One month later
She cleared out her office that same morning, after saying good-bye to Loker and Torres and a handful of other remaining employees.
It hadn't taken long.
She left the building with one box that Loker carried to her car for her. It held her personal lap-top, a small, framed picture she bought on a whim at the Eastern Market, two coffee mugs, an engraved pen that a client had given her and a dozen or so textbooks. Although truthfully, after all her time at the Lightman Group she'd long forgotten which books were hers and which were Cal's. They always shared all their resources and as a result, she probably left behind some of hers and took some of his.
One box. After nearly ten years.
Gillian Foster had looked at it sitting in her car and it made her sad.
Ten years of my life and that's all I'm taking with me.
It's funny, that the others at the Group always thought of her as the sentimental one. Yet when it came to belongings, that label really belonged to Cal Lightman. He was the one with all the family photos on his desk. Half a dozen photos of Emily from toddler to teenager. A shelf full of travel memorabilia from his dissertation days. A bottle of liquor in a crystal carafe. A leather sofa and blanket. There was even a photo of a dog he used to own. A pesky little pug named Isabel.
Cal's office was an extension of his home.
Hers was a work space. Neat, tidy and easily disassembled.
There had been no photos on her desk when she cleared it out. Not since she took down the one of her and Alec, smiling and happy on a sunny Sunday afternoon in DC.
When she arrived home she took the lap-top out of the box and left the rest of the contents in the car.
Back then her excuse had been that it was too heavy to carry with her still injured arm.
Now, a month later, that excuse no longer applied but the box still sat in the back seat of her car.
She stayed home for a few days after that. A few days of cocooning and recovering and ignoring the telephone, to watch all the movies and read all the books she'd never had time for anymore.
Then she went to a travel agent, stared at the posters on the wall and booked a trip to the first place that caught her eye.
Rome. Ten days.
She checked herself into a small hotel on a side street, not far from the busy Via dei Fori Imperiali and decided to do every touristy thing her guidebook suggested.
She toured the Coliseo. Spent three days at the Vatican exploring its museums. Climbed up the Cupola at St. Peter's, all three hundred and twenty steps, and basked in the glorious view of the city that greeted her when she got to the top. She sat on the Spanish Steps and met a chatty old Australian who insisted on buying her lunch and telling her stories of trekking through Papua New Guinea. She tossed a coin into the Trevi Fountain and wandered through the ruins that were only blocks from her hotel. She stepped into the Pantheon and ate gelato as she strolled along the banks of the Tiber. Had dinner at a different piazza nearly every night and finished two romance novels sitting on sunny cafe patios. Spent so many hours walking through endless side streets that she'd picked up a healthy tan and lost a few pounds, in spite of the copious amounts of pasta and pizza she indulged in.
And on her last evening in Rome, something steered her into an old stone church, hidden off yet another narrow street.
She wasn't particularly religious, but she lit a candle that night, and sat down on a pew, watching it burn in the dimly lit room.
She thought of him then, even though everything she'd done in the past nine days had been part of a concerted effort to put him out of her mind.
But that night she didn't fight it.
Sitting alone in that old church, Gillian let herself miss him. Part of her even wished that he was sitting next to her. In her personal space. Where he used to be. Where she thought he'd always be.
After coming back to DC, she listened to the messages Cal left her. Six in total.
-Hi, Foster. Don't really have a reason to call. Just wanted to say hi, see how you're doing. If you're up to letting me know, call me
-Still no reason. Other than to let you know the Lightman Group is still standing. Shockingly. We all miss you. I miss you
-Morning, Foster. Hope you're doing alright. Group is still is one piece, except Torres thinks she owns the place now. Go figure. At this rate there might be a name change soon and it'll be the Torres Group. Would love to see you, hear from you...anything really, that's got you in it
-Guess you're still not up for talking with me. S'alright, luv. Whenever you're ready. In case you haven't hit the erase button yet, thought you might like to know we got a new client last week. Leslie Rotblatt signed us on for a one-year contract. It's a big one. Celebratory dinner, yeah? I've got more good company news too. I'll even pick up the bill
-Forgot to add. You can pick the restaurant. If that helps you answer with a yes
-Hiya, Foster. So it's official. Em's going to Berkeley. No big surprise, my genes and all. She's way too excited to leave her Dad. It's nauseating really. Been a bit proud too, but don't tell her in case she stops by. Still missing you. Me that is, not Em. Well, Em is too...both of us are. Bloody hell, I'm rambling. Can't help it. Decent conversation's hard to come by at the office these days and at least your machine's got your voice on the other end. That and I look less mad talking to myself when there's a phone next to my ear.
She listened to each one and then deleted them all.
Even if the last one did make her smile.
Gillian left the city again the next day to spend some time with her mother. Let herself be spoiled like a teenager as she slept in and ate home-cooked meals before finally feeling like she was ready to go back and start her life over.
It had brought her here, to where she was sitting now, in this sparsely decorated office, wearing a suit and heels again, waiting for the man who was there to meet her. The man who would hopefully offer her the position she applied for.
He entered through the only door in the room, barred and stainless steel, and greeted her with a pleasant expression on his face. "Dr. Foster, so nice to finally meet you. Welcome to the DC Central Detention Facility."
"Lightman...I need that space," Torres announced after barging into his office, unannounced, for the second time this morning. "I can't keep doing everything you've asked me to do on that tiny desk."
Cal raised a single eyebrow in her direction. "Have you learned about the concept of habituation yet?"
"Habituation in the basic animal refers to the process of responding less strongly over time to repeated stimuli."
"What are you talking about?"
He straightened his back and levelled both eyes at hers. "Just because I no longer yell at you each time you barge into my office doesn't mean I enjoy it any more than when you did it the first time."
Her cheeks darkened. "I wouldn't have to barge into your office anymore if I had my own!"
"What's wrong with your work space?"
"For starters...it's not my own. It's full of Loker's crap! His ant farm takes up half of our desk!"
"Then get rid of it."
Ria Torres sighed. "There's an empty office next to yours."
"It's Foster's office."
"She cleared it out a month ago!"
He watched her nostril's flare. Anger. No doubts about that one.
"If she comes back, I'll gladly vacate it again. Believe me...no one would rather have her back in there doing all the things that I'm now doing than me! But...until then. I'm either taking up that space or...I'm...I'm quitting!"
Cal observed her, enjoying the improbable mix of defiance and doubt, bravado and hesitance that he read all over her face. "Fine then."
It was an answer she didn't know what to make of. "Fine then what?"
"Fine," he said softly. "Take the office."
She exhaled, surprised that was the extent of the battle. "Thanks."
Cal nodded his head.
Truth was, as much as he liked Torres, and he really did, in spite of the hard time he gave her, he hated the idea of anyone else occupying that office.
It was one thing to walk by and see it empty, but another altogether to walk by and see someone else in it. Not that he really had any choice in the matter. The last thing he could afford at this point was losing his "natural." Torres was an asset to the company. Probably his best one next to himself, now that Foster was gone.
Still. The thought of seeing her in Foster's office bothered him.
It hammered in the fact that she wasn't coming back.