In terms of work parties, it wasn’t the worst. Being at Eddie’s allowed for it to stay under control yet flow loosely enough that people were actually mingling in groups they’d never mingled within, so much so that Jack’s certain he’d seen Clark, Emma and Mason actually talking to some colleagues from outside of what he presumes is their platonic throuple.
The repeat playing of Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ might have been the worst element of it all at first, from what he can remember. To not be much of a seasonal holiday guy in the first place whilst having three minutes of sickening lyrics throbbing through his eardrums for what seemed like half an hour, meant it wasn’t exactly the most pleasant of experiences; he’d much sooner have listened to something from Wham! or if he really had to, a repeat of some crickets mating to the tune of Jingle Bells. But again, it wasn’t the worst element of it all.
The worst element of it all happened the next morning, when he woke up with a searing sharp pain in his head, pulsating through his temples, growing even stronger once he shifted to sit up against the headboard, memories flooding back to him.
Clark, Emma and Mason had wandered out at one point, posing under some mistletoe hanging at the door to take a photo before finally leaving, waving their goodbyes which were barely noticeable because they would all be back at work for a final week anyway so it wasn’t much of a big deal. Brooke had had enough drinks in her that she was oblivious to her actions and public display of affection with Paul in a corner booth, making out and pointing to an invisible mistletoe sprig whenever anyone asked them to cut it out. They finally got up to leave when Paul’s jacket came off and Eddie had to physically usher them away making Jack realise she always ends up surprising him in some way.
She wasn’t the only one too though because that’s when the night got really confusing and hard to believe. It must have been when Eddie was ushering Brooke and Paul away or clearing some tables because he suddenly wasn’t alone at the bar anymore, there was Esther saddling up on the bar stool next to him, taking a swig of beer and setting it back down with a satisfied sigh.
“Christmas parties are for lonely suckers, am I right?” She’d asked, rhetorically he’d presumed. He shrugged anyway, watching her from the corner of his eye.
“Lonely suckers and people looking to hook-up.” She gave him that thin lined smile she tends to bring out, like a blank canvas before her true expression breaks through. “Which one are you?” She lifted her chin up with her beer.
“Just cut the ‘and’. I’m a lonely sucker looking to hook-up.”
“Ha! Cheers to that.”
“Alright.” He lifted his glass to her bottle, letting it chime before taking a sip, still watching her. He must have looked away for less than a second though because he’d felt a hand on his thigh then. That’s something he can remember clearly; a warm heated pressure against his tight jeans, fingers curling into the inner seam. He turned his head and smirked at her, bemused.
“You do realise I have more authority than you, right? But not enough so really I too could get in trouble for what you’re doing right now.”
“Yeaup.” He looked her up and down, a little afraid to reach down and move her away.
“Okay well, I’m going to leave now and I think maybe you should stop drinking that. ” He lifted her beer in her other hand from the neck of the bottle, placing it down on the bar top.
Esther moved slowly, dejectedly. Pouting almost like she’d been caught in the act of something wholly innocent, rather than attempting what would surely have ended up as one of the most colossal messes of Jack’s entire career so far.
But she didn’t protest. Which was definitely good, he thought at the time; otherwise, anything could have happened.
He got up, steadfastly ignoring the slight step back he had to take in order to regain balance, and attempted a clumsy wave - to Esther, or to anyone else who might be looking. Eddie called out something to him, he couldn’t be sure what, and he might have warbled back in reply, but either way, it didn’t take him very long to shamble out through the doors and locate his car, parked (graciously) just along the block.
The vest had been on his mind since the start of the party; probably something to do with having to look at Paul’s hideous Target coat all evening - and for whatever reason, it had become his top priority. It wasn’t that late, he’d reasoned, and besides, he’d had the keys to the office for ages and was yet to use them at this time. Perhaps it’d be cathartic, visiting it when it was free of noise and people, when it was just an office - perhaps it’d help with the near-constant headache he’d been getting whenever he stepped foot in the place recently (which, no, definitely wasn’t due to the celebratory advent-style day drinking Roland had been not-so-secretly inviting him to for the past week and a half.)
The elevator dinged once he reached the floor and he was hit with the sudden urge to stroll out, the picture of casual attractiveness with the carefully balanced blend of cool and approachable he’d been attempting recently. But of course, there’d be no one around to appreciate it. Or. One person, in particular, who wouldn’t be around to see it.
The last time he remembered having it (which again, was sort of fuzzy - simply because of the headache, of course) had been in the bullpen, maybe just after lunch, ‘cause he’d taken it off for - not very long, probably just a few minutes, really, but he hadn’t missed the way that certain people’s eyes had dropped to his shoulders, his chest, just covered by shirt, and… Well. It had been worth feeling a little colder, at the time.
He was roughly 99% sure that he left it draped over the back of his own chair, but when he did find it, it was balled up, lying over some paperwork atop Clark’s desk, which. Gross. Nope, he definitely didn’t need any images of what Clark could have been doing with it going through his head. Maybe he’d take a quick trip to the drycleaners in the morning, just in case.
And he was just about to leave. Really, he was. But once again, he was in the office alone - free of noise and people - and he’d always been curious, so it sort of made sense, in his mind, to take a look around. Not snooping, of course, just. Well.
There was Emma’s desk, tidy in a way that he assumed was supposed to convey minimalism, but in actual fact only managed to convey that she rarely completed any actual work. And Mason’s space, which, although it looked to be the opposite, certainly had the same effect.
He wandered over to Brooke’s office. Unlocked door, because she’s the type of person to take most of her work home at the end of the day, and because - unlike her father - she doesn’t have much to hide from her coworkers. There was a sticky note attached to the desktop monitor: ‘Disciplinary meeting w/Jack asap. Remind of policy for inappropriate physical conduct.’ Pffft. It was probably regarding the light, joking, shove he’d given Clark that morning, and in his own humble (correct) opinion, it wasn’t enough of an incident to require yet another discipline session.
He carefully peeled it off the screen, attaching it to the underside of her desk instead. Brooke probably wouldn’t even notice that it had been misplaced. And of course, it perhaps wasn’t entirely necessary that he turn over the photograph of her and Paul, but come on, he’d already spent the last three hours spending time with the couple and seeing their frozen in time, look-how-happy-we-are-together smiles again wasn’t exactly how he wanted to spend the rest of his night in the office-
“You know that pictures can’t talk, Jack,” a familiar voice crowed from the doorway.
“I won’t tell Brooke, don’t worry.” Esther continued. He could hear her footsteps. Closer. He didn’t turn immediately, he actually blinked a little, just to check he wasn’t in some sort of slightly drunken daze of imagining the office was actually running business as usual. When he turned, he fixed his expression to a sly smirk with an underlying grit of his jaw, trying not to jump to any assumptions.
“You didn’t follow me here, did you?”
“So what, you’re the only one who’s allowed in here out of hours?”
“Technically if you don’t have a key then I’m one of the very few people who can, yeah.”
“Oh come on, like Jack Gordon doesn’t like breaking the rules.”
He crossed his arms, his expression still the same because honestly he felt a little unnerved at first, not knowing her next move. It was easier to just stand his ground.
“Are you just gonna’ stand there and judge what I’m doing? Or… I don’t know, explain? It kind of felt like you were…” He tilted his head, figuring out how to word it, “...sending some kind of signal back at the bar.”
“Well, duh!” She laughed a little, her hair flicking up with her shoulders. She had an infectious laugh, the kind of laugh that makes you smile even though you don’t really want to, which is exactly what he did; he let it slip and she stepped closer. “Also, I saw you were heading towards the office and well, I left my boyfriend’s boyfriend’s Christmas present under my desk and I need to grab it before it’s too late.”
“So your boyfriend is just totally cool with what you’re doing right now?”
“We have an arrangement, I’m pretty sure you know the drill by now Jack, you know, especially with all those hikers and lion tamers I’ve heard about.” She’d winked, stepped closer and flashed her hand out to imitate a claw and he could have sworn his heart rate had increased.
“Sure, I know the drill.”
There had to be less than two feet between them, now. Esther regarded him curiously, the expression on her face faltering a little. “So?” She asked, almost impatient.
“Esther,” he sighed. “What are we doing here?”
“I thought that was obvious, Jack.” There it was again, the laughter in her voice. “What was it you said before? You’re lonely and wanting to hook up?”
“You left out the part about being a ‘lonely sucker’. ”
“I don’t think either of us really believe that, though.”
He just shrugged.
“Come on,” it wasn’t pleading, more coaxing. “It wouldn’t be the first time you’ve been involved with someone from the office. Right?”
Jack glanced back, briefly, at the desk.
Catching his look, Esther smirked. “No one has to know. It’ll be behind her back.” At ‘her’, she quirked her eyebrows. Challenging.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He lied.
“If that’s the way you want to do this, fine.” She replied, good naturedly. Like it was just any old conversation. But it wasn’t any old conversation, she’d touched a nerve he was trying to ignore (or a thread he was trying not to pull on, as Eddie would say) and that could only mean one thing; replacing it with a new one. Fighting back.
“No.” He shook his head and closed the gap between them so that he was towering over her, not thinking of anything else. She pursed her lips haughtily as his hand went to her waist, directing her backwards towards the couch. Brooke’s couch, specifically. “I want to do it like this.”
The all-important vest was long gone, thrown under a chair or on the floor behind the door along with one of the buttons on his shirt. Fortunately, he didn’t have to deal with much clean-up or the awkward scramble of finding clothes because his pants were still on and Esther’s blouse and skirt were still covering her but it didn’t excuse them from any tension entirely. He watched her as she dropped her head and leant against his shoulder. He couldn’t be bothered to move her in the moment, it wasn’t as if anyone was going to find them there at whatever ungodly hour it was, so, he let things settle until his shoulder started to ache and the ticking of the clock on Brooke’s desk became overbearing.
“So, that happened.” He managed to speak up.
“Yup.” He felt her nod.
“I meant it when I said no one has to know about this,” Esther offered.
“Yeah,” he attempted a laugh. “We can never tell anyone. Brooke would kill me if she knew.” Then quickly, added, “because of the whole couch-in-her-office thing, of course. Not because - we’re not - whatever.”
“Sure.” She lifted her head and smoothed down the wrinkles in her skirt.
“Not that anything really happened, though. At least, from everyone else’s point of view.”
“And it wasn’t - I mean, stuff like this happens in offices all the time, right? It’s not a big deal.”
“Right.” She grabbed his hand, and he felt a small surge of panic for a split second before he realised she was just trying to see his watch. “It’s late,” she reported back. “Like, really late.”
“I figured.” He almost didn’t want to see the actual time - if it was ‘late’ by Esther’s standards, it was probably near ‘early morning’ by his. He stood up then, offering his hands but dropping them as soon as she was steady, placing them on his thighs so he could wipe away the clamminess.
“No word, right?” She shrugged, almost amused by his adamancy. He pushed a little harder, just in case. “I could get you fired, like big time. I’m Jack Gordon.”
“Yeah right, you love seeing me in the morning. And I guess evening now too… and I know you’re Jack Gordon, it’s why I wanted to climb you like one of those mountains you talk about all the time.”
He remembered the dull ache of a headache starting to work its way through at that precise moment. He clenched his eyes shut along with his hands into fists.
The double-doored storage closet is where he finds himself now, two months after the Christmas party, a month or so into a new relationship. Sadly, he isn’t in the storage closet for the latter reason because Rachel doesn’t work in the office. Esther does though, and although he really doesn’t have time for confronting her or risking getting caught or being eavesdropped on with Aaron around, he has to end what’s going on. She’d promised him and although he may not be the perfect specimen (even though of course, he looks it), he knows promises should never be broken.
They’re talking in hushed voices, with him glancing at the small windows in the doors every few seconds.
“Esther, look, you’re great and all and I know I might not have reacted back out there,” He throws a thumb towards the door, “but you cannot bring up the Christmas party, okay? It’s just--.” He doesn’t know what to say exactly, because, what is it? His fist goes to his forehead as he lets out a frustrated groan.
“Jack, it’s fine, I won’t bring it up again… but, it wasn’t really at the party, was it? I mean, unless you remember it being that fun.” She wiggles her eyebrows up and down suggestively, making his eyes bulge and his temper rage. He doesn’t want to admit it was fun. He can’t admit it was fun, not with Rachel around anyway. All he can do is trust her.
“If you really like me as much as it seems you do, or…” He drops his voice even lower, “...as much as you did that night… then, you’ll be quiet and not ruin everything for me. Is that clear?”
She giggles and nods and shakes her shoulders as he takes a deep breath, turning towards the doors to escape. He pushes them open but she still calls out.
“Remember when you strok--.”