Chapter 9: The Date
It was Saturday, the one day when she got to decompress and unwind, yet the prospect of meeting a certain individual made her more tense and anxious than usual. He told her not to think of it as a date. She could not keep herself from thinking about it in that light. The thought of cancelling crossed her mind many times, but it felt like she would be delaying the inevitable.
It had been five years since the unfortunate incident happened. One way or another, she had to move on and get over the crippling anxiety that kept her from connecting with other people or having a life outside of her career for years. This was not going to be exactly the kind of meeting that would lead to such an outcome. After all, she had already made up her mind to tell Reid that she preferred to keep their relationship strictly professional. However, today’s meeting should prove helpful as a step forward towards getting herself to feel less anxious in future similar situations.
Usually, it was Michaela who kept her company every Saturday. They would chat, drink and complain about their work. This Saturday, however, Michaela had to work a later shift at the hospital and this gave Lesly another good reason why she should not cancel on Reid.
She should go out, have fun like she usually did every Saturday, and while she was at it, she could learn more about her future colleague. After all, the matter he approached her about seemed to be a bit complex and might take more than a year or two to get resolved. As a result, it would help if she came to understand his personality a little. He was still an enigma in a sense and she totally hated the fact that he seemed to understand her better than she understood him.
Since she decided to think of today’s meeting as a friendly encounter, she refused to put any special effort into looking good. As a result, she went for a simple black on black look, a black V-neck sweater paired with a pair of skinny black pants. Her dark blunt cut shoulder length bob kept some of the natural soft curls and waves, and was not straightened like usual. And finally, she wrapped herself up in a camel wool coat and paired it with a chunky knit black scarf that would surely keep her warm in this unusually cold winter.
The bar was not far from where she lived. It only took her fifteen minutes to walk there. She did not mind the cold or the distance because she felt that she needed more time to mentally prepare herself for the meeting.
The bar was crowded when she arrived and it took her a while to locate the colleague she was supposed to meet. He was sitting at a small round table near one of the windows and was occupied with something on his phone.
For some reason, the sight of him made her forget all the mental notes she gave herself throughout the entire walk to the bar, and caused her to be nervous all over again. Of course, she refused to let that show, so she plastered a smile on her face and walked over to where he was sitting.
“Fancy meeting you here,” she said jokingly when she approached him before she took off her coat and scarf.
“Likewise,” he answered back smiling.
Lesly did not sit down. She looked at the bartender then back at her colleague again before she announced awkwardly, “I’ll go order some drinks.”
“How about I take care of this round, and you handle the next one? It’s crowded there,” he explained as he stood up.
“Nonsense,” Lesly said dismissively, “I told you I’d pay, remember?”
He did not argue with her, possibly because he did not want to make her more nervous than she already was, so he sat down and waited for her to get the drinks. He watched her as she came back to the table carrying a pitcher of beer and smiled at her before he drew the chair next to him out for her.
She sat down and realized that the chair he drew out was closer to his than she thought. She could smell the faint scent of his cologne and she could feel herself getting tense again.
Lesly began talking instantly to cover her nervousness like she occasionally did, “My friend and I usually come here every Saturday. She told me she had to work a late shift at the hospital today, so you’ll be taking her place.”
“I don’t hold my alcohol well. You’ll be doing most of the drinking,” she announced as she poured two glasses of beer.
She pushed one glass towards him and was about to ask him for more details regarding the case he approached her about when his phone started vibrating.
“A rescue call already?” she said with a wry smile before she took a sip of her drink.
“Something tells me you had one planned?” he answered, smiling as he checked his phone.
“I’m not gonna lie. I thought about it.”
He chuckled and scratched the back of his head nervously, “It’s actually my little sister, Emma. This is like the tenth text she sent me today. She got into another fight with my old man and now she’s telling me that’ll she’ll be crashing at my place tonight.”
“Is she okay?”
“She’s fine. Typical teenager problems. This is not the first time she got into a heated argument with my old man. She already has the key to my place.”
Lesly never visualized him as an older brother. She did not even know he had a teenage sister and was wondering if he had any other siblings, but for some reason she did not feel right about asking him personal questions. She preferred to stick to work-related issues when it came to other people because those were the issues she felt more comfortable talking about.
She watched him finish typing a text message to his sister and tried to steer the conversation towards a realm she was more in control of.
“About the case we talked about over the phone…”
“I was kinda hoping not to discuss anything case-related today,” he interrupted with a hint of disappointment.
“Any other topic in mind?”
“Tell me more about yourself. How did you end up in that line of work?” he asked with a smile.
“I could ask you the same thing,” she shot back not wishing to answer his question.
“Let’s say I have a career in politics in mind. If there’s one thing I learned from practicing law for years, it’s that a dysfunctional system has to be dismantled from within,” he explained immediately. Then he added jokingly with a shrug, “Plus there’s the matter of prestige, power and authority.”
“How noble!” she replied sarcastically.
“What about you?” he asked, laughing.
“I joined the organization about seven years ago. David Graham, a retired judge in the board of trustees, approached me with an offer, and I accepted it.”
Alec went quite for a minute, possibly because he noticed that she did not exactly answer his question. A mischievous smile began tugging at the corners of his mouth before he stated casually, “You strike me as the kind of person who possesses a strict moral code.”
She knew what he was doing. He was analyzing her again, and this time he was doing it out loud to provoke her. It seemed he was aware of how much she hated it when he did that, so she answered him as calmly as possible.
“You’re too kind, but I’m afraid you have too much of a high opinion of me.”
“Why did you join the organization then?” he asked directly.
“I’d rather not discuss my reasons.”
They both continued drinking in silence, and she began worrying that he might interpret her reticence as a sign that she still did not trust him. She tried to think of a way to make that clear to him, but then her mind began to wonder why he seemed to have this blind trust in her.
Judging by the way he always spoke to her and the fact that he liked her, it was clear that he developed the wrong impression about her, that he thought of her as an altruistic, selfless and admirable person for doing what she does. But she was convinced that she was not like that at all, and she wanted him to know the truth as well.
Bent on getting her point across, she asked him the one question that had been bothering her since he spoke to her about the case.
“Why did you approach me, Reid? What sort of image did you build in your mind that made me the perfect candidate for this joint venture?”
Lesly could see that he was surprised by the way she phrased her question and that he was caught off guard for a moment. He immediately proceeded to list his reasons as if he was stating the obvious.
“You’re smart, knowledgeable. You possess more experience in the field than I do, and on top of that, you’re empathic. You have a strong moral sense and you’re committed to the cause.”
“I thought I made it clear that I have my own selfish reasons for doing what I do,” she answered with a hint of agitation.
She could tell by the soft expression on his face that he remembered their past conversation quite well. He leaned forward and immediately began explaining why he found her argument invalid.
“No one I know would be willing to engage in this line of work and risk making this many enemies for selfish reasons. No one I know would be willing to put up with the toll such a job can have on a person mentally for selfish reasons, even if it paid well, and I’m pretty sure it doesn’t.”
“What if it was the only way you can function?” she asked calmly while trying hard not to let her inner turmoil show.
“Then I’d say it’s pretty damn impressive that people can cope by doing what you do.”
“I’m not who you think I am,” she stated emphatically.
“Your trust issues are worse than I thought. You’ve even turned against yourself! Seriously, Collins, what’s that about?”
She laughed nervously and began rubbing her temples after she was overcome with feelings of embarrassment. She struggled to explain without betraying her inner turmoil, but a sad smile remained on her face.
“I lost a brother seven years ago. I hadn’t been able to get over his death since. Let’s just leave it at that.”
“I’m sorry,” he whispered back after noticing how much the issue pained her.
“It’s not a topic I like to discuss.”
“I didn’t mean to bring it up.”
They both went quite. He tried to think of something to say to lighten the mood, but nothing came to his mind. He knew beforehand that she had a brother and he knew that she lost him years ago, but he did not expect that she was still grieving the loss as if it had just happened.
His eyes watched her as she tucked a strand behind her ear and as she nervously began to draw circles with her right thumb on the palm of her left hand. He wanted to hold her hand to assure her that she was going to be okay, but before he could do something, she broke the silence.
“I’m really bad at this,” she said with a nervous smile.
“You’re selling yourself short,” he replied in a low calming voice as he reached for her hand and held it.
Lesly looked at the large warm hand that was holding hers, contemplating all the while whether it was okay to tell him why she was not used to those kinds of engagements.
She looked him in the eyes and struggled to explain. “The truth is I haven’t done this in quite a long time.”
“You’re doing fine,” he answered assuredly. His thumb was drawing circles on her hand now.
“Aren’t you worried about the temper?” she asked playfully in an attempt to lighten the mood.
“I actually find that endearing.”
She thought he was joking, but the expression on his face told her that he was actually serious. She laughed nervously before she stated, “Something is wrong with you, Reid. I mean it.”
“Alec,” he corrected with a smile. “Call me Alec. I think we’re past the last name stage by now.”
“Lesly,” she responded with a soft smile before she grabbed the pitcher and refilled their glasses.
They continued drinking and chatting for longer they intended. He told her about his family, how he has one younger sister who recently turned sixteen and how his relationship with her had changed shortly after she had become a teenager. He told her about the antics his sister pulled against his father and how he was not bothered anymore by how much the two of them fought.
Those stories made it seem like Alec was a fun laidback individual who would rarely feel provoked. He assured Lesly, however, that his sister did not see him as such. Given how overprotective he was of Emma, there were moments when he lost control over his temper and began reprimanding one of the boys his little sister was seeing. Shortly afterwards, Emma came to see her older brother as more of a lesser evil than an ally and would only call or text him when she got into an argument with her father.
Lesly did not talk much at first. She listened to the hilarious stories he told her about his rebellious little sister and how his father who had no tolerance for nonsense dealt with her antics. Lesly never laughed as much before and she slowly started feeling more comfortable as time went by. She nearly lost it when he told her how he was caught in the crossfire between those two a couple of times and he jokingly reprimanded her for finding the situation amusing. Lesly apologized and tried to suppress her laughs until he finished telling the story, but when he continued narrating it with a peculiar expression on his face, she could not keep those laughs in any more.
Lesly soon felt comfortable sharing a couple of stories of her own. She told him about her small town, her fond memories of her father and possibly the most interesting person she grew up with, Michaela. Lesly did not have a lot of crazy stories to share, but whatever hilarious situations she found herself in were due for the most part to the fact that Michaela was there. She told him about her tomboyish friend, her five brothers and how they wreaked havoc all over the neighborhood when they were little. She also shared a couple of stories about her college days and how that very same friend dragged her into one ludicrous situation after another.
Alec watched Lesly admirably as she began talking more about herself. He knew that she was nervous before, and he know that she was not used to these sorts of engagements. That was why he was really glad that she was beginning to show him a side of her that he never knew she possessed. Her smiles seemed more genuine and her melodious laughter was not something he thought he would hear. He did not know whether it was the effect of the alcohol or whether she had simply started feeling less tense and cautious around him, but either way he was grateful for the fact that she had finally opened up a little to him.
He offered to walk her home around midnight. She agreed and they continued chatting all the way back to her building. He had never seen her giggle this much and concluded that maybe she was not exaggerating when she told him that she did not hold her alcohol well. She was not drunk. That much was obvious, but given how relaxed she was around him, he thought that alcohol might have helped her a little.
When they reached her building, she said her goodbye and tried to walk inside, but he held her hand to keep her from leaving and drew her back gently towards him. She lost her balance and almost fell, but she grabbed on to the lapels of his coat and giggled.
“I think I’m a little bit drunk.”
“I think so, too” he said in a low deep voice as he smiled warmly at her.
He looked deep into her eyes and tucked the stray strands that the winter breeze blew out of order back behind her ear. His thumb stroked her cheek next and his eyes instantly became drawn to her lips. He looked back into her grey eyes to see whether she was thinking the same thing he was thinking, and what he saw there made him lift her chin up and lean down for a kiss.
He brushed his lips against hers gently while his warm hand continued to caress her cheek and felt her kissing him back hesitantly. He pulled back momentarily, stroked his nose against hers lightly, then tilted his head to the side and claimed her lips one more time. She did not resist him and held on to the lapels of his coat harder before she drew him closer to her. He brushed his lips against hers over and again and felt her lean closer towards him. His thumb gently nudged her chin down and he finally allowed his tongue to get a taste of her. She did not disappoint and kissed him back. When they finally pulled apart, they were both out of breath. She still held on to his coat for fear that she might lose her balance again and was grateful for the fact that his hands were holding her waist.
She cleared her throat nervously after realizing what just happened and tried to speak, “Alec…”
He knew from the look on her face what she wanted to say but was not ready to hear it so he kissed her again. When he pulled back, she had that cute dazed look on her face and was struggling to remember what she wanted to say.
“Alec, there’s something that I have to say…”
“Lesly, not today, please…,” he responded breathlessly, knowing full well where this conversation was going.
“I’m sorry, Alec. You’re great and I think I like you, too, but I’m not ready for this sort of thing right now.”
He sighed deeply, smiled and took a step back, “Fair enough.”
She smiled at him and was about to leave, but before she did, she took a step towards him, stood on her tip toes to kiss him on the cheek, and then whispered a good night.
He watched her walk into the building after waving a goodbye and then dialed a number to have a car pick him up. Although he was rejected, he still felt glad that he went to see her tonight and that she finally got over her feelings of nervousness around him. He was also glad for the fact that she had no recollection of ever meeting him before he joined the DA’a office two years ago. Otherwise, she would not have agreed to work him.
He decided that it would be best for her if she was not reminded of that unfortunate encounter they had in the past. He had nothing but feelings of admiration for her and everything she did after that incident, but he was not sure that she would feel the same way.