Emily: I have a question.
Cal: Uh-oh. What’s that look mean?
Emily: (sighs) Gillian. Do you love her?
Cal: Of course I do, darling. Of course I love her.
Emily: No, I mean REALLY love her.
Cal: (pauses, looks down then back up) Yeah.
(Emily snuggles up to her dad)
Emily: Then what are you waiting for?
(Cal thinks for a long beat and shakes his head)
Cal: I don’t have an answer for that one, love.
Cal should've known there was no way Emily would be able to let this go. She's half lawyer and half deception expert, after all, with a dose of her own special brand of dogged perception and stubborn bloodymindedness to complete the adorable yet unstoppable package. If she was concerned and curious enough to ask in the first place, then of course there was no way she'd just shrug it off and continue on as normal.
He should've expected something, but in his defence, he's pretty sure he never could've expected this.
"So, have you figured out a plan yet?"
"You know Foster adores you, right?"
"If you don't say something soon, I'm gonna do it myself."
"Why haven't you asked her out yet?"
It's unrelenting, and he's running out of excuses.
"C'mon, dad, Gillian isn't gonna wait forever."
He doesn't have the heart to explain the last option is what he's banking on, despite knowing it's the coward's way out. Because for all the years he's known her, Gillian has been his ideal of perfection. His rock. The one he looks to for guidance and acceptance and a clip round the ear when he needs it. His partner in crime, his guardian angel, his best bloody friend. It's easier, it's safer, when she's out of reach.
"You really need to talk to her."
And he hates Alec for not seeing how amazing she is, and he hates Dave for lying to her and hurting her, but the truth is... the men in her life have always been the best excuses not to risk their friendship. He wants her, loves her, needs her. Needs her so much it scares the crap out of him more often than he'd like to admit. Needs her so much more, he's sure, than she needs him. And he's not certain he'd be any better for her than those wankers were.
"She makes you happy. What more do you want?"
And yes, he wants the right to kiss her - properly, mind - and hold her and love her, but if he fucked this up, if he messed up the relationship (and his track record is not impressive, he's hardly a sure thing) and it screwed with their friendship... if he lost her, he's not sure he'd survive.
Losing Gill would make divorcing Zoe look like a piece of cake.
So he prevaricates. "Em, I need to do this right, okay?" he says, when he can't just stay mum any more.
Em rolls her eyes in the teenagerly way that says he's a hopeless excuse for a man and she despairs of him.
(He sort of agrees, if he's honest.)
"What're you so scared of, dad?"
That's his Em. Cutting to the heart of it, and seeing right through him in the process. "Ev'rythin'."
Her face softens as she takes in the honesty of this answer. His little girl is not so little any more, despite how babyfaced she still looks, and has more wisdom and understanding than he gives her credit for. "Don't you think it's better to at least try?" She smiles encouragingly. "I mean, she's practically my step-mom already, she's your best friend, you already know each other inside out, she's... She's Gillian, dad. She's perfect for you."
"I know, love. She is. But I dunno if I'm perfect for her."
Emily frowns slightly, opens her mouth, but nothing comes out.
She's trying to find a way to argue, he's sure, but even his darling daughter knows he's far from perfect. They're on the couch again, where this conversation started, weeks ago now, and she snuggles into his shoulder. He's not perfect, but he'll always be her dad and she'll always be his little girl, and when words fail, they anchor each other with hugs.
"Maybe she doesn't need perfect, dad. Maybe she just needs someone who really loves her."
He pulls a face at the top of her head. She's being so logical about this, as if relationships and love and fear are just something you can figure out if you put enough work in, like calculus or chemistry. As if Cal plus Gillian is as simple as 1+1.
He'd really, really like to believe she's right, but since he's certain his sanity, never mind his heart and his business, depend on his solving this equation correctly without blowing anything up, he can't be so sanguine. And all his years of studying emotion don't give him much confidence in logic necessarily being the best tool to unpick it.
"I don't think she's going anywhere, you know?"
He frowns, uncertain what she means.
She twists her head to look up at him. "She's put up with a whole lot of crap from you over the years, dad, and she's still there. She's still the first person you call. You're still the first person she calls, and she trusts you to come when you need her." Em shrugs and curls back into his chest. "I don't think telling her you love her is going to make her walk away."
He brushes a strand of hair back behind her ear. She is so sure.
"She loves you. I mean... I don't know if she loves you, but she definitely loves you. She's not going to desert you."
It should be him reassuring Emily, not the other way round. She's not supposed to have to be the adult in this conversation. But he adores her for it, for putting words around his fear and telling him it won't come true. "I really hope you're right, Em."
"I am." She hasn't yet lost the simple faith of a child about stuff like this. The people she loves most deserve happy endings and will get them.
He envies her the certainty.