Harriet had striven hard to be, at all times, a confident, driven, and helpful coworker, but she also was very perceptive. And for the entire first week of December, she was quite aware that something was Up with Mr. Knightley.
In fact, she thought, as she saw him, out of the corner of her eye, dart from his office into Emma's empty one, there was something Up with him at the moment.
“Mr. Knightly? What are you doing in here? Emma's at lunch.” Harriet stopped in the doorway, determined to investigate.
“Oh, Harriet! Uh... hi!” Alex shot up from where he had been stooping over Emma's desk, looked trapped, and Harriet's heart started to melt for him. He probably wasn't up to anything, and she didn't want to make him stressed. Alex must have sensed her deliberation, because he gave her a charming smile.
No, she thought, and put her hands on her hips. “Hi. Don't try to tell me that you were coming over to see Emma, because I know you, and you are the kind of boyfriend who remembers when she has an orthodontic appointment.”
“Hey, she was the one who synced our calendars.”
“And you're not the kind of businessman who doesn't read his calendar in its entirety.”
“Harriet, you're getting really good at grilling. It's unsettling.”
“And you are getting really good at being sketchy. Are you...” she moved towards Alex, who promptly shut the laptop sitting on Emma's desk behind his back. Clearly he had thought she wouldn't notice it. But she had. “What are you doing with her computer?”
Alex gave her a hopeful smile, which was cute, but futile. “I guess I can't say there's a network update I wanted to install, right?”.
“I'm dating the IT guy, so, no, you can't say that.”
Alex laughed awkwardly, his eyes shooting around the room, probably looking for escape.
“You've been doing weird things for weeks. This is the third time I've caught you sneaking in here, and you ransacked my craft box the other day, and never returned the glue gun.”
She took two brisk high-heeled steps forward to close the remaining space between them. She narrowed her eyes, and, in her three-inch Jimmy Choos, she was just tall enough to stare him down. She usually would have felt bad being this disciplinary; people usually had their reasons, after all. But, this concerned Emma, and Harriet held her friends as a higher importance than her reservations.
She cleared her throat. “Mr Knightley-- Alex. You are going to tell me what you are up to, and you are going to tell me, now.”
Alex took one look at her, and collapsed into Emma's chair, crinkled khakis mirroring the defeat on his face. “Alright, Harriet, but promise me you won't tell Emma about it.”
Harriet pulled up the chair in the corne to take a seat next to him. She glanced at the place Emma's camera always used to film from. She used to always be on guard about the secrets she shared in this room. She wasn't very good at not sharing her feelings, but still, the knowledge that she was being recorded had provided some self-consciousness. Now, she didn't have to be worried about Emma watching the footage of this conversation.
What Harriet did have to worry about was securing the location, guest list, band, catering, and photo booth for the 2014 Holiday Party that was only a week away. First thing's first, she thought to herself. She turned back to Alex, and sat up straight and put her right hand on her hip for confidence. “Spill. But first, I want to establish that if I don't approve, you're not continuing with this."
The heavy snow blew around in gusts of wind, whipping tree branches to and fro, some place in the state of New York.
But Emma, happily in Central California, walked in the front door of the office, and took off her blazer and light scarf.
No-one was present in the suite: Harriet's desk, usually occupied at 2pm, was suspiciously empty. She poked her head around to look at the desk more closely. There were remnants of bright pink origami paper, and Latin Second Year sitting neatly next to the computer. So it wasn't as if Harriet was off sick for the day. A very non-nosy-girlfriend look into Alex's office showed that he, as well, seemed to have fled the scene. He also, evidently, was harboring a case of candy bars from the pharmacy that were full of dyes and other chemicals, and totally horrible for him. Emma grabbed them and walked to her office, throwing them into her trashcan on the way to her desk.
She set down her purse on her couch, took a seat on her desk chair, and opened her computer.
Whom are you going to dance with?
She yelped, recoiling in surprise, and almost spilled warm caffeinated almond milk on her shirt. But, thankfully, she did not. Instead, she placed the cup on her desk, and looked again.
There, in the middle of her computer screen, was a post-it note. It wasn't like post-it notes were at all new to her. Even if they had been placed on her computer screen in the middle of the day while she was out of the office, it wasn't exactly creepy. It was just... a little surprising.
Emma pulled the post-it note off of her screen, and smiled when she recognized the handwriting. It was Alex's, of course. She wondered why she hadn't identified it at first. But, then again, it was being camouflaged by some attempt at cursive. Alex usually used careful printed letters, saying that, while he understood the value of cursive as a traditional form of writing, print was really just more practical for everyone involved. But Emma recognized his more relaxed writing from quick notes he'd scribbled to her to tell her that he'd being going out for lunch and wouldn't be back until later, or that her father had called him, trying to get in contact with Emma through his phone line because she was already using the both of hers.
There it was, though, Alex's hand writing, in cursive. It looked sort of forced, but he had written the capital "W" larger than the rest and with a flourish at the beginning, and it caused her to break out into giggles instead of laughter. She stuck the note to her desk, and turned on her computer. The desktop showed up, and the calendar popped up with reminders of her appointments for the remainder of the day, but she allowed herself to glance a few more times at the note.
She assumed Alex was capable of being romantic, but she had imagined it would be in the form of a nice email with correct punctuation, or giving her flowers (she knew the latter to be true from experience.) Epistolary messages was a new concept. She looked out her door to the eerily quiet office. Him leaving it here without any requirement for her to respond was surprisingly unexpected-Alex, who was so fond of addressing subjects face-to-face.
Emma gave up on the subject, and answered some emails and made some calls. A few hours later, she was on a video chat with Annie, totally working-- they were discussing the ongoing success of the matchmaking service Emma had provided for Annie, when Annie stopped Emma mid-Emma-pep talk about shoe choice, and said, "Emma, is someone there with you?"
"What? No." She answered.
"Well, you keep looking off-camera." Annie accused.
"I do not." Emma laughed it off, hoping Annie wouldn't start one of her invariably successful inquisitions.
Annie rolled her eyes, and her indulgent look came across even over video chat. "Sure, Emma, if you say so."
Emma nodded, relieved to be released and said, "By the way, for the holiday party, we're going to have a mistletoe tree shipped in."
"Whatever it is," Annie continued, ignoring the subject change, "I'm happy for you. You've been beaming the entire conversation."
"The mistletoe tree," Emma said, "is being shipped from Michigan." She could feel a blush rising in her cheeks, and she fought it off by force of sheer will. If a blush could be deterred by willpower, Emma would do it.
On the Friday morning before their work break for Christmas, Alex intercepted Harriet when she was leaving to pick up the coffees for the three of them. "Wait, Harriet, do you mind if I get the coffees today?"
"Uh... sure." Harriet said with a questioning look on her face. A second later a thought seemed to occur to her. "Oh," she said knowingly. "Is this about your project? You want to deliver Emma's coffee to her?"
"Yeah." Alex said, a little embarrassed. "But don't worry, I'll grab your order, too."
"Oh, don't worry about. I can get my own."
"Nope," he shook his head, unrelenting. "What's your poison?"
"Medium caramel latté with almond milk. Thanks!"
"Got it," Alex assured, and headed out the door towards his car. As he retrieved his keys, he realized that he didn't actually know what Emma's coffee drink if choice was.
He turned on the spot, and stuck his head in the door of the office.
"Harriet, what does Emma drink?"
"Oh, an almond milk white mocha!" she said with a smile, and with a thanks, he head back to his car. He was surprised he didn't know something as simple as Emma's coffee drink of choice, especially considering the necessity of caffeine for her ability to function. Apparently, he had a lot to learn.
Emma bounced into her room, reminding the villa on her phone that they were hosting their holiday party at that they needed three separate bars. No, they didn’t need a dress up Santa present, even though it was complimentary during the month of December. And yes, the menu had to be peanut and soy-free.
Emma got off of the phone with a compulsory well-wishing, and reached for the coffee cup that was sitting on her desk.
It wasn’t until she was about to pick it up that she realized what was off-- there was a garish holiday design printed on the paper, under a popular corporate logo. She darted out of her office, and found Harriet at her desk. “Harriet?” she asked, “since when did we start getting coffees from that terrible corporate coffee brand that Alex loves? Not that I’m upset,” she hastened to add. Harriet wasn’t her assistant any longer, and she wouldn’t critique her for that type of thing, anyways. From very early on in their relationship, Harriet had gotten Emma coffee as a favor.
Harriet let out a breath that it looked like she had been holding for quite a while. “Oh, I know, Emma. I was worried that this was going to happen.” Clearly it had been difficult for her to keep this in. “Alex insisted on picking up the coffee this morning. It wasn’t until he had left that I realized what kind of coffee shop he thought was appropriate.”
“Alex wanted to get me coffee?” Emma asked, stuck on the beginning of the story.
“Yes. It’s sort of cute, I think,” Harriet said with a smile.
“Me, too.” Emma said. “Thanks for the info, Harriet.”
Back in her office, Emma considered the cup, wondering if Alex even knew her order. She was now actually sort of… fond of the garish holiday decorations under the logo. It was then that she noticed the name that was written on the side.
Miss Emma Woodhouse
it said, in that curly cursive of Alex’s. Below this was written:
Please open lid.
She followed the directions, and removed the lid of the cup. On the top of the mocha, in lieu of the whipped cream which Emma was thankful Alex had omitted, was a heart drawn in foam.
Emma, for the second time in a week, bounced down the hall and stuck her head into Alex’s office. He wasn’t there.
Emma was actually fine that he wasn’t there for her to respond to. After the incident with the post-it note, as she and Harriet were calling it (in jest, of course,) Emma had cornered Alex when he and Harriet had returned to the office from what they called their “late lunch.” She had told him that she accepted his invitation to dance, and he had told her that who did she have to dance with otherwise, because Churchhill wasn’t available anymore. This had lead to Emma bombarding him with questions about what exactly that meant. Had Frank succeeded in winning Jane back? Had Alex heard something from Maggie Bates? What did Alex know? She had demanded that he tell her everything, and he had resolutely declined, and then proposed they go to the five star Italian place down the street from her apartment for dinner.
She hadn’t gotten him to explain the inspiration for the post-it, and assumed it was a one-time thing. Now, the coffee gesture seemed to make it a series. She’d figure out his agenda eventually. First, she was going to brave the corporate espresso, and pick out what shoes she was going to buy Harriet for Christmas. All in the name of business, of course.
Emma sidled over to her second best friend and coworker who was standing in between the mulled wine bar and the over-sized Christmas tree. "So, Harriet," she said, with a twinkle in her eye. “How do you feel about mountain climbing?”
“Um...” Harriet paused, clearly trying to figure out where Emma was going to go with this. “It seems... fun? I could do it, I guess.” She looked at Emma dubiously.
“Harriet, I would never make you go mountain climbing." Emma rushed to assure her. "Risk our promising lives to get to the top of a rock? No, thank you.”
“Thank god.” Harriet visibly relaxed, and took a relieved sip of her wine.
“There's a mountain climber over there, and she's single," Emma resumed.
Harriet nodded alertly.
“There's a professional Squash player over there,” she pointed to a tall woman with dark, curly hair. “She's single, too. … If she looks familiar, it's because she was, until recently, dating a certain young female celebrity who came out earlier this year at the HRC gala.”
Understanding flooded Harriet's face at this, and was followed soon after by comprehension of the plan.
“They could totally be perfect together, Emma.” she said with conviction.
“Right? Oh Harriet, I'm so happy that you agree with me. Mountain climbing and professional sports? It's perfect. It's surprising to me that they haven't gotten together already.”
“Absolutely. It must be so sad to be single when you have a demanding career that takes you traveling for large parts of the year.”
“I think, as simply concerned people, we should make sure they're introduced.”
“I completely agree! But how will we do it? A party? A benefit at which they're both special guests? A benefit would be great, something to do with sports, right? Wait, is mountain climbing a sport?” Harriet looked as perplexed as Emma felt about these technicalities.
“Oh, I'm sure it is.” Emma waved a hand in the air. She felt a flourish of warmth in her heart that Harriet and she seemed to be so similar. She was inexplicably happy to have someone in her life who had the same passion.
“Youth fund, let's do a youth fund!”
“Outdoor activities education youth fund with half of the profits focusing on LGBTQ youth in schools around the state.” Emma ended triumphantly.
“It's going to be amazing!” Harriet did the fist movement that now belonged to Emma and her.
“Hell yeah!” Emma announced, mirroring the action.
“Oh, there's the karaoke guys! They'll need my help setting up.” Harriet looked past the tree, immediately switching to businesswoman. “We'll continue discussing this after the holiday break.”
Emma gave her a little wave, and, smiling, turned around to set off towards the champagne table (mulled wine stained the teeth!,) but instead ran directly into one Mr. Alex Knightly.
“Alex!” she exclaimed.
“Emma.... wait, do I see the planning expression on your face?" He narrowed his eyes at her.
“Ha-ha, what?” Emma said, rolling her eyes in the manner she knew always convinced him he wasn't on to anything.
“Sure.” he said. Ha, he had dropped the suspicion. It was so easy.
"Have some champagne." He held out the flute in his left hand to her.
"You know me so well, Alex Knightley." She gave him a bright smile, and linked her arm over his. “Let’s make the rounds, shall we?” She pulled him in the direction of the mountain climber.
“Make the rounds? This isn’t a dinner party, and we aren’t hosts.”
She simply gave Alex a pointed look, and said, “Alex, we are whatever we want to be.”
Alex rolled his eyes, probably realizing it was best not to argue with her. But he let himself be dragged where she wanted him to go.
“I have someone to talk to about stocks, really quickly. I told them that I’d be by after the dinner.” Alex said.
“Stocks? No, Alex. You are <i>not</i> talking about stocks at a holiday party.”
“It will only take a second. She just has some advice on investments.”
“Who is it? Jane Fairfax? She’s the only person here aside from you who would think accounting aligns with the holiday spirit.”
“Actually, I saw Jane making out with Frank Churchhill behind the tree.” Alex shrugged, like this would be no big deal to Emma.
“Go, Frank Churchhill!” Emma said, delighted. “He really knew what he was doing, winning her back. Disinvesting from hurtful businesses, and giving her what she really wanted. I’m proud of him!”
“Yes, he does seem to be very successful in those endeavours,” Alex stated.
“Wait…” Emma realized something. “Alex Knightly, you’ve been giving me romantic gestures recently, too. Are you courting me?”
“Not courting, like this is Victorian England,” he specified, like the true knitpick he was.
“But you’re sending me cute notes, and taking me out to nice dinners.” Everything lined up in her head. “Ah-ha! You even agreed to go to that new raw vegan place. I was wondering what that was about.”
“Well, after we told your father that we were together, he asked me if I had been courting you correctly, and then I realized that aside from flowers, I haven’t actually been doing anything in a technically romantic way. I realized you do enjoy romance, even if you never talked about it in connection with yourself.”
“So the indulgent dinners, and the foam art, and the post-it note, they were all romantic gestures?”
“Did you recognize the quote on the post-it? I found it in the classic novel you liked so much in highschool. The one that you wrote that paper on.” he explained.
"Yes, I think I'm supposed to respond with something about us not being brother and sister. But that's a little awkward for the century." Alex snorted into his drink. "Those were very well-written essays," she continued, to give him time to compose himself. "My Senior paper got me into my undergrad school, afterall," she thought it important to add.
"And yet, people critiqued you for not writing an essay about a strong woman."
“Not a strong woman? Ha! She operated with optimism, elegance, and really great clothes in a time when the only power she was allowed to have was social.”
“It sounds like someone I know,” he said, and gave her a small smile. Emma took a moment and gave thanks to the author who wrote that book. Without it she may not have gotten into her top choice school, setting off a series of stepping stones which had lead her to here, at a holiday party with Alex Knightley, who was smiling at her like she made his life complete, and who took her to raw vegan restaurants even when she hated them.
Emma slipped her hand into his, and sighed theatrically. “I guess we can go talk about boring numbers with someone who clearly hasn’t drunk enough martinis tonight.”
“Whatever you want,” he said, and she beamed.
“Hey, Alex. Hellooooo.” Emma poked him in the shoulder.
Alex looked up from a humungous binder of papers that looked like it could smash someone over the head and knock them out. This was a fairly violent thought process, but Emma blamed it on her naturally competitive nature.
“Yeah, Emma?” Alex was half alert, hands still holding some pages open.
“Stop looking at numbers. You promised me a dance, didn’t you?”
“Alex let the pages fall, and looked surprised. “Oh yeah, I did.”
He slipped his hand into hers and pulled her up from the table, body pressed gently against him. Emma still couldn’t get over how nice he smelled - like pine trees and fresh air.
He led her to the dance floor as a slow song started to play. Emma leaned her head against his chest, content to have the weight of his arms around her waist; hers thrown around his neck, holding him close.
It wasn’t until Alex was lifting her head up towards his lips that she realized that he had danced them over to a bunch of mistletoe that had been suspended in front of the reindeer ice sculpture. The mistletoe kiss was sweet and chaste, the taste of the wine from the party still on his lips. He dipped her back a little and Emma felt like the heroine in an old movie - the one who finally got the guy. They were at her holiday party, thrown by the company that she had started, and she was in the arms of someone she had never imagined to be her happy ending. She had earned this all herself, and been chosen by a guy who loved her just the quirky, hyperactive way she was, flaws and all.
Emma and Alex came up for air just as the DJ transitioned from a slow song to the most recent hit of the summer. Alex started rummaging in his suit jacket pockets and Emma’s heart started beating faster than the dance had made it. Wait-- was he going to propose? Now? Here? Did she want him to propose? They had only been together for half a year. But they had been good friends for far, far longer; and friendship was that part that made it matter. By the time Alex found what he had been looking for, Emma had decided that yes, she want like to marry Alex Knightley.
But, instead of a ring box, Alex pulled out a small stack of photos and handed them to her. Emma was slightly disappointed but intrigued by the gift.
Emma smiled and threw her arms around his neck, pulling him close into a kiss.