Eric was standing with the fridge door open, Ryan's orange-juice carton in hand, when he heard the door to the break-room open. He took a gulp as he turned his head, nearly choking on the cool liquid when he met the reddened eyes of the woman that greeted him. She smiled softly, brushing her hands down the front of her blouse as he set the carton back in the fridge, wiping his mouth with his other hand.
"Calleigh," He breathed. "are you alright?"
She tested out a genuine smile, but it faltered and she had to take a deep breath, licking her lips as she did her best to form the right words. She was fighting off tears, he could tell and as she looked away, chewing down harder on her lip, he felt the need to be closer to her.
He'd barely made it three steps across the room before she looked back to him. He stopped in his tracks. "I don't know." She whispered and before he knew it, he had his arms wrapped around her. Since he'd heard about her pregnancy, he'd been somewhat distant with her, he knew that, and the fact that she'd come to him just now, baffled him slightly. But the idea that she was having Jake's baby and not his, didn't erase the fact that whenever he saw her eyes brimming with tears, he wanted to pull out his gun and hunt down the bastard that had put them there. He could feel her sobbing against his chest and knew that there was going to be mascara stains against the red and white, floral, design. Not that he cared in the slightest. He just wanted to know what it was that had her so upset.
"Calleigh," He brushed a hand over her hair. "what happened?"
She stayed silent for several moments, taking deep breaths with her cheek against his chest; attempting to calm herself before she spoke, he supposed. With one final, deep, breath, Calleigh straightened and looked up at him. He didn't remove his hands from her shoulders and to his surprise, she didn't drop her hands from his waist, either.
"I broke up with Jake."
He wasn't entirely sure how he should answer that. To say that he was surprised would be a lie, to say that he was disappointed would be even moreso and the worst part about that was that she would know, instantly. To say that he was sorry, could go either way. "Aw, Cal." He hugged her again, finding within himself, that what she needed right now, wasn't really words. She knew how he felt and he knew her too well. That's why she had come. That's why she would always come to him.
"I just," She wavered on her feet, pressing her forehead to his chest as she closed her eyes. "I just wanted to ask if I could get a ride home? I sort of told Jake that you'd already offered." Eric brushed his fingers down the side of her face, holding her hair back from her eyes. "I didn't want to go with him."
"Okay." Was all he said. But he knew that if she asked for anything else, from here on in, he would say yes.
"I'll just get my things." She said softly, dropping her hands from his waist and taking a few steps back. She smiled slightly, holding a hand to her belly and he knew that her tears were more for her daughter than for herself. But he said nothing. Calleigh turned on her heel, disappearing out the door as quietly as she'd come and Eric was left standing there, wondering what he wouldn't give to have been Jake, to have had the chance to avoid that shattered look in her eyes. He knew that man could have saved her from it; would have, even, if he had half an inkling of just what he was doing to her.
At times, he had felt respect for Jake in the way he cared for Calleigh. But all the gifts and sweet-nothings were not going to make up for this. It didn't matter that she'd made the decision to break up with him; by his actions, Jake had abandoned her. And Eric couldn't find it in himself to forgive him.
"Did you wanna drop by Jake's?" Eric asked, his hands gripped tightly to the steering wheel as Calleigh was reaching over into the backseat, trying to scavange for Cleo's favourite toy that was wedged behind the baby-seat.
"No." Calleigh shook her head, dropping back into her seat and handing Cleo the bear with a playful grin meant for her daughter even though she didn't particularly feel up to smiling. She turned to Eric. "He won't be there."
Eric didn't really know what to say. He knew that there was every chance she was right, and he wasn't really in the mood to face off with Jake anyway. Calleigh would deal with it in her own time, in her own manner. He just wanted to get it over and done with, so that she could relax.
"How about that ice cream then?" He smirked in her direction and Calleigh giggled when Cleo let out a great "YAY!" and threw her arms into the air, launching the bear backwards, accidently getting it lodged against the back window.
"You've lost it now, sweetpea." Calleigh laughed as Cleo dropped her hands into her lap and pouted.
"Don't make that sour face." Eric laughed, looking at her through the rear-view mirror. "How about some Moose-tracks?"
She was back to excited again in a matter of seconds. Calleigh just grinned and the issue with Jake was almost forgotten. Almost.
"How are you feeling?" Eric questioned, resolutely staying focused on the road ahead of him as he turned into her street. "I mean, apart from what happened with Jake."
Calleigh smiled softly, still looking down at her hand rested on her belly. She'd been watching her own hand moving back and forth across the stretched purple fabric since they'd left the MDPD parking-lot. She hadn't said much, just moved her fingers back and forth as though she were caressing her baby's back. And maybe she was, in her minds eye. He could imagine that it would be a soothing daydream to get lost in. "I'm alright, I mean, the doctor says that we're both healthy so I think I'm okay."
"That's good." Eric wasn't really sure where to go from there. Since she had told him she was pregnant, he'd closed off from their friendship all but completely. He was there when she needed him, for a hug or a late-night beer and no conversation when Jake decided to disappear all those times that she got used to him, disappearing. She didn't talk about Jake with him and he was grateful for it, but apparently that had given her very little to talk about. Frankly, he'd simply forgotten the ease with which they used to talk. They used to dance around each other so expertly but all of a sudden he realised that he'd forgotten the steps.
Coming around the bend towards her house, Eric looked up when she gasped. They could see her house and they were closing in on it but Calleigh was suddenly rigid. Her back stiffened and she sat up straighter, gripping the handle on the door until her knuckles went white.
"Keep driving." She stated and Eric looked to her momentarily.
"Are you sure?" He eyed her, the car in her driveway and the bags on the front step.
"Yes," She turned to him, eyes pleading and he'd never seen her so raw before. "please, Eric, just keep going."
"He's going to see the Hummer."
"I don't care if he knows it's us, I just don't want to deal with him right now."
"Okay," He soothed, reaching over to grasp her hand against her leg. "it's alright, I'll keep going." Hitting his foot to the gas, Eric sped past.
And they didn't see the reddened eyes watching them from the nursery window.
Jake slumped down into the sofa. He had a bag laying haphazardly in the hall and a pile of magazines sitting stacked up on the floor beside it. There were two suitcases full of his clothes out on the front step and he figured that was one of the two things that had forced her to keep on driving when she'd come up to the house.
Dropping his head into his hands, he sighed deeply. "What have I done?" He asked the silence of her house. Normally the smell of her perfume, drifting down the hall, eased him into a feeling of comfort and security. It created a solid home in his life, where he had no other. She'd been his rock and it killed him to realise that he hadn't been hers.
He didn't blame her for what had happened. He couldn't, wouldn't blame her for protecting herself and their baby. In fact, he loved her all the more for putting their little girl first. He thought that maybe if she wasn't pregnant, if it was only her heart available to break, she might have given him another chance. But he supposed that he'd never know how it would have happened, had she not been pregnant.
Taking a deep breath, Jake wiped the tears away from his eyes. He hadn't realised that he'd been crying until he wiped his hand across his face and it startled him a little, to see the moisture there. "Pull it together, Berkeley." He muttered, striding across the room to grab his bag. "You're crying over a girl." He chastised himself, stopping in the centre of the hall to look back into her pristine little home. There was no trace of him left in her livingroom. Not a shirt over the back of the couch, not a magazine on the coffee table. It was as if he'd never even been there and he supposed that that was how she wanted it. "She's just another girl." He tried to justify, fighting the want to tear up again. She was just another girl. But, he knew she wasn't.
Calleigh had always been different to all the other girls. In college and now, she'd always been special. She'd always understood him. When Eric had loathed him, Horatio had chastised him and the others all looked to him with distaste. Calleigh had understood, somewhere, somehow. She couldn't keep on understanding now, though. And he knew that, deep down. She couldn't go on forever, understanding and understanding while she had a little girl that wanted him to be her Daddy.
She'd made the right choice, for herself and their baby and with a deep breath and a heavy heart, he respected her decision.
He stepped backwards out the front door, locking it with his key before leaving it there, underneath the doormat. He took one last look as he dragged his things towards his car, trying to ignore the nagging memory of seeing Eric driving the hummer, seeing Calleigh's scared expression as he'd hit the gas and screamed on past. He had to forget it. He had to ignore what he'd always known Eric felt for Calleigh, he had to ignore that there had always been that little something from her end too, that sort of made him feel left out.
Calleigh didn't break up with him so that she could be with Eric, he was sure of that. It wasn't her way and she was the one that had fought so hard to make what little they had, work. He could only blame himself for not fighting for what was being offered to him. For not fighting for what a better man was waiting in the wings for.
He didn't have a right to care anymore. He didn't have a right to ask her to come back. She could do what she wanted and he was going to have to stand by and watch, never getting close. He was going to have to live with what he'd done and he supposed that watching his daughter grow up from the sidelines, was his punishment.
It didn't matter that his heart was broken too.
"The beach?" Calleigh questioned, running her hands along her thighs, nervously. She was still shaken from seeing Jake's car outside her house and it had taken most of the drive down to Miami Beach for her to let go of the death-grip she had on Eric's hand. Eric put her extreme reactions down to hormones. Normally, the Calleigh he knew wouldn't be acting this way. She'd be quiet and withdrawn, maybe a little shaken. But he'd never seen her so scared before.
"Yeah," He smiled sideways, trying to meet her eye. "I remembered how the waves always relax you."
She did look up at him then, smiling wider than she had all afternoon. "It's hard for me to get across the sand, these days, you know." She said softly, brushing her fingers across her belly and Eric grinned.
"It's alright," He breathed, looking into her eyes. "I'll hold your hand."
The coy smile that he'd seen only a few times before, reached up from beneath her lashes. "Okay." She whispered, the way she had that day he'd been terrified to send her home alone. The day she'd been chloroformed and held hostage and he didn't know if he was ever going to see her again.
Eric hopped down from the Hummer, running around to her side as fast as he could so that she wouldn't climb out by herself. Of course, by the time he reached her she already had one foot touching the ground and a mischevious glint in her eye at knowing just what he'd been trying to do.
"I wanted to be chivalrous." He pouted and Calleigh laughed softly, holding out her hand for him to take it.
"Well now's your chance."
With her hand in his, Eric locked the Hummer and slowly led her down to the edge of the beach. She looked at the sand forlornly, brushing her hair back behind her ear as she pondered how exactly she was going to make it across the uneven ground with as much grace as possible.
"It's probably best if you take off your shoes." He suggested, letting go of her hands so that he could pull off his own shoes. Calleigh eyed him for a moment.
"How far are we going, exactly?"
Eric grinned up at her before pointing down to the water's edge. "I was thinking that rise looks nice and comfortable." There was a small mound in the sand, just before it dipped down to allow for the falling tide. Calleigh licked her lips and nodded resolutely, gripping his shoulder to use him as a lean in order to remove her shoes. She dropped them on the stone steps, just beside his and Eric grinned as he took her hands, leading her down into the sand.
They managed to walk about five steps before Calleigh called him to a halt. "Wait, I don't want to leave my shoes there. They're Gucci."
"I thought you, didn't have time to go to the Mall." Eric raised his hands in mock quotation marks and Calleigh rolled her eyes.
"If you must know, they were a apology present from my Dad."
Eric's smile fell away. "Oh, sorry." Leaving her where she stood, he jogged back and collected the shoes, passing her's to her before taking up her hand again and leading her down to the perfect spot he'd chosen. They dropped their shoes down in the sand and Calleigh giggled when he took both of her hands and lowered her to sit down. He was treating her like she was made of glass and after the day she'd had, she was loathe to admit that she rather liked it.
There were times in their friendship, when their silences had been comfortable and sometimes even comforting. Just to know that he was sitting by her side, that he was within arm's reach, was enough. And while they sat on the beach, Calleigh's fingers drawing errant swirls in the sand before her, she could feel that same old silence that was neither comfortable, nor awkward. Eric's posture was relaxed and his legs were out straight before him. He had one leg crossed casually over the other and his right arm braced, pressing his palm into the damp sand in his shadow. Calleigh hadn't looked at him since he'd released her hands but she could feel that every now and then, his eyes were on the side of her face.
The sun was setting over Miami. Looking out to the Atlantic ahead of them, they could see the shadows of the fishing-houses on the horizon and the orange glow of the setting sun, relfecting off the waves. It was beautiful and after the day they'd had, Calleigh was rather content to just sit there and soak up the last burst of warmth the dusk sun offered her, before it surrendered to the night. But somewhere in the midst of her silence and Eric's overwhelming presence, she felt an unbidden - yet desperate - need to explain.
She knew that Eric understood. At least, he'd tried so hard to understand over the last several months, if only in an effort to keep what little friendship remained. He'd promised, years ago, to always be there for her no matter what. And despite the pain she knew she'd caused him - with want for her own joys - he was still there. And his hand was still out-stretched. A part of her wondered if he even knew how to withdraw it.
"This baby wasn't an accident," She whispered, feeling instead of seeing Eric's surprise - In Eric's mind, he knew that Calleigh wasn't the kind of person to just fall into a situation that she couldn't handle. Accidental pregnancy was not something he could envision in Calleigh's carefully structured life. She always had a plan. She wasn't sure if his surprise was at her words or merely the fact that she'd spoken. But she didn't wish to ask. "I mean, we didn't mean to have a baby now, but,"
"You didn't not mean to either." He finished for her and Calleigh lifted her eyes slowly, looking at him through the veil of hair that had fallen partly across her face. The part of her mind that drew the partitions in their friendship, screamed at her to leave it at that. But the part of her that had always loved this man, in some form or another, battled quite recklessly for his right to know the extent of all things. He was looking out toward the sun slowly lowering behind the horizon and she didn't lay blame to him, for not meeting her eye in that moment. His feelings for her had never been a secret, and she knew that some of it would hurt him and some of it would bring him joy, but she felt he deserved to know.
"I just," She breathed. "I knew Jake in College, you know? I always felt that he'd be a great Dad and I'm not getting any younger, Eric," She chuckled and Eric smiled, glancing in her direction but not in her eyes. "not that I'm old." He laughed a little lighter at that and finally looked up at her, seeing the vibrant green of her eyes, illuminated by the glow off the water.
"Not even close." He whispered and it didn't go unnoticed, the way he raised his hand as if to reach out and touch her, though he pulled it back at the last moment, resting it on his lap.
Calleigh licked her lips and shrugged. "I just never had any doubts that he'd be a great father, and we talked about kids." Eric recalled the moment he'd shared with her, when she'd told him that she thought he'd be a great Dad too. He hadn't known what to think on that day, when he'd all but told her that he could see himself having kids with her. But she'd found out she was pregnant only weeks after that and his hopes had been so suddenly dashed. Once again, losing out to the man he felt had never deserved her in the first place. "I suppose I just never considered what it would mean for me." She finished her thought and Eric was unceremoniously pulled from his.
Blinking, he watched her watch her finger in the sand. "It's not your fault, Calleigh."
She laughed gently. "Then who's fault is it, Eric?" She looked up at him, dusting the sand from her hands. "And don't say it's all Jake's fault, because even you know that's not true."
"No," He conceded. "it's not all Jake's fault. But blaming yourself is not going to make it better. You can't go back to before, Calleigh and I really can't imagine that you'd want to." She smiled down at her hand now resting on her belly, shaking her head. "You can't change what's happened, but you can move on from it."
Calleigh took a deep breath. "I just keep wondering if I've made the right choice, though. I mean, raising a baby is hard and I've just pushed away the one person that was supposed to be beside me through all of this." She met his eye and for the first time, he saw the depth of pain there. She was afraid. "I'm alone." And Eric knew that that wasn't something Calleigh was used to being afraid of.
"No," He smiled, shuffling closer in the sand until he could reach up and press his palm to her cheek. Resting her face in his hand as his fingertips caressed her temple and his thumb grazed across her cheek. "you'll never be alone, Cal."
She flinched unintentionally and Eric pulled his hand away as she pressed her eyes closed. "Eric, please, don't do this now."
And it was clear what she thought he was saying. "Calleigh," He stopped what he was going to say, reaching for her cheek again. "open your eyes." She complied and he smiled. "You know how I feel about you, you always have." She nodded, nervously licking her bottom lip, hoping that she wouldn't have to deal with this now, she couldn't, not today. "I'm not asking for anything. I promise you, Calleigh, I won't ask for anything until you want me to. I just want you to know that I'm here. No matter what," He raised his other hand to her other cheek, cupping her face. "I'm here. I'm not going anywhere." She smiled softly and he could feel the tension in her slipping away. "I'll never ask for more than you're ready to give. But I'll always be here," He glanced at her belly. "for both of you.
With small tears gracing her cheeks, Calleigh finally let herself fall into his arms. He shuffled closer still until she could press her cheek to his chest and let his embrace sheild her from the slight chill that had rolled across the beach, as the moon traded with the sun for bounty on the skies. Stars started to stud the moonlight blue and Calleigh found herself content to just sit there, warm and safe and protected even though the only thing she was sure about was that, in just under four months, she was going to have a daughter and her entire world would be forever changed.
Calleigh slumped down into the couch, beside Eric. He smirked in her direction and she rolled her eyes dramatically. "Thanks for the help," She jibbed and Eric chuckled, reaching across her for the remote control and pulling her back with him, into his arms as he switched on the television.
"What," He protested and she knew he was smirking, even though she couldn't see him. "I'm the step-father, the good guy. I'm supposed to buy her the ice-cream, as much as she wants, when she wants. Then it makes her hyper and I leave the hard work to you."
Calleigh jabbed him playfully in the ribs with her elbow. "That's not how it works and you know it."
"Alright," He chuckled, kissing her temple as she snuggled down closer into his embrace. "alright. I'll get her tonight, when she wakes up."
"You bet your ass you will," She giggled. "she wouldn't stop bouncing in her bed until she wore herself out and collapsed."
Eric was about to laugh when the door-bell stopped him short. He could feel against his chest, the telltale signs of Calleigh's hackles starting to rise. "Want me to get it?" He whispered and she shook her head, pressing her hand to his heart as she kissed his lips quickly, before climbing up from the couch.
"No," She answered softly. "Jake's my problem."
She knew that wasn't the way Eric felt. "Calleigh, if you don't want to talk to him,"
She cut him off. "It's alright, Eric." She insisted, gripping his hand tightly to reassure him. Regardless, she knew that he was going to turn the television down low so that he could listen for any reason at all, to come out and back her up.