The Office

The Restaurant

She grew up and maybe he did, too.
The soles of my shoes squeeked uncomfortable against the clinic tiles, a blue line leading me into the direction the person I want to see is currently residing at. The heavy but cute weight in my arms murmurs softly against my neck, small fingers intertwine with the long blond tresses I left unbound in my hurry after I found myself asleep in my loft. I push the small warm body higher up on my waist, the short legs barely able to hold themselves around me and I smile softly at the huff I receive for interrupting his still drowsy state.

The sweet smell of peaches reaches my nose when I lean my head down a bit to place a soft kiss on his forehead. I know he hates being woken from his nap but with a bit of coaxing he was a bright little lad without the temper tantrum I expect always in these day. Looking up, I find the door I was searching for.

"Honey, we are here." I whisper softly into his blond nearly white hair and he stirrs a bit, his bleary grey eyes looking up at me and his small cute nose is scrunched up in an open-mouthed yawn. He tries to snuggle back against me but I chuckle softly and use one of my hands to tickle his shirt clad belly. He stirrs and because of him getting quite big in the last year and heavy I have some difficulties to keep him up against me.

"No fair." He says, his voice laced with a pout and sleepy and in a rush of affection at his cuteness I press kisses into his hair again. A small giggle leaves his small, soft mouth and he looks up at me with mischief clouding his eyes. Before he can start to think about a plan to get back at me, I knock softly at a door that is answered with a raspy 'come in'.

A smile blossoms on my face, accompanied with happy red cheeks when I see the man in the hospital bed frowning at me. The sheets are crunched up at his legs, his bare chest with the white gauze in plain sight and I roll my eyes at him. When he sees the bundle in my arms his face lights up and his deep and playful voice immediately gets the attention of the small boy in my arms.

"Looks like I still get my lunch." He says and the boy in my arms giggles loudly when I deposit him in the bed next to the man, who cringes softly at the wild hug he receives but otherwise doesn't show the pain he is in. The man starts to playfully bite the boy, making sounds like munching on him and the cheerful laugh of the child pierces the otherwise silent room, too white to be comfortable. I let them have their moment, my back turned to them.

"Nu-uh, don't uncle Bias." The boy giggles and a smile tugs at the corner of my lips. I open the window slightly, just enough to let a bit fresh air enter the room but not enough to course any cold wind to directly assault the man in the bed. His life isn't in danger anymore but because he was badly wounded his immun system is still not up to standard. It would be a small catastrophe to catch a cold now.

I let the boys have a moment for themselves, my mind far to active after my nap to concentrate on anything but memories swimming in my head. My smile stays even though most of them aren't happy, even though most of them remind me of a life I wanted to have but couldn't get. In retrospective I know that it was the wrong time. I was still too naive, still too hung up over a man to be my own person. His rejection made me stronger and looking back at it now I find I can't even hold a grugde even though I miss him. Still miss him after such long a time. I am pulled out of my musings when a shriek pierces the silence again. With a huff I turn around, fixing the red-cheek face of the small boy and let my face pull into the practiced mask of strictness.

"Ethan, calm down." My voice is soft though because I know I don't need to scream or be too hard to get the message across to him. He stops his loud giggles momentarily to pout but he nods nonetheless and settles a bit down. I chuckle softly and ruffle his hair before I sit down and meet the eyes of one of my friends.

"How are you, Four?" I ask him and in a moment of feeling reminiscent I take his hand into mine and squeeze softly. He rolls his eyes at the concern probably filling my eyes, but a warm smile stays on his lips when Ethan lays down beside him and he lets the boy snuggle against his side.

"I am ok. The kids just went home and Liss made sure I am not doing anything stupid." Again, he rolls his eyes, wants to show me that he is annoyed at the overbearing manner of his wife but his tone is a bold sign for the love he feels for the girl that once was only a waitress he stumbled over after one of his shifts.

He was afraid to introduce her to me but I scoffed at his explanation he gave after I cornered him. I told him that even though we once wanted to share a life with each other I wasn't in any position to judge him and was quite happy for him that he found someone like her. This statement became even more true when I finally met her. With pride in his eyes and affection in his gestures he introduced Elisabeth Carter to me on one of our get togethers with Peter, Alice, Christina and Will shortly after I left Dauntless. She was a soft spoken woman, with a strong-willed, stubborn streak that was the right mixture to worm her way into Tobias' heart and life. It came with no surprise that they married after just five months of being together and having five children – two pairs of twins and a cute girl afterwards – after only five years being married.

As an only child I always suspected Tobias to be the man to have a big family and I couldn't be more happy for the development after our talk, real talk about us. It came with tears, soft smiles and many apologies on both of our parts and in the end I think, we were more like siblings than anything else. He was a pillar just like my best friend Peter was, after I left Dauntless. He was a strong hand when I built my own company and an open ear whenever I angrily yelled about thick-headed officials and bureaucracy. I think I wouldn't be here, at this point of my career, if I wouldn't have had him and Peter. I pull myself out of my thoughts and smile gently at him.

"That's good to hear." I smile softly and look down at his hand, the IV placed into the back of it and I carefully squeeze it before I let go and fold, my palms together, my limbs in my lap. I question him a bit more, about his kids, kindergarten, wife, life itself. We both know that speaking about Dauntless isn't a really good decision sometimes, but today is a good day and I inquire without a second thought how things proceed with the case he forwarded because he was assaulted with a knife. With a grim smile he tells me about the length Peter goes through to deliver justice and even though he is a bit unsure at first he also fills me in about my ex-boss' talk after the attack, how angry he was on his behalf and that Tobias finds it in himself to trust him even more and appreciate everything all things considered. For a second I am highly aware how much I miss the work at Dauntless, to be a part of it, the familiarity, the appreciating in small gestures, but one look at Ethan lets me shake my head and forget about it.

"And how are you?" He ask carefully, maybe still able to read me without putting too much afford into it, maybe too good at reading my features, and I suppress the small chuckle that wants to leave my throat at the thought.

"Good, good. The small devil over there keeps me busy but that's alright, really." I answer and can't keep my eyes from looking into Ethan's curious ones. He is a sunshine, some light that I don't want to imagine living without.

"And how is..." Before he can finish his question the door is opened and I look up, my lips forming a small 'o' before they pull into a smile. I avert my eyes for a moment and stand up afterwards. Out of the corner of my eyes I see Tobias' face turning into an alarmed expression but I guess my smile calms him down and he settles back again, his arm going around Ethan for a moment. Maybe to assure the child or himself – I don't really know.

I fight down the flutter in my heart, the clenching in my stomach and the nervous tremble my hands want to fall into, to tidy my appearance. Without really thinking about it, I know that most of my reactions are still ingrained habits from before I left, at least that is what I tell myself when I look at him with an assured face.

"Hello." A deep voice greets and I realise it is the first time we see each other after I picked up my stuff from the lobby to his office. Five years already, I think to myself and take in his features. He wears a beard now and a few lines are present around his eyes – both things make him even more attractive I think with a mental huff. He is dressed casually, jeans and a button-up, trainers and a thick coat against the cold. I know I am staring but I don't really care. I guess it is a normal reaction when someone sees the person that someone loved after a long time again. My eyes meet his and for a moment I am lost. These eyes captivate me like the first time we met when I went to an interview I wasn't sure I had a right to go to because I lacked many things – especially experience.

"Hello, Eric." Tobias greets and it pulls me out of my thoughts. I smile softly in greeting. Ethan sits up a bit and looks at the man at the door. It seems my ex-boss only now recognizes that there is a child present and when he sees the boy his jaw works in a way that I know speaks of confusion. His whole posture is different but the same – still speaking of dominance but in a tuned down sort of way, still strong, still oh so masculine, still gorgeous to look at. When he speaks his voice is unsure and if that isn't a sign that we haven't spoken in a long time and he has changed, his next words would have been a bold surprise in themselves.

"I wasn't aware you had visitors. I come back la - " Before he can end his excuse, I take a step forward, placing my hand on Tobias' knee carefully and pick up my bag.

"No, that isn't necessary at all. Ethan and I just wanted to say hello before we are off again to buy a present for his father." I say, my voice as soft as my smile and I meet his grey eyes again. They haven't lost any of the impact they once had and with a curious but warm recognition I realise they still hold power over me to some degree. As I thought five years ago – I think I will always love him. He nods, his features far more open than they were this long time ago when I still was his secretary. They shine with curiosity, his gaze flickering from Ethan to me and back, with confusion, maybe because he thinks that Ethan is my son, maybe even thinks he could be his son, and with an emotion I am not certain where to place.

"Four, I see you soon again, hopefully not in a hospital. You know how much I hate that." I say to him and kiss his brow. He smiles up at me but the gesture doesn't hide the worry he feels for me being in the same room with the man that I couldn't let go no matter what I tried.

"Ok, love. Take care of yourself. And you, young man, will take good care of Tris, are we clear?" Ethan looks at him with serious, wide eyes and I smile softly, pressing a hand to my mouth to stiffle the laugh that wants to escape me when he nods his small blond head. Tobias chuckles and ruffles his hair.

"You are a good boy." He says and I take Ethan out of the hospital bed. My eyes meet Eric's again, for a split second and I nod once.

"Have a good day, you two." I throw over my shoulder and close the door behind me.

"Tris!" A voice behind me suddenly sounds when I am finished with putting Ethan into his place in my car. A shudder runs down my spine at that and I am amazed that even after all this time he still effects me the way he always did.

"I am right back, buddy." I whisper to Ethan, press a kiss to his forehead and his stuffed dinosaur into his hand.

"OK." He says but is already lost in his fantasies, making small noises and gestures with the stuffed toy. I smile for a moment at the carefree being and close the door softly before turning around and meeting grey.

"Hello again." I say and position myself that I can still see the small boy I take care off for the weekend through the window. I wait for him to approach me and pull my coat tighter around me. After a few seconds he stops infront of me. My ex-boss looks uncertain, like he isn't sure what he is even doing here and his eyes that flicker to the small boy in the car are indication enough that he really contemplates a possible parenthood I could have kept secret from him. I don't know if I am angry or startled at that.

"He isn't yours and neither mine, if that is what you wanted to ask. He is my brother's son and I take care of him because his small sister is ill." I say, my voice somewhere between indifference and reassureance and I can't suppress the soft smile at his features that show relief and strangely enough something else that makes my heart flutter again. We stay silent for a while and the cold wind around us makes me aware that I really shouldn't stand here in the middle of a hospital parking lot and hope for whatever there is to come. If my ex-boss would be any other man, I would think he is nervous, everything that would miss for the picture to click would be shuffling his feet and glancing around in nervousness. He seems to pull himself together, straigthens to his full height and with fondness and a bit hurt I am aware that he still effects me.

"I wanted to invite you to a dinner." He says without further explanation, his shoulders tense but otherwise as professional as I know he is. At first I am taken aback, but get my act together soon enough, ignoring my bodies reaction, my mind's whispers, my heart's dance.

"Oh... that sounds lovely, but I am not sure if I have time. When would that dinner be?" I ask him and feel like a teenager even though I am 31 years old. I can suppress the blush that wants to overcome my pale cheeks and even succeed in smiling up at him without being overwhelmed by his presence and looks.

"On Monday. I would pick you up at your loft, if you still reside there at 7 pm if possible." He says casually but I am far too experienced and it seems I still know him to well to not recognize the slight nervousness letting his jaw work a certain way and his hands vanish in the black trousers he wears – something he never does because it is a show of insecurity. I don't make a show of being too busy, don't pull out my calendar because I have the important dates imprinted in my brain and know that I am not busy when he wants to meet.

"Sounds fine with me. And yes, I still live there. Do you want me to write down the address?" I ask and at the shake of his head I can't suppress the small flutter that he seems to still remember it. I find it curious because he always was so aloof with things like that – not in an arrogant way because I knew he cared in his own way. Our eyes meet, his grey like the snowclouds above us, mine grey-blue like the rainclouds in summer. And maybe my overactive mind wants to see me hurting a bit again or my imagination has a field day, but I think there is some sort of connection between us there never was before. But just like that it is gone and he nods.

"Good. Until Monday then." He says, self-assured and professional again, nods one more time and I don't miss the glance he throws in Ethan's direction before he leans down, kisses my cheek and is gone. I look after him, stare at his back and am transfixed for a moment because this bold gesture isn't anything I expected from my ex-boss. Well, I tell myself and enter the car, Monday will be interesting.

I am not nervous when the clock strikes half past six. I wear a normal dark-blue dress, my coat and scarf are ready to be taken, my purse filled with money and other necessarities and I just hung up a call with Peter. He still works at Dauntless and complains often enough about the new secretary who took my place on short notice when I left. I know he acts like that to let me know in more ways than one that I am special and that there can never be a person more fitting than I was for the position. And I know that she isn't half bad. She doesn't make her job her life like I did and maybe she is pretty intelligent to do so. I know myself that that leads to uncomfortable complications though I often argue that the things that happened were the best things in my life. They gave me strength, made me grow up and decide on something that I – if everything hadn't ended the way it did – wouldn't have even contemplated. Yes, all in all I was happy where my life took off after I left Dauntless and the man I loved who couldn't love me back.

My door bell sounds and taking a last look at the mirror, arguing with myself to not make such a fuss over an invitation that isn't anything more than catching up between old aquaintances, I leave my bathroom and slip into my slightly heeled, fashionable but warm winterboots. Taking my coat, scarf and purse I make my way downstairs and meet Eric. He is dressed like he always is – perfectly professional and too handsome for his own good. The gentle smile when he sees me is a surprise though but I don't take time to think about it but approach him in measured steps. He kisses my cheek in greeting and I smile at him.

He still drives the same care he did a few years ago and memories surface that I often try to suppress. It seems my ex-boss can read my thoughts because his features change slightly, a smile pulls at his lips and in a strange way it is nothing like years ago. I smile in answer and softly thanked him when he helps me to enter his car, the memories pushed back by the gesture and his hand around mine.

Our ride is silent and I guess we both are captured in this strange evening, that feels like years ago but not at the same time. I don't need to be a hopeless romantic to remember that nearly five years ago, on an evening similiar to this one, with snow falling down and a dark sky, he told me he couldn't give me more than sex. And I don't need to be a psychologist to know that we both are still a bit hung up over that, at least a bit, otherwise we wouldn't be that silent, otherwise the atmosphere in the car wouldn't be that somber and heavy and otherwise my heart and I believe his wouldn't beat a bit faster than normal. I pull myself out of everything for a moment and chuckle softly. Out of the corner of my eye I see his perplexed look and shake my head at the silent question. And then I decide, that there is a lot of catching up to do and the safest ground we could step on today.

I start to talk, tell him about my new line of work, about the courses I did at the university to become a social worker, of the struggle I had in the first months because my company wasn't viewed the way I wanted it to and about everything small in between. I talk about lovers I had after him and it doesn't feel wrong but good to show him that he wasn't my end in any way. With a maybe misplaced feeling of happiness I see his hands tightening around the steering wheel and he doesn't ask any questions about the men after him.

He seems intrigued that I chose to work with children though, to help them overcome family drama, to look for new homes for them, to be the head of an organisation that has nothing to do with Dauntless in the least. And his questions, the voice he uses to formulate them sounds proud. I should feel angry about that because he is in no position to judge my success at all, but I don't because some small part of me is aware that being his secretary for two years gave me an insight into leading a company, into more than I could ever ask for. And I tell him as much because I never was a person to not praise and to not be grateful when both notions are earned.

Even though I am so open to him, he doesn't tell me much in the short twenty minutes we need until we arrive at the high class restaurant he chose for us to dine at. With a small smile I recognize it as the one I always arranged meetings at for the more leisure clients we had. Maybe Eric found himself liking the calm atmosphere and professional way guests were left to their own device but not completely unattended.

As the gentleman I know he can be, he helps me out of his car and lays my hand delicately in the crook of his arm, leading me into the spacious restaurant, that doesn't appear to be that way because beautifully crafted screens, warm colors and candles let it seem to be more intimate than it really is. With sure steps and a soft hand on the small of my back he follows the waiter that leads us to a table for four to what I only raise an eyebrow. Maybe there wasn't another desk free? I don't ask and realise it really doesn't matter. He beats the waiter to taking my coat and scarf and I smile in thanks when he lets me take a seat, even going so far as to pushing my chair in for me.

After giving up his own jacket, revealing a dark blue button down and no tie – the color is the same that my dress has and I fight the flutter in my stomach down – Eric sits down across from me and orders with his usual calm and authorative voice a bottle of fine wine. I shake my head softly at the waiter, smiling in thanks and concentrate on the man infront of me again. A small part of my mind recognizes this setting as a beautiful place for a first date between high calibre people like we are, but the mature part of me, the one that grew up after I made the hardest but best decision in my life shakes its head knowingly and I settle in to whatever Eric has planned for us tonight. Just like that, as if we weren't interrupted we pick our conversation up again and I believe we never talked this much in such a short amount of time ever before. It feels nice and natural and gives me a sense of calm.

Eric doesn't speak about Dauntless, not about his business at all and I am highly grateful for it. He talks about a few small details of his private life, that he sold his house and moved a bit further away from the city even though it means having a longer way to work. I point out as much and his random shrug and comment that he often works from home makes me smile slightly because maybe he learnd to take care of himself, of his health. With a bit of surprise I realize that a small weight lifts from my shoulders at his explanation and I think I am silly for still feeling a bit guilty and even responsible after five years.

And he talks about women to what I feel a bit jeaulous but also quite happy – a strange mixture to say the least. Eric talks about being able to have a real relationship with two or three of them but not feeling comfortable enough to settle down with any of them. His tone could mean that he is surprised himself that he was able to, even though they were short, his longest only a bit over two years, maintain a real relationship: with commitment, being honest and even depending on someone else with more than just business-related things. I am overwhelmed when he grasps my hand but doesn't say anything. Looking into his eyes I recognize his silent thanks, squeeze his hand because some part of me knows that he believes I was the reason for this newfound ability of his.

He tells me about his wish to maybe fulfill some dreams before he thinks about marriage and children and a small part of me wishes – even though it is difficult to accept it – that he would abandon that wish if he realizes that I still hold a torch for him in some way. Instead of showing him that though, I nod along as he tells me about his dream to go surfing at the coasts of Australia, about hiking in South America, about making his pilot's license and all the other small and big things I never thought would be anything to him than fancy ideas of unresponsible teenagers. We sip our wine, we share some anecdotes about our lives and I never felt this close to my ex-boss before. I correct myself then because infront of me isn't the man I worked for – not really anymore – but a man I can accept on more than one level, can love on any level. And just like that he is just Eric, nothing more and nothing less and that seems perfect to me. When he speaks up, his voice suddenly changed from aloof and carefree to serious. I meet his now expressive grey eyes.

"Tris..." He begins and I swallow softly not quite sure what to expect but sure at the same time that whatever he says will change both of our lives in a heartbeat. Before he can continue, a female voice speaks up.

"I hope you didn't have to wait too long." She says and I smile up at a blond woman, a few lighter strands in her beautiful hair that indicate her age. Everything else about her screams youth and beauty and I admire her sparkling grey eyes and the soft curl of her lips.

"Not at all, Eve." Eric says, stands up and in a show of affection hugs her and kisses her cheek. I need a moment to avert my eyes because I have never seen him so open before and suddenly something clicks in my brain. A grey memory of a morning in his house – the only morning ever we shared there – and a picture I found while walking in the dark. I shake myself out of my thoughts and stand up as well, shaking the tall woman's hand and introduce myself.

"It is a pleasure to meet you, Tris." She says with a warm smile and I am not even slightly angry that she just like that establishes a form of familiarity between us by using my first name.

"Thank you, the pleasure is all mine." I answer her and sit back down a moment after she sits down next to Eric. Her eyes wander from me to him and silence – not uncomfortable but strange – stretches between the three of us.

"Where is Tom?" Eric suddenly speaks up and looks around in his special kind of way, always aware of everything in a subtle way. Before Eve can answer, a boy around the age of fourteen or fiveteen comes up to our table, a spitting image of his mother, though he is as broad-shouldered and masculine as the man across myself.

"Tris, I would like you to meet my nephew – Tom Alexander Coulter." Eric introduces quickly and I smile up at the boy. A small blush clouds his cheeks and I hear Eric chuckle across from me. That seems to pull the boy out of his nervousness and he extends his hand and makes a show I find quite funny but endearing of kissing the back of my hand.

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Prior." I smile in greeting but inwardly I am confused why he knows my name. For a second I look at Eric, a frown present on his features for just a moment before I look back at the handsome young boy next to me. Before silence can engulf us again, Eric starts to question his nephew, asks about his school work, about his soccer training, about all the things a father would probably ask about. He sounds proud like only a father would and even goes so far as to set Tom's head straight when he starts to complain about his teachers who he thinks treat him unfair. He lectures him about proper behavior, about respect and it is strange but just natural to watch them interact that I find myself speechless for a while.

Food is ordered along the conversation and just like ever it is delicious, not too heavy and of high quality. Eve speaks about her job at a hospital and without a doubt Eric's eyes shine with pride and affection for his sister. The intensity with which he interacts with his two close relatives overwhelms we for a while but it is soon forgotten when I am included in their get together, when I am ask about my life, about me as a person. Our conversation evolves into more than exchanging facts and I find myself in the middle of a debate about politics, society and everything inbetween that is refreshing and not at all forced. I am delighted that Tom seems to be passionate about a lot of things, doesn't hide his opinion and I find myself liking Eric's sister and nephew just like that. Though I am bit confused why no father is mentioned I ignore it. They are kind and sweet and it fills me with happiness that the man I still love to some degree has found it in himself to dote on them so much.

They talk about future get togethers, about their plans for the Christmas holidays coming up and I let them banter about silly details like what they want to gift to their parents. Tom comes up with funny ideas to what Eric chuckles softly and Eve in a show of parental strictness admonishes him. I look at the clock sometime later and with a small rueful smile see that it really is time to go for me. Without having to utter my need to go, Eric points out that it is getting late and excuses himself to pay the bill. I want to stop him but one look lets me settle back in my seat and with a playful pout I nod. He smirks for only a second and this one facial expression is again nothing like I remember it is. Tom excuses himself as well and suddenly I find myself alone with Eve, her soft grey eyes on me and I feel a bit shy for a moment.

"Tris... I know we don't know each other, but I want you to know that..." She stops herself for a moment, maybe to organize her words or to rethink her approach I don't know. A smile pulls at the corners of her lips and I find myself frowning softly.

"I know what happened between the two of you." She just says and even though I am not ashamed of any of it I avert my eyes and bite my lip. Her hand finds mine across the table and squeezes it softly.

"And I believe I can understand your hurt back then and the sacrifice you made when you left the company. Eric told me about it." Her voice is still soft, still careful and even though I don't really want to talk about my feelings and the situation back then I keep listening. Maybe in a show of curiosity that Eric talked to his sister about me or because her tone indicates that it is important to listen closely, I don't know. And something tells me my reasoning isn't as important as this conversation.

"I don't know what he thinks he is doing now, inviting you, bringing you back in his life and it isn't really my business." At her words I look up, a mixture of surprise and even a bit fear letting my stomach clench uncomfortably. I want her to ask what she means, what she wants to achieve in telling me this, but I don't need to utter a word because she smiles softly and takes her hand back.

"All I want to say is that I am grateful what you did for him, that you changed him for the better. And that no matter what, I appreciate your influence in his life – past, present and future." Eve keeps her eyes on mine for a bit longer and I nod once, my own smile coming to my face. I don't think I need to say anything and I don't think she wants to hear whatever goes through my mind. I am sure I couldn't even describe it to her.

All of it – meeting him in Tobias' hospital room, his out of character way of inviting me to dine with people he loves dearly (without a doubt) and the way he talked to me, expressed himself to me – lets me feel confused and unable to come to a sound explanation. I would love to go with the easy way and think that maybe seeing me has started something inside of him that wants to have me back in his life. I think I would love the idea of him falling in love with me finally. But I am too matured for that, too aware of him and even though he has changed he is still Eric. And even though I am a bit bitter and surprisingly still a bit hurt, I am more than happy to have this evening with him, to see him like this. I don't know what changed and I don't know if it is enough and even though I should stop myself right here I find myself hoping with a fierceness that maybe is overboard to say the least.

Eve's strange words stay with me when Eric helps me into my coat and he and his sister talk in soft voices about the present they want to buy for Tom. I try to make sense of them and maybe see what she wants to say beside the obvious things. When we step out of the restaurant I stop my musings though because there really is no sense in thinking about something that was so out of the blue. Eric's behavior is enough to keep me mentally busy for the next few days. We say goodbye to her and her son and Eric again in a show of his manners helps me into his car and closes the door softly.

For a while, we stay silent, listening to music from his radio and watching the snow fall down. I watch him for a moment and don't shy away when he catches me while we wait for the traffic light to change to green. Out of the corner of my eyes I see his hand move, not to my thigh but to my hand, his fingers softly brushing against it. My heart flutters and I am not sure what I should think about all of this. But I know that I feel something deep inside me at this contact and don't hold myself back when I intertwine our fingers.

It isn't romantical, I tell myself, nor is it the beginning of something sexual – and at least that I am sure of. Maybe it is his gesture of thanks. That is what I think when I see the glint in his expressive grey eyes. Maybe that was what he wanted to tell me before his sister and nephew showed up. And maybe this whole guessing won't help me one bit and I should take everything at face value right now. There isn't anything to contemplate, anything to think about and I tell myself to relax and to accept the contact he wants for just that. Maybe he wants to touch me because he knows me, maybe he is as confused as I am, maybe he likes the feeling of my skin against his just like I do the other way around or maybe it means nothing at all. And I am happy with it. I don't expect more and I am proud of myself that even though this evening could have promised everything I am old enough and sure enough of myself to not fall into rose-colored hopes again.

The contact seems to ease the small tension between us I wasn't too aware about and just like that Eric starts to talk about Eve, Tom and their past. He talks about a loving husband from the military, talks about a house with a big backyard, a treehouse and a wheelswing, about summers with self-made lemonade, barbecues and happiness when he was just visiting college and still not quite sure where to go with his live. I smile at some stories, squeeze his hand and laugh softly.

And Eric talks about tears and an envelop with a highly important sign on it. About a flag on a coffin, about the shattered soul he saw in his sister's eyes when he came home for thanksgiving. He vanishes into memories about a small boy that could barely understand the hurt his mommy went through, couldn't understand the concept of his father never to return or the words 'war' and 'killed on duty'. At that I cry a bit, let him brush away the tears I know he can't cry.

I listen to all of it, even though we stand outside my loft for more than an hour and the air cooles down fast enough. I listen intently and I finally understand to some degree why he was so adamant to never let himself feel like his sister did for her husband. I understand his brash nature, his arrogant display, his whole character and all I can do when his voice stops talking is lean against his shoulder and hold his hand that never left mine for the whole drive to say goodbye.

A sense of deep gratitude for his trust and openess fills me up and I tell him that much, kiss his cheek in support because his set jaw tells me enough to know that he fights himself to stay here and not go back to the one he was years ago. I can admire that in him, like I can everything else about him, even though some of it is unfair, even cruel. I don't need to tell myself to stop it this instant because without even wanting to – and I am sure that it wasn't his intent when he invited me along and showed me more of himself in one evening than in two years of working for and with him – he makes me fall in love with him more than I ever thought was possible. Though I keep quiet about that, I tell him that I think that he is a great man. Not a hero, not perfection, but amazing in his own way, in his gestures, his words and that I am proud that he found a way to himself.

Instead of answering he watches me out of the corner of his eyes. I know that he maybe sees the things I don't say, maybe is aware that my compliment shows him that the old torch burns for him and a few more have been lit in just a short amount of time, burning brightly and just for him. I should be ashamed to be so easy to impress, but I am not because he is just Eric now, just a man I used to know but didn't know at all. I should be afraid that he has power over me again, over my heart. And maybe I should be angry with myself to just give it to him again.

I thought my experience taugth me to not get too close to him because he can easily hurt me, like he consciously or not did five years ago. But looking at the situation at hand, comparing it I think I never was so close to him, never met him on a comfortable level where we both are vulnerable and where we both are able to feel and maybe even feel for each other. My feelings aren't rose-colored though, my heart not as much on the line like then, my love not unconditionally given. And I think he knows it. I don't tell him that it is his turn to do something, to make a step in my direction if he wants it. I don't tell him that I will wait for him at least a bit to overcome this last fear because maybe he is aware as I am that we both together could mean 'till death tears us apart'.

At this I smile – not in hope but in understanding and acceptance. I take the silence as my queue to leave the car. He doesn't say goodbye and I don't prompt it with my own. The car door closes softly behind me and I don't wait for him to leave my street and maybe leave my life forever. Shaking my head still smiling I find myself to be silly, at least a bit, naive, still too much for my liking, not matured enough after everything because I dream about a happy end, but when I close my door and hang up my coat I am ok with that because loving this man – Eric Coulter – not my boss, ex-boss, but the man himself is in some sort a gift and maybe indirectly a strength as well.

But only time will tell – or something cliche like that.

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