They walked side by side through the labyrinth of near empty hallways that led out of the oncologist's suite at the hospital and away from the terrible dramas that played out within its walls. Putting this crisis behind them forever, Gillian fervently hoped. All at once she found herself acutely aware of Cal's presence beside her, of the measured pace of his ambling gait and the quiet rhythm of his breathing. She was as comfortable with him as she was in her own skin, and she wouldn't trade the easy compatibility they shared for anything else in the world.
Except, possibly, for one thing alone. One thing that until these past few days she had refused to acknowledge, to consider, to even conceive. Until circumstances had underscored to her that the opportunity – if there was one – might be lost forever.
That one thing was the possibility that more than a friendship might one day grow between them.
She was aware of how he looked at her, sometimes, when he thought no one would see. The flash of longing in his eyes. Not covetous, but rather a raw, soulful yearning. As if she was the one thing in all the world that could make him complete.
The thought of it was very flattering – ridiculously, dangerously flattering. In all the years she'd been with Alec, she could never remember him looking at her like that, not even once.
And if she had any doubt that she was reading the signs correctly, she only had to remember his daughter's innocent but oh-so-fully-charged comment the other day: 'You're the most important person in his life.' And even before that, 'He's so much happier when he's with you.'
Bless Emily's perceptive little heart.
Before, when she'd been married, she'd diligently devoted herself to ignoring those signs. Never admitted to herself that she knew precisely how he really felt about her. Never permitted herself to wonder if she might ever feel the same. That was why they had their boundaries, their rules of conduct. Their line in the sand – one on each side, no crossing over.
She liked having boundaries. Boundaries were good. Boundaries were safe.
And Cal always respected the boundaries.
But that was the problem with lines in the sand, she mused. They were only fixed, immoveable elements as long as the beach was dry. When the waters of life rose and started to nibble away at the edges, everything began to change.
Because now when he looked at her like that it stopped her heart.
If the last few days had revealed anything to her, they'd revealed that she cared far more deeply for Cal Lightman than she'd ever begun to imagine. He was arrogant, exasperating, childish and endearing. He trusted her implicitly, and knew her better than anyone alive. And that, even more than the magnetism of his dynamic personality that had attracted her from the very beginning, was finally impelling her to contemplate what she was contemplating now.
Because what if you were with someone who knew the absolute, unvarnished truth about you, who saw all your failings – all your faults and flaws – and loved you anyway? Someone who accepted you without hesitation or equivocation, who didn't want or need for you to be anyone but yourself. How rare, how impossibly, infinitely precious that would be.
Could Cal possibly be that person for her? Could she for him?
He liked to say that you could have either truth or happiness, but never both. Cold hard facts or rose-tinted glasses. Ne'er the two shall meet.
But she wasn't so sure. Cal knew her better than anyone else in the world – certainly better than Alec ever had – and yet he still looked at her as though she was the solitary ingredient that was missing from his life. It gave her a shred of hope that he was wrong, that he only felt that way because he'd never foreseen the possibility of actually having both at once. After all, it might be a once in a lifetime opportunity.
A once in a lifetime opportunity – would she ever be able to forgive herself if it came along and she passed it up?
No, Gillian decided as the delicate seed of hope began to take root in her heart, she wouldn't.
She took a deep, deliberate breath, and then lifted her arm from her side and took Cal's hand, lacing her fingers through his.
He stopped short, gazing down at their entwined digits like he'd never seen appendages before. The look of dazed astonishment that flooded over his face was palpable, almost comical, as he processed the meaning of this subtle, gentle joining of their hands – a small and simple act, yet quietly profound.
Biting his lip, he squeezed her fingers and then drew one arm across her shoulders, pulling her in tight against his side. Shooting her a sidelong glance suffused with tender, shy gladness, for a moment reminding her so much of a bashful teenager out with his prom date that she had to stifle a grin.
It was time to find out if they could have both truth and happiness – and that was no lie.
Author's Note: Thank you all for taking this journey with me, and especially to those of you who were kind enough to leave reviews!