, but there was something behind it. It was building inside of me, bubbling below the surface.
It had become a symbol of their relationship, one that ran perfunctory to mine. There was something there. I couldn't ignore it any longer.
I was still staring at it when they returned home, rolls of wrapping paper falling out of her arms as she came inside.
She balanced Noah on her hip as she walked into the living area.
I asked her.
Peter and me? He's our friend.
Do not lie to me, there's something going on...
She shook her head, pulling Noah closer to her, folding both arms around him. Gabriel, what's wrong?
I've been fooling myself into thinking that there's nothing between you two, even a blind man is going to see it.
See what? Elle stepped backwards a little, her arms tightening around Noah.
I could feel my temperature rising as she walked backwards, crashing into the wall behind her. Peter, you love him. Don't you?
No! I love you.
I laughed at that, closing the distance between us. You loved him back then, you feel exactly the same now. I was just your in-between.
No, Gabriel. Her eyes flashed down to my hands, they widened as they met mine again. Please, believe me. I am not lying to you. I would never lie to you. I love our life together, and I wouldn't change it for anything. Please...
Noah started to cry as she whispered, Elle unwrapped one of her arms, her face falling.
I woke up later laying in glass, rain falling steadily over me. I was on the deck.
The house was empty, the tree still alight in the corner. I found a note on the kitchen bench.
I love you. Don't try and find us.
I went to the Company instead. I went straight to Angela. She didn't look surprised when I entered her office without knocking.
What did you see?
She was happy. She was safe, protected, and my son had grown into a wonderful boy.
Was this what you always saw?
No. I used to be there.
She never lied to you.