Disclaimer: Still don't (and never will) own any of these characters
Time, Cal reflected, was a funny thing. Sometimes it would seem to fly by, while other days dragged on forever. A boring hour long meeting could feel like about five hours, while a day at the park with his daughter could fly by in what seemed like minutes.
Some memories were so clearly etched into his mind, it seemed impossible to believe they didn't happen just yesterday, while other, more recent events, seemed to recoil further into the past. Sometimes, when speaking to Emily, he could hardly believe how quickly she'd grown up; at other times, it seemed like another lifetime that he was cradling her in his arms as a newborn.
Some things happened so quickly in life, while other things took a long time to materialise. Your life could change in a heartbeat, while other, equally as significant, moments were stretched out over time.
His mother had disappeared from his life in a heartbeat, but, if he was honest, he'd spent his entire childhood slowly watching her disappear. Each day, fading a little more until she was gone altogether.
And then there was Foster.
How long had it taken him to fall in love with Gillian Foster? Not very long at all. Half a second to realise he fancied her. Half a minute to realise he liked her. Half an hour to realise he was developing a serious crush on her. Half a day to realise he was in love with her. How long had it taken for him to admit his feelings for her, to do something more than just dream of the life they could have together? Nine years. And counting.
There'd been complications, that had been his excuse. He was married, for a start. What kind of man falls in love with another woman when he already has a wife and child? And then there was the small matter of her marriage – the day she'd walked down the aisle and pledged to love, honour and obey a man that Cal knew would never be good enough for her, would never love her the way he did. But he told her how he felt, didn't he? Which is more than you ever did. Coward.
Then he'd divorced Zoe. Two years had passed – her marriage too had crumbled, and yet still he had said nothing. Done nothing. Nothing except give her long, lingering looks when he thought she wouldn't notice. Brush up against her whenever he could. Hug her and kiss her a little more often than they used to. Did she notice? Did she like it? Did she want more?
Sometimes he thought she did. Sometimes she would look at him with those beautiful blue eyes, and Cal would feel like the entire world had disappeared from beneath him, leaving just the two of them, and this great unspoken secret between them. Feelings. Why did they have to be so complicated?
He couldn't have just made a move right after her divorce, he told himself. She needed time to heal. Damn time again.
But now there was Reynolds. He'd taken her out on the town in Vegas. While you were busy being a complete bastard, Cal thought grimly. Reynolds couldn't keep his eyes off Gillian anymore. There were whispered conversations, covert looks, shy smiles. How long did you think it would be before she started dating again? Really? He berated himself for his lack of courage every day. You've missed your chance. Again.
One day, he thought, gently tracing his finger around the edge of the wooden photo frame he held in his hands. The frame that held a picture of him and Gillian. Business partners. Best friends. Nothing more. Yet.
One day, I'll tell her.
Gillian sat in her office, twirling a spoon around her fingers. She'd just devoured a chocolate pudding, her favourite snack, but was feeling unusually bereft. Perhaps the sugar rush just hadn't hit her yet. Nothing was particularly amiss today to darken her mood, but there was a heavy feeling in her chest that a glucose fix hadn't erased.
Moments earlier, she'd got off the phone with Simon, the man she'd been on a date with last night. Simon, a teacher who loved books, who had travelled the world and was attractive and smart and funny and sweet and a perfect gentleman. Simon, who had called and asked to see her again. Simon, that she'd just turned down.
Am I crazy? She thought with a sigh. Perhaps. She had, after all, spent a perfectly pleasant evening with a charming, interesting man who ticked all the right boxes, who took her to a lovely restaurant and was nothing less than chivalrous and friendly all night. And what had she done? Sat there all evening thinking about another man entirely. A man who infuriated her sometimes, who gambled away money their company desperately needed, who took risks with his own life because he didn't seem to understand that his life was her life, or as good as. A man who was willing to do anything to get to the truth, which sometimes meant taking things too far. A man with an incredible talent for pissing people off. A man that she had been hopelessly in love with for almost a decade.
But she'd never told him; not with words, anyway.
There had always been obstacles in their way; his wife, his child, her husband. There hadn't been a time when it had ever felt right to act on her feelings, even if there were times she glimpsed arousal or lust or even – dare she say it – love from him. What was she going to do, steal him away from his wife? Cheat on her own husband? She might as well rob a bank or commit a murder; all these things were heavily inked in the NO section of Gillian's moral code.
But there were times… oh, there were times when she was tempted. When Zoe left him, and she was there to comfort him. How easy it would have been to let a friendly hug turn into a kiss, to turn the words "you'll find love again" to "I love you," to simply wash away his pain by letting him see into her eyes without her guard up – let him see her love for him, unmasked and unhidden.
When she lost Sophie, Alec had retreated into his work to ease the pain, leaving Cal to be the one to pick up the pieces, just as she'd done for him so many times. She could have sought a different kind of comfort in his arms from the one he offered, but that would have been wrong, and she knew it.
When he opened his heart to her on the anniversary of his mother's death every year, allowing her to see the raw pain and emotional scars that she was so desperate to heal, she could have done something. Kissed away his tears instead of delicately wiping them away. Used her soothing voice to tell him she loved him, instead of simply "I'm here for you."
But she hadn't.
So what now, Gillian? she asked herself, irritated. You're just going to reject every perfectly good man who's interested in you because they're not Cal Lightman? It seemed like a sure fire way to guarantee she'd end up alone.
But settling for anyone else seemed dishonest. She'd done it once; married a man who she'd always known would be second best, because the cruel timing of life meant she'd met Cal after he was married. That relationship had crumbled – who was to say any other would fare better? And was it really fair to make a man believe she was giving him her heart, when she knew there was only one man who could ever truly lay claim to it?
There was only one other alternative. Tell him how you feel. Part of her was desperate to – desperate to end this incessant waiting game. Desperate to finally confess her feelings, pent up for so long because circumstances dictated she be his friend, his business partner, Alec's wife.
But another part of her was scared. Terrified, actually. Of the sting of rejection, of losing him should things not work out. To spend her life loving him from afar was painful, admittedly, but they were still close enough as friends to share moments that were truly joyous. If that friendship were to be irreparably broken because she asked for too much… That, Gillian knew, she would not be able to handle.
So here she sat. Eating chocolate pudding at ten in the morning, rejecting men who were interested in her, thinking, as she so often did, about Cal.
She placed the spoon back on her desk, determined to focus on her work for the day and not spend any longer thinking about what she couldn't have. She'd spent too many hours daydreaming about Cal, those thoughts needed to be pushed to the side for now. Until the day came when things would change. The timing had never been right for them; whether it ever would be, Gillian had no way of knowing, but the only way she could console herself now was to trust fate. If it's meant to be, it will happen, she told herself firmly. When the time is right, I'll know. And if not… so be it. One day, she told herself, making a silent promise, I'll tell him.