❀ ✿ ❀ ✿ ❀
She presses her lips together, eyes narrowing on him. Her heart pounds harder than usual, and she wants to disappear for a moment so she can collect her emotions. She knows the heartbreak is written all over her face, despite holding her chin up and attempting to swallow the lump lodged in her throat.
“What are you saying?” Lydia asks, finally. She knows what he’s saying. She knows that he’s brushing her off. After everything they’ve been through together, he’s finally taking that step back from her. The one he should’ve done before any of this happened. The one that would’ve prevented her from falling harder than ever for him. Not that she’d ever admit it to his face.
He rubs the back of his neck, clearly not feeling as comfortable as his laid-back pose might suggest. “Lydia, it’s just…I messed up, okay? But whatever this is, it can’t happen anymore.”
Lydia gives one simple nod of her head before she stands up. She brushes out her skirt, hoping he can’t tell how difficult this is to keep it together. She prides herself on being open and honest about how she feels, but not right now. There are some emotions that require solitude and isolation. “Derek, we’re friends.”
“I know,” he says. She tries to ignore the longing in his voice. She tries, and fails. Her heart breaks a little more. “I know we are. But the boss is right. Our friendship has become a little…unprofessional. I need to take a step back, a step away from this right now. Staff members have lost respect for me because of this. Because they think I treat you with favouritism.”
He does. Of course, he does. They’re friends. Like best friends. Like she can’t imagine her life without him kind of friends. She has no doubt that the entire staff still respect him though; he’s kind and fair to everyone.
Lydia studies him for a moment, trying to memorize the way his eyes don’t quite meet hers. She can see his knee is bouncing with nerves, and how he’s rubbing his hands together. Lydia almost smiles. That’s a motion he picked up from her.
“Of course, I understand. You’ll get your space, Mr. Hale. I just hope you know what you’re doing,” Lydia tells him. Maybe it’s too deep of a jab at him, but his eyes lock on hers now in surprise. She won’t cry in front of him, no matter what. She straightens her shoulders. “I’ll see you tomorrow morning. I hope you have a pleasant evening.”
“Good night, Mr. Hale.”
She turns on her heels, thanking the universe that she doesn’t stumble once as she exits the office they share. She shuts the door behind her, ignoring the way her hands tremble. Later tonight, she’ll break down. Until then, she has to get out of the building.
“Hey, Lydia!” a familiar voice of a coworker calls out. She waves her hand over her head without turning back. If she does, she’ll never make it out. Lydia doesn’t break her stride as she crosses over the warehouse floor. This cannot break me. This cannot break me. I cannot be broken.
She repeats it until she lets herself into her apartment. She presses her back against her front door, locks it without turning, and slides down. The tears come out fast, hot, and full of emotions she can’t even name.
Lydia isn’t sure she’s ever fallen apart like this before. Not when she dated Jackson, not when she was with Aiden, and not even when she was in love with Allison. She gasps for air between sobs, and presses her hand into her side. It hurts. It hurts so much more than she ever expected.
“Lydia?” her roommate, and ex-girlfriend, Allison calls out from down the hall. “Lyds, is that you?”
She can’t form words. She tries, but she can only let out a heartbreaking whimper. Allison is there, somewhere on the floor with her. Her arms wrap around Lydia, and they’re rocking back and forth. Lydia closes her eyes and waits for the nightmare to end.
“Think you can talk about it now?” Allison asks, setting some tea in front of her. It’s Sunday, which means she has to go back into the office for 9 AM tomorrow. Her chest is tight and aching, her eyes dry and sore, and her mind feels numb. There’s a faint buzzing somewhere in her head, drowning out any real thought.
She had only managed to tell Allison that Derek had broken-up with her, which she’s sure had confused her best friend. Derek and Lydia weren’t even dating. No, it was much worse than that.
Over the past three years, Lydia had been developing a friendship with Derek. A solid, one-of-a-kind friendship. She had started to consider him one of her best friends. Derek had all kinds of rules as her boss, as the Human Resource Manager at their construction office, and he broke every single one of them for her. Lydia knows that it’s not fair to pin it all on him. She’d gone to him about big things, and eventually, she started going to him about the small things too. He’d somehow become irreplaceable in her life.
And now, one way or another, they had to pretend none of it happened. That they are just professional coworkers. She knows she can do it, because she has to do it, but it doesn’t make it hurt any less.
Lydia shakes her head. “No, I’ll be okay.”
“I don’t mean to be rude,” Allison says, leaning across the table to put her hand on Lydia’s, “but I don’t think that’s true right now. Still. I’m here if you need to talk about it.”
She nods. There’s not much she can say to that. Allison waits a moment before she starts talking about this guy she met. Lydia wants to pay attention, and she does her best, but her stomach keeps turning at the thought of seeing Derek tomorrow morning.
He knows her best. He knows that she’ll come in tomorrow, put a damn smile on her face, call him Mr. Hale, and she’ll pretend that nothing happened Friday afternoon. Derek will also know that it’ll break her heart. But what can he do? Lydia has a feeling the words didn’t come from him; they came directly from the owner of the construction company. Or maybe that’s just wishful thinking.
“And I’m such a terrible friend,” Lydia catches Allison saying. She snaps her eyes back on her friend. Allison shakes her head. “I’m sorry, Lydia. I don’t know why I’m rambling about this. I know you lost your person, and I’m just…I’m so sorry.”
Her person. Right, because everyone had started to accept that she came as a package with Derek. Because they were each other’s persons. Tears prick Lydia’s eyes, and she leans into Allison when her friend rushes to her side. She clings on her shirt, and presses her face into Allison’s stomach.
“Why does it hurt so much?” Lydia whispers, her voice cracking at least twice.
“Because,” Allison says, stroking Lydia’s hair with her soft hand. “Because you love him.”
She inhales sharply, but she can’t speak anymore. It hurts too damn much.
“Morning, Mr. Hale. I hope you had a lovely weekend,” Lydia says, her voice steady and with all of the politeness one would expect from a friendly coworker.
“Lydia–” he starts to say. She meets his eyes and dares him to finish. She doesn’t need to know what he wants to say, because she knows it’ll be breaking his new rule of holding her at arm’s length.
“Hey Lyds,” Stiles says, when he enters the office. “Can you print me off the order sheet for Kira’s mom’s place? The crew and I are packing the equipment and heading out in an hour.”
Lydia gives Stiles a smile that doesn’t quite reach her eyes. He doesn’t notice because he’s already nodding and greeting Derek. She sits down in her chair, avoiding Derek’s curious gaze. “Not a problem, Stiles. Make sure Kira knows we gave her mother the Family and Friends Discount.”
“You got it, boss,” Stiles says. He puts a hand easily on her shoulder and squeezes. “You think we can finish it in a few days? I really want to be part of the Whittemore landscape job.”
“That’s something you’d have to ask Derek,” Lydia tells him. She keeps her voice calm and cool when she says his name. She clicks ‘PRINT’ after finding the Yukimura order in the system. The sound of the printer starts a moment later. “He does the scheduling after all.”
“Yes,” Derek says, his voice sounding a little off. She closes her eyes when she realizes Stiles has turned away from her to look at Derek in the corner diagonally from her. “I do the scheduling. If you want the Whittemore project, you’re going to have to put in an official request.”
“Hmm, well, I was hoping that Lydia could do that for me,” Stiles says, as though it’s completely normal. Because it is. Because the staff trusted her, because they’d tell her things they might not feel comfortable going to Derek about, and they expected her to pass on their thoughts and concerns to him. She always did, and it had never been a problem before now.
“No,” Derek answers. “She can’t do that anymore. You’ll have to put in an official request yourself, Stiles.”
“I–okay?” Stiles says, confused. Lydia opens her eyes and turns her head to peek at him. He keeps looking between them before he grabs his order form and says, “Thanks, Lyds. You’re the best.”
“Anytime, Stiles,” she answers. Stiles doesn’t do anything in the office - he runs crews at job sites - so Lydia usually prints off his order forms. Her stomach twists slightly when she realizes that there’s tension still hanging in the air, even after Stiles has left the office with the door closed behind him.
“Put him on the Whittemore project. You know that he’ll run that crew better than anyone else. Give him Boyd, so when Stiles gets distracted–” Lydia stops talking. She stands up and says, “This isn’t my place to say this anymore. Excuse me.”
Lydia makes her way through the warehouse’s kitchen and in the back to the bathroom. She shuts the door, takes a moment to catch her breathing, and looks at herself in the mirror. “Get it together, Martin. Get it together.”
She goes back into the office a few minutes later, pleased to see that Laura and Danny have joined them. Each of them has a corner of the office. Lydia, Laura, and Danny take sales, do site inspections occasionally, and sometimes run crews if they’re short-staffed. Lydia loves being onsite at different construction sites. She gets a huge kick out of people seeing a woman in charge, and she thinks she looks downright sexy in her construction uniform.
Derek doesn’t take calls unless no one else is in the office or they’re all on the phone. And if he does, he always passes them onto Lydia instead of the others. It had raised a flag with Laura and Cora a while ago. Laura and Cora had founded the company almost seven years ago now. Derek had once told Lydia that he wanted no part in owning it; he was happy enough to work at the company, beneath his sisters. She could see why.
Laura and Cora had headstrong personalities, and Derek was much more laid-back and a man of few words in comparison. Still, the women called the company Hale Construction and told Derek he could buy a third of it whenever he wanted.
She loves watching him run crews. It’s where he shines. He hates the office aspect of his job, but he loves being in charge of staffing. Lydia presses her tongue to the top of her mouth, refraining from allowing herself to say something she’d regret. Instead, she greets Laura and Danny before sitting back down at her desk.
Derek has his back to her, typing something on his laptop. She figures he’s working out the schedule for the following month. He deals with all of the scheduling, hiring, and firing. Not that he fires people much. They’re always desperate for new hands because they’re expanding faster than they’re really ready for.
“Lydia, did you get confirmation on Caitlin’s new deck yet?” Laura asks, clicking through her emails.
Lydia nods, without looking over to her boss. “Yes, I did. She faxed it through Friday morning. She also requires someone to do a site inspection, so–”
“It seems like a pretty big job. Why don’t you and Derek go together sometime this week?” Laura asks, glancing at Lydia. Lydia gives her a polite smile.
“I don’t think that’s necessary,” Lydia answers.
“Besides, it’s just a deck. How much work could it be?” Derek asks. “I’ll go over, it’s not a big deal, Laura.”
Laura clears her throat and says, “I think you should go over together sometime this week. Don’t argue you two. Normally, you’re excited to be working together.”
“That’s true,” Danny says, after a moment. He glances between them. “Did our favourite married couple have a lover’s quarrel?”
Lydia sighs. “Derek and I will do the site inspection. It’s fine. I’ll see what time works for Caitlin.”
The phone rings and Lydia can’t thank the universe enough. She picks up and says, “Hale Construction, how can I help you?”
“Are we going to be okay?” Derek asks. They’ve been together, alone, in the car for about three minutes. She owes Allison thirty bucks. She thought it’d take him at least ten. He hates confrontation of any type, so the fact that he’s seeking it tells her a lot.
“We’re fine. Why wouldn’t we be fine?” Lydia answers. She’d rehearsed it in her mind a thousand times. He’d come back to her, he’d apologize and say he was all wrong. Maybe he’d admit to being in love with her just as much as she is with him.
“Right. I just thought…I’m sorry that it has to be this way,” Derek tells her.
“Does it?” she demands; her voice is soft. “Does it have to be this way, Hale? Because your sisters both seem to keep pushing us together and making comments about how weird things have been. So while I thought that maybe they, being the owners of the company, told you to deal with our friendship when you talked to me last week…well, now I’m thinking that they had nothing to do with this at all. And it’s your pigheaded idea.”
“Lydia,” he says, exasperated. She almost wants to flick him on the ear for that, but instead, looks out the window. “It’s just–”
“Just what, Derek?”
He doesn’t answer right away. She picks up the clipboard from the floor of the truck. Lydia starts to read over the job that she’d spoken with Caitlin about on the phone.
It’s easier to focus on that instead of thinking of all the other times they’d driven together to a site inspection or a job.
“Okay, no, but if you had to have a super power that can’t be flying or invisibility or super strength because those are all boring as hell, what would your power be?” Lydia asks. They’re coming back from a long day on-site, but the entire time, they’d been having fun. It was a small job. Just them and two other staff members who worked on a different part of the house. They’d been talking nonstop while they worked, and even when Derek had stubbed his toe, they’d had fun laughing.
“What? But I’d want to fly! That’d be so cool,” Derek tells her, shaking his head in amusement that she took the option out of the running.
“No, Derek, be real. If you could do anything else,” Lydia argues.
“Hmm, I don’t know. What would you choose?” Derek asks.
“Probably the power to enter fictional worlds or something. Jump into Harry Potter and become a witch for a day or two,” Lydia tells him. She grins when she adds, “I’d love to be able to jump into fictional worlds where nothing I do has consequences. Or alternate universes.”
“Okay, but if you do that, you’d also need to have the power to stop time,” Derek tells her.
“Well yeah. Do you really want to jump in another world and come back and ninety years have passed?” Derek questions her.
She laughs, feeling lighter than she has in a while. “You’re such a dork, oh my god!”
“Well, okay, say that that’s part of my power. I can jump into different worlds - fictional or alternate - and time on this particular earth pauses while I’m gone,” she tells him. “Does that work?”
“Yeah. I’d hate to miss you because you left this world for another,” he responds. Something sparks deep in her gut, but she chooses to ignore it. Instead, she presses him to come up with his own superpower.
“We’re here,” Derek announces. Lydia turns to look at him. She wonders how he’s handling this so damn well. It’s not as though he hadn’t relied on her just as much. He needs her in his life too. She knows it.
“Alright. I’ll go touch base with Caitlin,” Lydia informs him. She steps out of the big truck, carefully walking away from the front of it. She dials Caitlin’s number and smiles when the woman answers to say she’ll be out in a moment.
She hears Derek’s door shut and then he comes around the same time that Caitlin, a very cute blonde, opens her front door.
“Hi! You must be Lydia and Derek,” Caitlin greets. “I’ll take you to the back.”
Lydia glances at Derek after they’ve greeted her with smiles and handshakes and just before they follow her through a gate at the side. Lydia doesn’t take charge today. She knows that Derek will schedule himself as the crew leader on this job, so it doesn’t matter. She watches as he discusses the job with Caitlin.
Because of the sudden drop in her yard behind her house, it might make the deck a little awkward. Derek’s suggesting a different idea, one that Lydia agrees with, and Caitlin is beaming.
“Oh, this is so great! You clearly know what you’re doing. All I know is that Heather wants a deck so we can overlook the lake,” Caitlin tells them. “And so I hired you, because you guys are the best in Beacon Hills.”
Lydia smiles at the compliment. Derek continues to talk, and she steps back, admiring the rest of the property. It’s gorgeous, with a huge lawn, and stone steps that lead down to the water. Lydia wanders that way, knowing that the two of them wouldn’t miss her.
She looks at the stone steps, admiring them. When she takes a step on one, she realizes that the stones are loose. Probably from the rain water washing away a cheap job. Lydia takes a moment before turning back though.
“You’re inviting me to your cottage?” Lydia asks, spinning a pen around in her hand. “That sounds really nice, but I wish you had asked me a few weeks ago. I have plans this weekend.”
“Oh,” Derek says. He shrugs. “Sorry about that. I kind of assumed you were joining us, but then Laura pointed out that none of us had actually asked you.”
“No worries, Hale. I know you love me anyway,” Lydia teases. She stretches out her legs on the chair, her eyes on the pen in her hand, and she misses the way Derek gives her an appreciative look. “Maybe next year?”
“Yeah, maybe next year. We go up every August long weekend,” he says, nodding. “What are you doing instead?”
“Oh, I’m going to visit my mom. She’s excited to see me,” Lydia answers. Her mom had moved out of Beacon Hills just after she graduated high school. It’d made staying hard, but then she’d gone to school and met these fools that she loves so dearly. She’d switched her major halfway through so she could learn more about business. Then she’d taken night classes to learn the trade.
“That sounds nice. I’ll miss you this weekend.” He spins his chair around to face his computer screen, and she wonders why he always shields himself from acknowledging their friendship aloud.
“Of course you will, I’m your favourite person in the whole world,” she retorts as if she’s stating the obvious. A moment passes before she adds, “I’ll miss you too, dork.”
“Quit calling me dork,” Derek responds instantly. Lydia feels a little smug when he turns his chair back around to look at her. “I’m not a dork.”
“Firstly, you are a dork. Secondly, don’t worry. Dorks happen to be my favourite people,” she answers, with a wink. It’s a familiar argument, one that never holds any heat.
“Good morning,” Danny says when he walks into the office and starts to take his backpack off. “Did you guys hear Mason got into college?”
“Oh no, we didn’t. We’ll have to congratulate him,” Lydia answers for them. She smiles at Derek and he smiles back. They’re a team, the two of them. They’ve been this way for almost a year now.
“Lydia?” Derek’s voice snaps her out of her memories.
She turns and gives them both a bright smile. “I was just admiring the beautiful view. I also noticed that your steps are a little wobbly here.”
“Oh yeah. The guys we had to do them were total idiots,” Caitlin tells her. “They were seriously expensive too.”
“It’d probably take about a day or two to fix it. Maybe bring in a couple of flatter stones too,” Lydia observes. She looks back at Caitlin and says, “Honestly, I could give you a great deal on it since we’re already here doing work.”
“I–that’d be great, actually!” Caitlin says, grinning. “Heather always complains that one of us will break our necks on those stones.”
Lydia avoids Derek’s gaze when she makes her way back up the path with Caitlin. They talk about how she met Heather, and Lydia tells her that Heather is lucky to have her. Caitlin blushes and gives Lydia a quick hug.
When they get back into the truck, neither of them say anything. Lydia looks back out the window, wondering if she’s become that sad, pathetic girl in some shitty and over-dramatic movie.
“I thought you didn’t get drinks with your employees,” Lydia says to Derek one evening at the bar.
“I don’t, usually. But you wore me down,” Derek tells her with a smile. “You’re something else, aren’t you?”
She laughs, nodding her head. “I usually get what I want.”
“I’ve noticed,” Derek teases.
The bartender comes over to them. “Can I get you two another round?”
Lydia looks at their almost empty glasses. She knows Derek said he’d only get a single drink since he’s driving. She’s about to refuse, but he says, “She’ll have another round. I’ll get a glass of water, please.”
Lydia closes her lips, picks up her Long Island Iced Tea, and finishes what’s left in it. They’d milked these drinks for almost an hour, sitting at the bar chatting about everything but work. It’d been a long day, and she’d suggested it casually. She hadn’t expected him to agree. Now they’re here, and she can’t help but wonder what it’d be like to be on a date with him.
“Thanks,” she says, smiling at him. “Now I know I really am your favourite person on earth.”
He laughs, and it’s such a surprisingly free sound. She decides it’s now her life mission to make him laugh more.
“You’re too quiet,” Derek tells her when they come up to a red light. He’s looking at her, as though he’s going to find answers somewhere on her face. She shrugs, unsure what he expects.
“I’m tired, Derek,” she lies. They both know it’s a lie, and she doesn’t think he’ll press for more. He’s not the type. When he falls silent, she knows she’s right. She rubs her hands together gently before she breaks the still air again. “I don’t know what you want from me. You told me we couldn’t be friends anymore; we have to be professional coworkers. That’s it. That’s all we can be. Which means I’m not required to talk to you about my life.”
“Right. You’re absolutely right,” he says, his eyes locked on the road ahead. “I just didn’t think it’d be this hard.”
She wants to chuck her pen at him right now and call him an idiot. She fights the urge and lets the pen drop between her legs onto the truck floor. Lydia thinks that there used to be a time and a place when she could have done that and he’d called her a brat.
Talking with him, being open and honest, it had never been an issue. Not even when they were slowly getting to know one another. Lydia reaches up and plays with her necklace, because she can’t keep her hands still. Not with the anxiety that is coming over her right now.
“What’s going on?” Derek asks, sounding panicked. He crouches down, putting his large hands on her knees and trying to make eye contact with her. She puts a hand to her chest, and struggles to inhale. “Are you having an anxiety attack?”
She nods. Derek’s the only one on this earth who knows how often she gets anxiety attacks despite how calm, cool, and confident she comes off. She’s been struggling with it since she was a teenager. She had gotten help at one point, but then life got busy and it was no longer part of her benefits. Lydia closes her eyes because the room is starting to become blurry.
“Okay, okay. Don’t panic,” Derek tells her, sounding a little panicked himself. She wants to laugh, wants to tell him that that’s idiotic. You don’t tell someone who is having an anxiety attack to not panic. “Okay, um. What are the numbers? 2-4-6?”
It takes her a moment to register what the hell he’s talking about. Her eyes pop open and she barely manages to say, “5-7-9.”
“Okay,” Derek says. His voice is calmer now. “I’m going to count to five. I want you to inhale. Ready? One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Now hold it. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. And exhale. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine.”
He repeats the instructions six more times. Lydia’s doing as he says, finding it easier to clear her head and focus on his voice than when she tries the breathing exercise herself. He grips her hand, and he counts through the exercise one more time even though her breathing has evened out now.
Lydia knows she’s head over heels in love with him. She’s been that way for a while now. But this moment? This moment causes a wave of emotions to wash over her. Her lips tremble, but it isn’t because of the anxiety attack. It’s because the man she’s in love with cared enough to remember her trick to pull her out of an attack.
And if that wasn’t someone worth loving, she doesn’t know who is.
“How did the site inspection go?” Danny asks, spinning in his chair to look at Lydia. She smiles and gives him a simple ‘good’ before sitting down. “Oh? Caitlin called. She wanted to let your manager know that you two were absolutely wonderful and an amazing help.”
Lydia smiles, genuinely, at that. Her eyes meet Derek’s, and she can see that he’s proud of them too. No one could ever say that they didn’t work well together.
“You guys are literally the only team we’ve ever had people compliment about how good a site inspection is,” Danny points out. “I think I’m going to have to drag Liam out on a few inspections and up our game.”
Some tension leaves Lydia’s shoulders when Derek starts to laugh. “Lydia and I will still be better than you.”
She gives Danny a smug look at Derek’s vote of confidence. “I have to get some work done. Don’t distract me, boys.”
“So demanding,” Danny teases. “Yes, my queen.”
“Don’t you forget it,” Lydia answers.
“Derek, you know how I am your most favourite person on earth?” Lydia asks, pushing her chair across the office to sit closer to Derek. She glances at him and he looks up from his cell phone.
“Yeah,” he says, no argument. He never does argue that fact. He tried once and she gave him a pointed look, and he’d shrugged in acceptance. “What’s up?”
“Well, the Finstock job…I want it,” Lydia tells him. She holds up a hand before he can deny her request (not that he ever does). “I know that property. We did work on there two years ago. This is a different section of the building, but…I’m familiar with it, and I was the one who had suggested he do the work anyway.”
“I’ll think about it,” Derek says. She knows he’ll schedule her to be in charge of it anyway. She gives him a bright smile.
“You’re the best,” she tells him.
“I said I’d think about it.”
“Yes, but in Derek-speak, that means ‘yes, Lydia, it’s yours’ so let me thank you,” Lydia teases. She leans in and pokes his arm. “You know I’m right, so don’t even deny it.”
“I–yeah, alright. But you have got to quit asking me for so many favours,” Derek complains.
She laughs, rolling her eyes as she pushes her chair back towards her desk. “Uh-huh. Then you also have to quit asking me for so many favours back. And you need me too much.”
Derek snorts. “No, I don’t. I am an independent man.”
“Yeah. I give you a half-hour,” she says, smirking.
It takes him nineteen minutes before he clears his throat and says, “This doesn’t count, Lydia, but uh, I need help with Excel.”
She tries to hold back her laughter, and fails. She goes over to sit down beside him, dragging her chair across the room with her. Danny says, “You know, Derek, for all the questions you have about Excel, you should probably just take a class.”
“Why would I do that?” Derek asks. “Lydia’s here. And she teaches me as I need to know things.”
“And if I’m not here?” Lydia asks, prompted and curious.
“I’ll just call you,” Derek admits with a shrug. “You always answer my phone calls.”
“I assume you’d only call if it’s important,” Lydia explains.
She laughs, ignoring the look they get from Danny. She moves the cursor around the screen and asks, “What do you need me to do?”
“Do you want a ride home?” Derek asks. It’s been almost a full month since their ‘breakup’ and everyone keeps commenting on it. She’s sure they keep their mouths shut around Derek though. He was so private with everything in his life, that no one dares to tease him even the slightest. The only people who get away with it are Laura and Cora, but even then, the don’t push their brother too much.
But Lydia, on the other hand, has heard it all.
She has no answers except to say that they’re fine.
Lydia looks up at him, rubbing the bridge of her nose. She nods. “Yeah, I could use a ride home. Give me five?”
“Sure,” he says, stepping out of the office. She finishes her order, types up her email, and sends it off. Then she starts to gather her stuff and shove it into her purse. It feels eerie to do this now.
It’d become a habit. Derek would give her a ride home, since she lives on his way home (it was only one block north of his usual route). He’d pull across the street, facing the opposite direction of what he should be doing, turn the car off, and they’d talk for another fifteen to twenty-five minutes in front of her apartment building. Lydia hadn’t realized how much she missed their little routine until she glances up to see Derek waiting for her in the doorway.
She gives him a small smile that reaches her eyes. Relief fills her. Derek smiles back, and she knows. Whatever she’d been feeling, he’d been feeling too.
With hope in her step, she says bye to Danny, and heads out towards Derek’s car with him.
The car ride itself is about six and a half minutes, and spent in silence. But he pulls the car to the opposite side of the street and puts it into neutral.
“Lydia,” he starts. She doesn’t stop him this time. “Would you want to get dinner with me tomorrow night? As, uh, coworkers, of course.”
Lydia studies his face, wondering exactly what he was thinking. She nods and says, “Dinner sounds great. Thanks for the ride, Hale. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Anytime, and see you tomorrow.”
She gets out of his car, walking slowly up her walkway. He hovers, watching her for a few moments, before he pulls away. Lydia can’t hide her smile when Allison greets her inside.
“What’s got you all smiley?” Allison asks.
“Derek Hale just asked me to dinner.”
“On a date?” Allison demands, surprised.
“I don’t know. I just don’t know,” Lydia answers. “But I’m excited to find out.”
“Lydia–” he says, his fingers running over his birthday present. “This is too much.”
“I can’t accept this.”
“You better,” she answers. “I’m not returning it.”
“Why did you–?”
“You know how I feel about you,” Lydia says. Even as the words leave her lips, she realizes she doesn’t know how she means that. He does know how she feels about him as friends. He probably knows she’s in love with him too. If he wasn’t her manager, maybe…maybe she’d be willing to risk it. But she loves her job and she can’t.
“I know,” he whispers, looking down at the gift. “I know.”
“So then you know why I had to get it for you,” she responds as if it’s that easy. As if that explains it all. He lifts his head to give her a bright smile.
“C’mere,” he says, holding his arms out. She stands up and wraps her arms around his neck. He laughs, pulling away. “What is that? That’s a terrible hug.”
She scoffs, offended. But then he’s moving her arms around his waist and pulling her in again. Lydia tries to hide her smile against his chest as he squeezes her close.
“You used to be good at hugs, Martin,” he teases her.
When she steps back, she swats him playfully in the arm. “Be nice, or maybe I will return your gift.”
“No way. It’s my favourite possession now.”
“Lydia,” Derek says as they hover outside the restaurant. It’d been too easy, falling back into old habits. Lydia can’t remember the last time she’d enjoyed herself so much on a dinner date. It was probably with Derek. They’d talked about everything and anything; the kind of conversation that deserves some soft music and a montage of them laughing and leaning into one another.
Maybe it wasn’t a date though. They hadn’t wanted the night to end, so they’d gotten a few drinks. Derek lives just around the corner from where they stand, and she lives a twenty minute walk away.
“It’s okay,” she argues. “I’m only a little tipsy! I can make it home by myself, Derek.”
“Nope! I have this handy-dandy app. It’s called Companion. I’ll put my address in it, send you an invite, and you can watch me get home on GPS. Okay?” Lydia asks him. She’s tipsy and her hand is resting on his chest. As if it has any right being there. He doesn’t seem to mind though.
“I’m alright, dorkus,” she tells him. “Watch.”
She configures the app and he gets a notification a moment later on his phone. When he opens it, it narrows in on their location.
“Are you sure?”
“I’m positive. Now, go home. We have an early day tomorrow.” She pats his chest a couple of times before she leans in and presses her lips to his cheek. Quietly, she says, “I’ve missed you, Hale.”
“Me too,” he responds. She leans back on her heels before she turns to cross the street. She waves at him when she gets to the other side, but he watches her go.
Lydia has a sinking feeling they’ll pretend tonight never happened tomorrow morning. That it’ll go back to the weird we’re-not-friends thing again. She hates the idea. Derek is such a big part of her life, whether he likes it or not. She’d turn around and chase him down to tell him this, but she’s not sure it’d change his mind.
She’s pulling her phone back out to call Allison for some company on the phone when she hears her name. “Lydia! Lydia, wait!”
Lydia turns, and it’s almost a movie moment. Derek is jogging towards her, waving her down, and her heart pounds with anticipation. Her lips part, but she doesn’t know what to say.
He doesn’t stop until he’s close to her. Until his hand is cupping her cheek, and his other hand is on her lower back. “Lydia. If I don’t do this now, I might never do it, and then I’ll spend the rest of my life regretting it.”
“Do what?” she breathes, but she knows. She feels it in every fibre of her being.
His lips meet hers. It’s a soft kiss; gentle and tender. It takes her breath away anyway. She moves closer to him, pressing her body against him, going up on her tip-toes to change the angle of the kiss. This is a movie moment if she ever saw one.
When they pull apart, breathless and smiling, she whispers, “Took you long enough, Hale.”
“I don’t want to pretend that I’m not in love with you anymore,” he says, his forehead resting against hers.
“It’s not that simple–”
“The job thing will work itself out. Maybe we’ll come up with a compromise or something. We’ll talk to your sisters, and anyone else who might have an issue with us,” Lydia promises. “But let’s do that tomorrow.”
“Okay,” he murmurs. His lips brush hers briefly. “What do you suggest we do tonight?”
“I think you should walk me home like the gentleman that you are, and I’ll invite you up like the lady I am,” Lydia says, with a smile. He nods, and their hands fall into each other as those they were always meant to be together.
“So you’re in love with me, huh?” Lydia teases.
“Aren’t you my favourite person in the whole world after all?” he asks.
“You know, I used to be happily independent before you,” Derek tells her, huffing. “I’ve never been so damn dependent on another person before. What are you doing to me, Lydia?”
“I–I don’t know,” she admits. “I used to be seriously independent. I hate relying on people for help. But I feel like I’m on a team with you.”
He nods. “Yeah, we’re a team. I’ve got your back if you’ve got mine?”
He smiles, handing her some paperwork. “So you’ll do this thing for me?”
She laughs. “You know if I wasn’t your favourite person in the whole world, I’d say no. But yeah, I’ll do your homework for you so you don’t get in trouble with Teacher Laura.”
He snorts, shaking his head. “You know my sister will have my head if I don’t fill those out but I don’t really know what I’m doing with them.”
“Buy me a drink tomorrow night?” Lydia prompts.
“Sounds good. Thanks, Lydia. I like that I can always rely on you.”
“I’ve got your back,” she says, holding the papers up. “Now get out of here. You’ll be late to your job and we have a reputation to uphold.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Derek says, jokingly saluting her as he walks out. She’s still smiling ten minutes later as she fills out the papers for his sister.
“People are staring,” Derek whispers to Lydia, tugging her closer with his hand gripping hers tighter.
“Derek, it’s a small company. They probably have been betting on us for the past three years,” Lydia whispers back. “Now, let’s give them something good to talk about. Kiss me.”
“What about being professional?” Derek asks, worried.
“I think we have safely thrown that out the window,” Lydia points out. “Kiss me so we can satisfy their curiousity. Consider it a kiss of courage because we have to face your sisters now.”
Derek groans, but he leans down and gives her a soft kiss on the lips. “Ready?”
“Ready,” she echoes.
❀ ✿ ❀ ✿ ❀