Oliver watched Grace from across the dinner table. There was nothing unordinary about the evening. Work was as done as it could be for the day, Annie had a friend over from school in the afternoon to work on a project, and now they all sat together eating supper as always. Annie had her hair pulled back, a style she wore often as her hair began to grow out and she wore a light blue dress, perhaps too summery for such a cold winter day. Grace wore her usual work clothes. And yet, as she shared a laugh and a story with Annie just now, he couldn't help but notice something different about her. It wasn't bad, not in the slightest. The shy, unsure, younger woman whom he'd courted a near year ago sat here before him with all the confidence in the world.
When it came to work, she never missed a beat. Not then, not now. To discover the quiet side of her was a surprise. While she never was loud and boisterous, she could always hold her own with his business associates and whomever else she was forced to confront. Given this, when he pulled her away from the crowd last Christmas morning, he was shocked to discover her inability to look him in the eye for more than a few seconds at a time. At first, he feared he'd made her uncomfortable — something he'd only considered for a moment prior to taking her hand while the children opened their gifts. And then he saw her smile. It was one he'd only seen once before. It was during Annie's first night with them as they explored New York City. Now she was smiling because of him, and he realized, this was her truest smile.
It took some time before she fully dropped this quiet side. Their first dinner out together had been less than fantasy. Without work in front of them, they struggled for conversation. After all these years, Annie aside, they'd hardly discussed anything beyond the weather. Whether her silence was due to the uncomfortable air between them or rather it was the cause, he had started to realize his worst fear: An office romance wasn't strong enough to survive in the real world.
The mood changed when they returned home. Riddled with defeat, Oliver said goodnight with a squeeze of her hand and a kiss on her cheek. This was when she found her voice, apologizing for her lack of conversation. Figuring he hadn't any more to risk, he asked her what was wrong. She looked at her feet as she answered, admitting to him how nervous she was... how nervous she'd been right from the start. Worry in her voice, she tried to explain it wasn't him who intimidated her, rather, her lack of belief in herself. How could she match up to the women she'd be expected to socialize now that her role was changing?
So it wasn't lack of interest at all, he noted. He pulled her into his study, a place he never imagined sharing with anyone. There he kissed her, only for a brief moment before he spoke. He said whatever he could think of to convince her she had more to offer than any of his colleagues' wives or escorts. So what if she'd worked for him all this time, he questioned, assuring her it didn't matter in the end. Those women, or anyone for that matter, were going to think what they wanted and that their opinions don't mean anything at the end of the day. If they know what's good for them, he added, they'll treat whomever he's with like royalty as long as they stand a gain from his wealth in any case. To this, she smiled – that smile that would always reflect the lights of the city in her eyes along with it.
Comfortable conversation still took time as it always did when newly acquainted. They might have worked together, however, aside from trivial facts, they didn't know much else. Grace, of course, was at an advantage as his secretary. It made Oliver wish he'd paid more attention over the years. So this was where they began. Silences crept in now and again, as they do, but the quiet wasn't as burdensome. In fact, sometimes it was rather comfortable, especially those cold nights in late January snuggled together by the fire.
Months and seasons later, she gained her self-esteem, even wearing her hair differently and dressing more like a billionaire's wife even when dressed for work. He hadn't wasted any time in proposing, nor on setting a date for the wedding. By spring they were honeymooning in Europe, Annie, too, along for the journey. He hadn't planned on her continuing her job once they returned home. Alas, she wouldn't have it any other way. Not for a while, she corrected. Though he didn't like to say it aloud, he was thankful for her choice. No one would ever be able to take her place.
Now it seemed as though Grace was always talking, just as lively as Annie. He didn't mind, though. Not in the slightest. He marveled at the sound of her voice, better yet, her laugh. And there were certainly a lot of laughs with Annie around. A year ago he would have hushed them both. It pained him to know this. Thank God he'd been able to change. Thank God he was given the opportunity and an open heart. By now he couldn't begin to figure how his life would be if Annie hadn't come along. Much the same as before, he guessed. Dreary and routine. Sometimes he craved the old structure, but he was learning to adjust. The uncertainty proved worth it. Because while there were times of difficulty, there were even more times of joy. Joy he thought he wasn't put on this earth to receive.
Grace looked to him after a while, noticing he hadn't said a word since 'pass the carrots'. She smiled at him, knowing he was staring at her. Their eyes locked and they shared a silent yet knowing sentiment — their love for each other and their excitement for the roads ahead.