For Nicole.

She has to halt on the landing before the second floor. If she doesn't, she'll end up breaking down behind her steering wheel and either crash or never make it out of the parking lot. She just needs a moment, a time-out in the limbo of the stairwell so her lungs can remember how to breathe again.


Casually, unthinkingly, she'd given him affirmation of her feelings. She'd finally named them for him.

You know I love you.

He'd been so quiet afterwards. He'd shown no triumph or boasting, no denial or disbelief. Something else had taken root behind his eyes. It sent her back to a night at The Cheesecake Factory two years prior. She's seen more proposals through the years than she would've expected at her workplace (seriously, this is Pasadena. These people can't find better locations to pop the question?), and the reactions are always the same: happy crying, repeated oh-my-god's, excited reveling. But that one night, when the yes was given, she'd seen a different look pass over the happy couple's faces. Something else beneath the joy and tears that she hadn't been able to describe. It hadn't been an emotion, but it'd been something just as powerful.

Leonard had had this same look in his eyes.

And since it'd been her words to spark it, since she'd been up close to see it bloom, she thought she finally knew what that look was.