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By Your Side

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It was really happening. For the first time in [REDACTED] years, she was going to see him again. Lily had kept herself composed on the flight, but by the time they boarded the chartered yacht to Albert’s private island, she had become a ball of nerves. She fretted at Garrett, pacing and worrying about meeting her old fiance again after so long apart.

Not that long. Garrett whispered, and skillfully distracted her from her worries. When she began to pace, he swept her into a dance; when she put herself down, convinced that Albert wouldn’t want to see her after all, he shook his head, and wouldn’t hear any argument that she wasn’t smart, and charming, and beautiful; and anyone who couldn’t see it was a fool.

By the time the yacht reached the dock, Lily was calm again, ready to face Albert with her usual grace and poise. Garrett, ever the gentleman, took her hand as she stepped down the gangway. She squeezed it and smiled, and gave him a soft, warm “Thank you”.

 

 

As Lily and Albert reconnected, Garrett watched him like a hawk. He accompanied Lily as her dutiful shadow as she and Albert walked, talked, and toured the island. He kept a respectful distance, of course, but always stayed close at hand.

Beneath his polite, aloof exterior, Garrett was wary. Lily had been quick to forgive Albert for abandoning their engagement and disappearing without a trace, but that only gave him more reason to be vigilant. He hadn’t known him before, but he wouldn’t sit back and allow Albert to break Lily’s heart a second time.

After a few days of this, Garrett began to feel silly. This was excessive. Overbearing, even. Lily didn’t seem to have noticed yet, but he had become the very definition of a third wheel.

He should get used to stepping back, he reasoned, ignoring the tight pain in his chest. He would have to let them spend time together without getting in their way.

Fortunately, they still had a country to run, and paperwork was the perfect excuse to stay in. Garrett would take care of business so Lily wouldn’t have to worry about a thing. He would make sure she wouldn’t have to lift a finger for anything less than an international emergency while she was on vacation.

 

 

For a reason she couldn’t place, Lily began to feel off-balance. She loved Albert, didn’t she? Then why did it feel so strange to spend so much time with him alone? She kept finding herself turning to look for Garrett, even when he wasn’t there.

Rather than interrogate those feelings, she simply called out, “Garrett! Come on, we’re heading out. It was so hot yesterday, I wish you had been there to fetch me a lemonade.”

It was a flimsy excuse, but she shouldn’t need an excuse for Garrett to be by her side.

 

 

Garrett followed behind. He tried to think about anything else, but he couldn’t help but overhear their conversation.

“Do you remember that time,” Lily started giggling to herself, leaning closer to Albert, “for Easter, you wanted to surprise me, with chocolates, and flowers, and you wore--” she dissolved into laughter, and Albert started chuckling too.

“That bunny suit! Ears and all. God, I don’t know what I was thinking.”

They seemed happy as they reminisced about old times, before Garrett had known Lily. He had started as just a regular secretary, but she had quickly singled him out. As they grew closer, she confided in him about Albert, and he had been more than willing to help her enact her revenge. It was unbelievable to him that anyone could have turned their back on Lily like Albert had.

Despite how close they became (and no matter how sensually they danced), their relationship remained strictly professional, and Garrett wouldn’t ever have tried to change that. For as long as he had known her, no matter how much time had passed, there had only ever been one man in her heart.

 

 

While they relaxed in the lounge in the evening, Lily excused herself to freshen up, leaving the two men alone together for the first time since their arrival. Garrett would have been content to sit in silence, but Albert seemed to have something on his mind.

“Garrett?” Albert began, “I don’t think we’ve had a chance to really get to know each other. You’re a man of few words, I’ve noticed.”

Garrett nodded, and crossed his legs on the sofa.

“Even still, I feel like I already know a lot about you. Lily talks about you, you know. I wanted to thank you, for taking care of her all this time.”

Garrett shook his head once, as if to say anyone would do the same.

Albert gave him a knowing look, and continued.

“I know you don’t trust me, and I don’t blame you. I’ve had nothing but time to reflect, and I truly regret what I did -- all the pain I caused her because of my own cowardice. But that’s all in the past now. What’s done is done.”

Albert seemed wistful, but earnest, and Garrett couldn’t work out his intentions. The thought had crossed his mind that Albert might tell him to get out of Lily’s life entirely, but this didn’t seem like that sort of speech.

Albert sighed, but smiled.

“Lily and I talked it over; we realized that we can’t turn back time. It’s been wonderful to see each other again, but the same spark isn’t there. We’ve been holding each other’s 20-year-old selves in our hearts for too long, and we just aren’t those people anymore. Of course, we’re still going to keep in touch now, but just as friends.”

Garrett’s eyes slowly widened in surprise and confusion as Albert spoke. Why was he telling him all of this?

Albert looked at Garrett like it should be obvious.

“You love her, don’t you.”

Garrett’s cheeks flushed as he looked away. They’d only been there a week, how could Albert have noticed so quickly?

“I thought so. The ghost of 20-year-old Albert is gone, so I think you should be honest and tell her how you feel. Take it from me, you don’t want to live a lie, always wondering about what could have been.”

 

 

When Lily returned, Albert took his turn to bow out, and left the room with pointed looks at both of them. Garrett stepped towards her, then stopped. They were alone, and this wasn’t something he could just whisper.

“Lily… I…” He dropped back into an inaudible murmur.

“Garrett?” She asked, wondering why Garrett was being so serious.

Garett took a deep breath to compose himself and tried again.

“Albert, of all people, told me to be honest with you, and he was right. Lily, I love you.”

With Lily momentarily stunned into silence, the moment stretched on, and the confidence he’d gathered for the moment faltered.

“Even if you don’t feel the same way, please,” the usually suave Garrett looked uncharastically unsure, turning his face away and running a hand through his hair out of real nervousness, not his usual habit of striking poses, “let me stay by your side.”

“Garrett,” Lily’s brain caught up to her face, and her expression softened to one she only ever let him see. “You know I’d be lost without you.”

Garrett looked at her out of the corner of his eye, and it was heart wrenchingly plain for her to see him not daring to hope.

“I mean it. If you weren’t here I don’t know what I would do. I was so caught up in my revenge that I never stopped to realize how much I depend on you; how much I need you, Garrett -- how I feel like something’s missing whenever you aren’t with me.”

Lily closed the distance between them, wrapping her arms around his neck.

“Lily?” He managed, barely a whisper. She kissed him then, long and slow, and he held her tightly as he kissed back.

When the kiss broke, she leaned in close to whisper in his ear.

“I love you too.”