Chapter 8: Reconciliation
A couple of days had passed since the video leak incident which totally sealed the fate of the judge involved. The media frenzy and the public outrage that followed guaranteed that a fair trial would take place and that the judge would certainly be convicted of the crimes brought against him.
Filing a class-action lawsuit against the judge was a gamble to Lesly because she knew it was highly possible that he would weasel out of it if he utilized his connections in the judicial system. Nevertheless, she felt it necessary to take the risk because she felt very strongly about the cause. If the organization continued to skirt around high-profile suspects for fear of incurring outrage or having their funding sources cut or reduced, then no real progress would ever be made.
Thankfully, the public outrage that followed insured that no high official would attempt to assist Stevenson in evading the charges. No one wanted to have their names associated the judge or with slandering the organization that sought to put an end to his inhumane side projects. Of course, she had Alec Reid to thank for that.
Alec did not contact her at all following the leak. She expected him to call or text to inquire about the case and how it was going, but he never did. She was hoping he would because she wanted to apologize for the way she behaved in their last meeting together.
He had come to offer help and advice on how to handle the situation immediately after he had heard about the problem from Stacey, but she ended up questioning his intentions instead. This made her feel bad and the fact that he genuinely seemed to not want anything in return made her feel worse.
She decided that she owed him an apology. It was bound to be delivered sooner or later, and the sooner she got it over and done with, the better.
At first, she wanted to call, but then she decided against it because she felt that it had to be done face to face. This was precisely the reason why she was standing outside of his office at the moment.
Apologizing to Alec was not going to be easy. Aside from the fact that she found apologies hard in general despite the fact that she had gone through them a lot in the past due to her temper, there was something about Alec that made her feel tense. All he had to do was stare at her with those piercing blue eyes of his and she would get so flustered that she would barely keep track of her thoughts. This was possibly the reason why she lost control over her temper quite frequently around him. She sincerely hoped that this meeting would go well.
Lesly was told that Alec had gotten a new office and that she would have to backtrack to the floor entrance in order to find him. When she arrived, she found the door to his new office open and saw him standing in front of a huge empty bookcase with his back to the door.
The office was in a chaotic state. It was filled with cardboard boxes that were scattered everywhere. A group of those surrounded him near the book case and kept him so occupied that he was oblivious to the fact that somebody had just walked in.
She felt herself getting flustered again at the sight of him. The guy did not talk to her or even turn around yet, and she was already losing her composure.
She took a deep breath, knocked gently on the door to get his attention and tried her best to act poised. He immediately turned around to see who the unexpected visitor was.
“Can I come in?” Lesly asked softly.
“Sure,” he answered before he turned back to his original task and continued arranging the books that were piled haphazardly over one of the shelves. “Never expected to see you here today,” he spoke while his back was turned to her.
Lesly walked over to where he was standing, and leaned back against his desk before she asked casually, “New office?”
“Yes, I’ve been complaining about that old rut for more than a year and they finally complied.”
“Good for you.”
Alec turned around and stared at her intently. She always hated it when he did that because she could never tell what he was thinking and he seemed to know exactly what went on in her mind. He turned back to the task of taking care of the mess on the shelves and instructed, “Out with it, Collins.”
“You didn’t come here to chat about my new office.”
He was certainly not making this easy. She was trying to take her time to get to the task of apologizing, but now he had thrown her entire train of thoughts into chaos. First, it was that look, and then this sudden request.
She was thankful his back was turned to her and that he was somewhat occupied by the task of putting his office back into a state of order. This should make things easier because if he continued to look at her the way he always did, he would surely make her even more tense than she already was.
“Well…I came to thank you for what you did,” Lesly finally managed to answer.
He shrugged and carried on casually, “Don’t mention it. The guy is trash who deserved to be locked away.”
His response was certainly shorter than she expected. She was hoping that he would begin to share some details about how he came to acquire the footage and how he was able to do so this fast, but he did not.
She wondered if his short direct responses were because of the way their last meeting went or if he was simply busy, but there was no way she could tell.
“How did you get your hands on that video?” she asked partly because she was curious and partly because she wanted to engage him.
“I’ve been investigating Stevenson for a while now along with many others in connection to that case I approached you about. Someone I sent undercover managed to secure the footage,” he answered without turning around.
Then he carried on as he grabbed another pile of books from one of the boxes next to him, “Quite frankly, I would have preferred to keep my agent undercover and collect more evidence on the other parties involved, but given the commotion Stevenson was creating, it had to be done sooner than I planned.”
He went quite again and left her to ponder the implications of what he just said. It seemed that his attempt to help her resulted in a setback, and although he was careful to pinpoint the media frenzy Stevenson was creating as the reason why he chose to expose the judge before he got everything he needed, it was obvious given their last encounter that he did it sooner than he planned to help her. This made her feel guiltier about questioning his intentions.
“I’m sorry,” she finally said after a moment of silence.
Alec took her apology as a sympathetic response to the fact that his undercover operation had to come to a halt, and ended up answering her with another dismissive shrug.
“Don’t worry about it. As I said, it had to be done.”
“Well, I’m sorry about that, but I’m also sorry about…,” she sighed deeply and struggled to explain what her apology was really about.
“We’ve known each other for two years and you’ve always kept your word no matter what, yet I always assumed that you had ulterior motives.”
He paused after hearing her apology, and she thought for a moment that he was going to engage her in another discussion about her temper problem. But he didn’t. Instead, he dusted his hands off, turned around and asked casually.
“Care for a drink?”
He walked over to the mini fridge in his office and grabbed two bottles of what looked like nonalcoholic beer while speaking to her.
“You know, I’ve been thinking about what you said, how there is always something to be gained. I think there’s a little bit of truth in that.”
“It’s nice to be the hero,” he explained before he handed her a bottle with a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. He was clearly messing with her.
She found his comment amusing and tried to suppress a chuckle. Her initial feelings of awkwardness were slowly dissipating when she noticed that his usual sense of humor was back.
“Are you really gonna go there?” she asked playfully.
“I wouldn’t dare. After all, I wouldn’t want to give you any reason to form the wrong impression.”
“Tread carefully then,” she shot back with a smile.
He started laughing, but he did not seem like his usual self. He seemed out of sorts, or at least that is what his body language communicated. He leaned back against the book case to face her, and looked at her intently for a moment. It appeared like he wanted to say something, but did not know how to say it.
He ran a hand through his dark blond hair and sighed deeply before he began to explain, “Listen, I don’t play by the rules. I’ve long given up on that. It’s impossible when you’re surrounded by dirty people. I have my own methods to put things in order. They’re not exactly benign, but they get the job done. I know that this not how you like to work which is why I told myself that it’s okay that you were always cautious around me.”
“Of course I did, and might I add it was really vexing that no matter what I did, I was still branded as an enemy.”
“I never saw you as an enemy,” she spoke softly.
“I was certainly not a friend.”
She looked at him for a moment while contemplating what to say next. The conversation was taking a turn that was clearly uncomfortable for the two of them. Although she firmly believed that she had every reason to be cautious, she understood perfectly well how he must have felt.
“Don’t be. I’m glad we got everything all out in the open,” he answered with a smile before he took another sip of his drink.
The two of them went quite for a while, each occupied by their own thoughts and the drink in their hand, but then Lesly decided to announce the other reason why she came to talk him in person.
“There’s actually another matter that I came to see you about.”
“That offer for a joint effort that you called me about days ago, I wanted to tell you in person that I’m fully onboard now…that is if your offer is still standing.”
He arched one eye brow in response and asked, “Are you sure? It could get a little bit grueling.”
“You underestimate me, Reid,” she answered with a challenging look on her face.
“I assure you, I’m not,” he said with a laugh after realizing that she was using the exact same words they exchanged in their last meeting. “However, …” he carried on, his expression becoming more serious as he tried to put his thoughts in order, “If we’re indeed going to work together from now on, I feel like there’s one more thing you need to know.”
“What is it?”
Alec wore another unreadable expression on his face. He stood straight, placed the bottle he was holding on one of the boxes next to him and gazed deep into her eyes.
“I like you. I’ve liked you for a long time. I haven’t said or done anything about it because I was hoping that you would come to trust me a little.”
Lesly’s mind went blank. She tried to piece together a response to what he just told her, but her mind refused to cooperate. She never considered it, never thought about it.
“I …I don’t know…what to say,” she finally stammered after she had found her voice.
“I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable. I just felt that since we’re getting everything all out in the open…”
“No, it’s not that…,” she struggled to explain, “you just caught me by surprise. That’s all.”
Awkward silence followed. Neither said anything to the other. She did not meet his gaze and tried to keep hers fixed on the window to her right as she nervously took another sip of her drink.
She was getting flustered again and she prayed that he was not able to tell. It had been ages since she last found herself in a similar situation and she did not know how to act.
“Collins, how’s your schedule this weekend?” he asked in that deep low voice of his.
She looked at him and found those piercing blue eyes of his staring deep into her very soul again.
“Why are you asking?” she inquired while struggling hard to look calm and unaffected.
“Are you going to ask me out?”
“Maybe…” he answered while smiling.
“Do you think it’s a good idea considering the fact that we’re going to work together from now on? Aren’t you worried that things might get awkward?” She inquired in a calm tone of voice without breaking eye contact with him.
He placed his hands in his pockets and tried to explain casually, “Let’s not call it a date then. Say I drop by a bar and find you there and we end up sharing a drink together.”
“Consider it a onetime thing. If you don’t change your mind afterwards, I promise I’ll drop it and never mention it again.”
She honestly did not know what to say and how she felt about this whole thing, but for some reason, she found herself incapable of dismissing the idea. She placed the bottle she was holding aside and straightened her pose before she looked at him intently.
“There’s a small bar at Woodfield called Romsey’s. Be there on Saturday at 8. I’ll pay,” she instructed.
“Roger that,” he said with a smile as he watched her leave his office.