You tell her to finish her report and that you will be back in half an hour to pick her up. You don't wait for the inevitable protest/probing that follows your words ("Wait! Picking me up to go where? I am not dressed for going out. And I don't know if I can finish this in half an hour. Where are you going now? Harry?"), but rush out of the room and stride purposefully down the corridor. When you return 26 minutes later you find her hunched over a printout, biting the back of her biro in concentration. You stay in the door and wait for her to finish reading the page. When she finally puts both biro and page down and sighs, you make your presence known.
"On what it is I am supposed to be ready for."
"Will you stop doing that?"
You grin broadly, cross your arms in front of your chest and lean casually against the door-frame. For a second you think you can glimpse something in her eyes, as she watches you, something you don't know how to describe, but that makes your heart beat a little faster all over sudden. Then it is gone, replaced by amusement.
"You are really annoying sometimes, you know that?"
"Will you tell me where we are going?"
"Not far. You'll see. Come on."
There is regret in her voice and as you follow her gaze and realise it leads to the folder on her desk, you push yourself off the door-frame and towards her. Her left hand is resting anxiously on the top of the folder. When you reach her, you briefly cover her hand with yours. She looks up at you.
"Just a little break. Will do you good. I promise: No talking about unsuitable Angus and if you want to, I can help you with this report later."
She gives you another small smile. Her hand, the one that had been resting palms down on the folder, turns and suddenly closes around yours.
You squeeze her hand and feel her respond, as she tightens her grip just a little bit more. Her smile is softer now and when you look into her eyes, you can see that the anxiousness and anger from before is almost gone and slowly replaced by...
... something is wrong.
You clear your throat and let go of her hand.
"Just to be clear on this. I am not taking you out for an expensive dinner or a concert or the theatre, I don't have flowers or presents or even ice-cream for that matter, so don't thank me yet."
"So if we are not having dinner or music or entertainment, then were are we going?"
You nod. "Just outside."
Now she looks puzzled. "But it's almost completely dark outside."
"That's part of the plan."
"To drag me out onto the street in the dark?"
"Didn't say anything about the street..."
You finally manage to coax her out of the office and somehow once she is in the corridor things finally move a little more swiftly. You can still see the apprehension in her face, the brighter and harsher light out here revealing how dark and deep the shadows under her eyes are. You hadn't noticed before in the cosy semi-darkness of the office. You also hadn't fully noticed how tense she is. Her movements are sharp and edgy and every so often her hand reaches up to her neck. She is talking to you about the report, but you barely listen, guilt suddenly flooding your soul. Why hadn't you noticed before? She is tired. And stressed. And you hadn't noticed. You wonder how much other stuff you hadn't noticed.
"Am I doing the right thing, Harry?"
"I don't know if there is a right thing in a case like this."
You push open the door to the upper parking-deck and give her a stern look.
"Alright. Once we are through this door, no more talking shop."
"I assume this is not a "surprise/pleasure"-ah."
"No that is a "Don't even think about breaking this rule"-ah."
"Alright. But technically I am still in the building, so just to remind you, I still have work to do, so we cannot drive very far away."
"Who said anything about driving?"
You step into the warm summer night, not waiting for her, because you know she is too curious not to follow you. You make your way to the other side of the parking deck, where its almost completely dark. You can hear her catching up with you and giving a little gasp of surprise.
Next to your car - that you moved there from its previous resting place a little earlier - is a thick blanket covering the concrete floor. Two big cushions that look both in size and colour as if they'd been snatched out of two old-fashioned deck chairs are resting against the side of the car.
You are glad it's too dark to see that there are scary big red birds randomly scattered across the fabric. You are also glad, it is too dark for her to see that you forgot to remove the price-tag. You have absolutely no idea what to do with these monstrosities after tonight, but hope that your Mum might like big red scary birds. She at least *has* deck chairs to put them on.
The little light that does illuminate the scene comes from an old plastic sandwich-wrapper, spiked with a dozen pink birthday candles, two of which are shaped like the number "2".
She is giggling now. "Twenty-two? Seriously?"
"You should be flattered. I could have bought the ones with a four on it."
She shoots you an outraged look.
"Or a five or six..."
The punch on the arm that follows this suggestion is well deserved and you accept it gracefully and grin.
"Sorry, but the only other thing Tesco Express had on offer was a scented candle that smelled suspiciously like the cutting-room. Not my idea of relaxing."
"Don't take this the wrong way, Harry, but... the parking-deck isn't mine either."
You smile at her and point at the sky. "It's a lovely summer's night and I happen to know that there will be quite a spectacular light show on display tonight. Granted we are in the city and there's too much light pollution to see it in it's full glory, but if we look closely we might be able to spot a shooting star or two."
Is blinking good? You are not sure.
She is blinking again. And again.
As your eyes are adjusting to the dark you can finally spot why. There are tears in her eyes. For a second you are torn between anger and panic. Is there nothing you can do right today? But then you see the smile on her face and you realise these are actually good tears.
Apparently blinking is good.
Silence descends upon both of you. You listen to the sounds of the city below and the building behind you, but they seem far away. At first the night sky is only a brownish-grey mass with a few dots strewn across it, but as you focus on the universe above you, it becomes clearer. More defined. More and more stars emerge and you start to see a constellation or two you remember.
You don't point them out to her, though, because that would be seriously cliched, not to mention destroying the wonderful silent bubble of bliss you are both confined in at the moment. You want to tell her to sit down and get the wine you have stored on the passenger seat, but you don't do that either. Instead you move a little, so that you are standing behind her and watch her as she casts her eyes upwards.
Nikki's eyes are fixed on the sky, her features finally softening. When you spot the muscles in her neck and shoulder twitching in relief at the end of hours of tension and anger, you smile. Mission accomplished. Well, almost. You don't say anything, knowing that the truce between tired body and upset mind is still very fragile and a single wrong word might shatter it. And since single wrong words are one of your specialities today, you decide to opt for silence. Better safe than sorry.
She points up into the night excitedly now and you catch a short glimpse of a bright tiny streak of light across the sky. Then another one. And another one.
She tries to get a better view, which results in her not only leaning back, but actually into you. Not that you mind. Without even noticing it consciously you slide your arms around her, holding her in light embrace. When you do notice it, you feel ridiculously relieved that she doesn't seem to mind or notice either.
"There's another one!"
You don't know how it got there, but somehow your head is on her shoulder now, your eyes close and you give yourself up to the sweet smell of her, to the warm skin of her neck and cheek against yours and to the strange but wonderful feeling of coming home that washes over you. You know you have to draw back soon, the unspoken rule between you dictating that a maximum of half a minute of physical contact may be permitted before things became... too much. Which is a rather vague explanation for an otherwise very precise rule, but you don't know how to phrase the jumble of emotions and reasons and consequences and fears more clearly than that.
But before you can make your retreat, her arms are suddenly somehow entangled with yours and her hands are holding your wrists and therefore your arms and the rest of you in place. You heart skips a beat when you hear a small sigh in the otherwise quiet night.
"This is nice."
You only nod against her neck and mumble a rather incoherent agreement.
Okay, this is probably the moment, you are supposed to switch your higher cognitive functions back on and restore the ability to use vowels in speech.
You are not really sure if you are ready for whole sentences yet.
Before you can reply that you actually didn't do anything, she turns her head and places a soft kiss on your cheek. You can't help but smile and hold her a little tighter. You don't know who started it, but suddenly you are swaying lightly as if dancing to your very own private song. If you had a song, you wonder what it would be.
"If we had a song, what would it be?"
Okay, what did we say earlier about *not* voicing exact thoughts?
"Ignore me", you mumble into her neck. You could get used to being there, you think and at the same time wonder how you a) got there in the first place and b) why she is allowing you to stay there. She is silent for a moment and you think that she actually complied with your request, but then she says.
"We can work it out."
It takes you a second, but then you start laughing and hope she doesn't catch the sigh sneaking into the laughter.
She's laughing now, too, a clear, happy sound mingling with the silence of the night.
"Speak for yourself."
"I am", you reply. "... and then I go and spoil it all by saying something stupid."
You sigh. "Could be my signature line, really."
She suddenly moves out of your embrace and you have to use all your remaining will-power not to make some embarrassing sound of disappointment. You blink yourself back to reality. She is sitting down on the makeshift deck chair and you join her a moment later.
You are surprised that it is actually rather comfortable. You lean your head back against the cushion and look into the sky again.
"How does it continue?"
"The song. What's the next line?"
"Don't remember" you mumble and close your eyes - which really has nothing to do with being tired. You close your eyes, so she won't spot the lie in them. Of course you know the next line of the song.
You just hope she doesn't...