Lunch was normally the best part of my day. Sitting around and not thinking about coding or getting pent up with anxiety over not making deadlines.
But today was different, I took off a little early for lunch saying I had a doctor's appointment but instead I was inside a café in midtown sitting at a table bouncing my leg up and down with nerves. I checked my watch for what felt like the thousandth time waiting for my lunch date to come in. I saw a flash of bright blonde hair from through the windows and exhaled seeing that she arrived.
"Hey, Kira, over here." I said waving her in through the door.
She asked me to meet her for lunch last night and I agreed not really thinking it through. I knew it was a bad idea but I also wanted to know what she had to say.
"Oh my god, Niall, your eye! I'm so sorry." she said approaching me.
"It looks worse than it feels." I said standing up to pull her chair out.
"Thank you." she said sitting down.
"No problem." I said and sat across from her.
"I just really thought we needed to talk, about everything." she said jumping right in.
"Yeah I think that's probably a good idea." I nodded.
"Your eye, Niall. I am so immensely sorry. If I had known you guys were going to be there I would've never have gone. That's not your normal kind of spot." she said.
"We wanted to mix things up for once." I said and paused. "When did everything begin with him Kira?"
"Remember you took me to Nate's birthday back in April?" she asked.
"Yeah, where he got that giant hotel room and we had to deal with all his fraternity brothers?" I asked.
"Yes, that's the one. So that was the first time I had ever met Nate even but Ethan was there because they're roommates and all. But while you and Harry tried to keep up Nate from dying me and Ethan got chatting and just really hit it off but, like, as friends." she began. "And we exchanged numbers and just started chatting a little bit back and forth, friendly you know?"
"Why didn't you tell me any of this?" I asked.
"I was afraid you were going to get mad at me over it. I thought I had just made a friend at that point." she said. "But then he starts coming to the bar that I was working at and just sitting and talking to me face to face. And I notice Ethan and I have this strong connection but I don't think anything of it again because I have you, I had you."
"So you did still love me?" I asked getting bold.
"Of course Niall." she nodded.
"When did that change?" I pried.
"It was late June when he first asked me to hang out. Before it we were only at the bar, in public but he asked me to get dinner with him that night." she continued.
"Where was I?" I asked.
"You and Harry were at a conference upstate." she said. "And I went to dinner with him thinking nothing of it but we were there and I knew there was a spark of something else between us. But I tried to ignore it because I was with you and we were so good together. You were always so good to me." she said.
"And then when did you start sleeping with him." I stated more than asked.
I knew it was going to have to come up at some point. I had to know the answer, it had been eating away at my brain since I knew she was with him during our relationship.
"It was July, that's when I stopped ignoring the spark. That's when we started actually seeing each other. I told you I had to work one night and you thought nothing of it and I went to get a drink with him and next thing I know I agreed to go back to his place. And when we got there, that's, yeah, that's when it happened." she said.
"Did he know you were dating me?" I asked.
"Yes." she nodded embarrassed.
"And yet he still moved in on you?" I asked and she nodded again.
I was glad I punched that son of a bitch. We got our food at some point but we were both just barely picking at it.
"How did I not know you were in constant contact with him?" I said.
"He was in my phone as Elizabeth." she said defeated.
"I'm a fucking idiot. I should've caught on." I said angrily.
"It's not your fault, it's all mine. I shouldn't've fallen for him. What we had was going so good and I loved you so much he just screwed with my head. He got in and took over all my senses and we are just so alike and have such a strong connection I couldn't resist him any longer. I should've broken up with you before things even got that far. But up until September I was still so in love with you. When I was with you I thought, this is the guy I want to be with forever, but whenever I was with Ethan I thought about how well we worked and how much we had in common." she said.
"But he was just too good to pass up." I said.
"I never used to believe in soulmates or anything but he made me. It's like a chemical connection, I don't know how to describe it. But it's like he and I just function as one. It's like he's the breeze just sweeping me along with him. I just fell so hard so fast with him." she tried to explain.
"The breeze hm." I hummed.
"I'll never forgive myself for you having to find out the way you did." she said.
"Yeah that was pretty shitty." I agreed with her.
"But I loved you then, and I still do but it's just not like how it used to be." she said.
"I know, it's mutual I guess." I said.
We sat in silence for a little while trying to eat our lunches. It was hard hearing everything from her because it made things seem real. Before I could just accept the fact that she was cheating on me but now I knew the details of what happened. It made me feel even more like a dumbass for not noticing something was up before.
"In that time when things were falling apart were you seeing that girl you work with?" she asked.
"Who, Kaine?" I asked and she nodded. "No, she was just one of my mentees at first but we became really good friends."
"You're just friends?" she asked. "You don't act like it."
"Yeah she's got a boyfriend from college." I said.
"How old is she?" she asked.
"Eh, 22. Wolfe hired her right out of school. She's the one me and H went to Wisconsin with over Thanksgiving." I explained.
"You're seriously not dating? When she cursed me out the other night I could've sworn she was your girlfriend. She was incredibly protective of you." she said raising her eyebrows.
"Nope, just close friends." I said. "Her, me and H, we've become pretty inseparable."
"Now why didn't you tell me she was a girl when you first started working with her." she asked.
"I didn't really think anything of it, didn't think it was important. 'Cause we're friends." I reiterated. "She wasn't a threat to you." I lied a little.
"Well, I hope she sticks around a while, if she makes you happy that's all that matters." Kira said.
"I hope so too." I nodded. "Uh, I'm also really sorry about our last night together. I was selfish and being an ass."
"I can't really blame you for acting like that but it was pretty terrible of you. In all the years we were together I had never seen you like I had in those last couple weeks." she sighed.
It was true, as cold as she was being to me in that last month I was equally as cruel to her.
"Not that it's an excuse but I was under a lot of pressure then. I actually, uh, well-" I trailed off.
"What was it Niall?" Kira prodded.
"I had a ring for you." I admitted and watched her jaw drop. "Yeah I got it back in June, it was beautiful but that's when I started noticing you were acting differently. I thought maybe getting the ring and getting in the mindset of spending the rest of our lives together would change things."
"You know that wouldn't have fixed anything." she said.
"I know but deep down I wanted it to." I said.
"When were you going to ask me?" she asked.
"That night at Aureole was when I was going to originally but then I put it off." I said. "I just wasn't sure."
"Wow, I had literally no idea." she said.
"What would you have said?" I asked.
She looked at me stumped and surprised I even dared to ask her. I wasn't sure if she was going to answer or not but the anticipation was killing me.
"If I had never met Ethan it would've been a whole different story." she said.
"I was just too late." I said.
"But there's always the chance that things would still go wrong. They say everything happens for a reason you know." she offered. "Maybe Ethan came at just the right time so that I didn't ruin your life down the line."
"I mean I've been torn up since September but it's no big deal." I tried to joke.
"Niall, I'm sorry." she apologized for the hundredth time.
"It's not okay what you did, but thank you for apologizing." I nodded.
We sat ate in silence for a little while longer while I watched the people walk by on the street. It was peaceful in the café and that was a contrast to lunch hour on the streets of New York.
"Are you going home for Christmas?" she asked me sipping her water.
"Yeah, I'm excited, I haven't seen my Ma since Easter it's been a while." I nodded.
"When do you leave?" she asked.
"Tomorrow night. Harry's going home too but we're gonna fly back here from Ireland together." I said. "We'll be back before the New Year. You going home?"
"Uh kinda." she shrugged.
"What does that mean?" I asked.
"I'm headed home yeah but I'm moving back there." she said.
"You're going back to San Diego?" I asked.
"Yeah, there's some better opportunities for me out there and I'm getting tired of the cold." she said.
"What about Ethan?" I asked.
"He's staying here until the middle of January and then he's coming to live with me." she said.
"So, this is the last time I'm gonna see you for a while then." I nodded.
"I guess so, that's why I wanted to do this. I couldn't just let our four years come to an end without closure and I didn't just want to move away without you knowing."
"Thank you for that." I smiled. "So this is goodbye then."
I stood up and she followed my lead. I opened my arms for her to walk into and she buried her face into my chest while we squeezed each other tight. I kissed the top of her head for probably the last time ever, though it was one more time than I thought I might since September.
"I love you Kira, I'll miss you a lot." I said when we released from the hug.
"I still love too Niall, I can't tell you how glad I am we did this. I'll miss you too. Throwing up on your shoes was the best thing I ever did for myself." she laughed.
"Good luck out there, I'll see you again." I said holding onto one of her hands.
I got back to work before my lunch ended and sat right back down at my desk attempting to get some work done. My mind was flooded with thoughts of Kira and how glad I was we managed to talk things out but once again I was longing for her. Hearing her history with Ethan hurt me and I'd never be able to forgive her for what she did, but I was glad she was happy and that we reconciled. Everyone was filing in again and I nodded at Harry when he got back and sat down across from me.
"Horan, Styles, get in here." Rhodes called from across the office about five minutes later.
I looked up from my computer at Harry who did the same to me. I shrugged my shoulders and he raised his eyebrows. I grabbed my coffee mug and stood up waiting for him to do the same.
"What does he need now?" he asked.
"God only knows." I said.
We got into his office and shut the door behind us before sitting down.
"First of all, Horan what the hell happened to you?" Rhodes asked stifling a laugh.
"I got in a fight at a bar last Friday." I sighed answering the question for the thousandth time that week.
"Looks like it hurts." he said.
"It's not so bad anymore. First couple days I had a good headache but it's just the discoloration now." I shrugged.
"How has it not healed at all by now?" he asked.
"Karma." I said taking a sip of coffee.
"Alright, well, boys thank you again for everything you've done this quarter." he said. "You've saved my ass."
"Sure sir." Harry said.
"I just need to know if I've pushed you too far. I know you're still young and we've got a lot of people who've been working here longer than you both and are far older but I thought you were more than capable of a supervisor position." he said.
"It was a lot to get used to at first but we worked through it and can handle it now." I said.
"I was just most worried about those old-timers getting pissed at having two foreign kids in higher positions than them." Harry said.
"Well, you know old dogs don't like to learn new tricks so I didn't want to force that on them either." Rhodes said. "If you go down to billing you're bonuses are there. Hope they pay off your gifts."
"Thank you sir." we said at the same time.
"And you've got an extension on Pacific Whiskey. So tell your boys there to slow down and really pay attention to detail. They said by the end of January." Rhodes told us what I already knew.
"Thank god, it'll be even better this way." H said.
"That's what I told 'em too. Alright boys, I'm not in tomorrow so have a safe flight and a nice Christmas and I'll see you in the new year." he said standing up.
"You too Rhodes, enjoy your family." I said shaking his hand.
"Safe travels." Harry said following my suit.
We walked out of the office and did our usual little celebratory shoulder knocking and we heard Rhodes laughing behind us when he got up to close his door.
"Wanna go down now and grab the checks?" I asked.
"Absolutely I'm nearly done with my work for today." he said.
We walked across the office and were just about to walk out the door but Kaine whistled at us to come over.
"You know, women don't like to be catcalled but you sure as hell do it to us all the time." Harry said leaning up against the reception desk.
"Where's Helen?" I asked putting my mug down.
"She had to take a late lunch." she said. "Niall, your eye looks the worst it's looked today since you got hit."
"Alright so I'm taking that your catcall was directed at Harry then?" I asked.
"Just come around here." she said.
"What are you gonna do about it?" I asked walking around the desk and sitting down in Helen's chair.
"I'm putting some concealer on it." she said pulling a tube out of her purse.
"You think that'll help at all?" Harry asked.
"It'll be better than the state of his face now." Kaine mumbled.
"I'm right here, I can hear everything you're saying." I said while she blended the makeup in with her finger.
"It's just the bruising is not a good look on you." he said. "It didn't make you look tough either. Just kind of sad and wimpy."
"Enough." I groaned swatting her hand away from my face at Harry's last comment.
"You're good to go now." she said closing the tube. "That's better."
"Thank you." I said.
"Now I'm not embarrassed to be seen with you down at billing." he joked.
"We'll be back." I said.
H and I rode the elevator down to the second floor where the billing departments of most of the companies in the building were located. It was crowded on the floor but we managed to make our way through to Wolfe's corner. The guy dug through a file cabinet looking for our last names and pulled out two envelopes and handed them off to us wishing us a good holiday. We returned the courtesy and head back upstairs to the office. Harry tore open his check when we got back to Kaine and Helen's desk. Kaine had obviously been drinking out of my cup again with the lipstick stain on the edge.
"You could get your own cup you know, Kay." I said picking it up.
"How do you know it was me? It could've been Helen." she said.
"Dear, I haven't worn lipstick that red since I was 30, it most definitely could not be me." Helen laughed and tuned us back out.
"Okay fine, you've got me." she said.
"Want to order takeaway and come back to mine after work?" Harry asked.
"Yes, I just have to stop home and grab your gifts." Kaine said.
"Yeah that's fine." he nodded.
"Because you're not gonna have any time after work tomorrow right? Both catching flights?" she asked.
"Yeah mine's not until pretty late but H takes off around 9. Plus it's going to be a complete mad house there tomorrow." I said.
"Alright, then I'll bring them tonight." she nodded.
"We better get back to work." I said nodding toward our cubes.
"Might be a good idea, Rhodes might take those bonuses away from you otherwise." she said.
I went back to the break room first to refill my coffee cup after Kaine drank the majority of it and then got back to work. I finished off the last website redesign I had to code in and then got to work on some paperwork. Van grabbed his laptop and posted up in my cube working on the code bootcamp I made up for him and asked me questions from time to time. It was the calmest day we had in the office in a while.
"What's this mean here?" Van asked pointing at his screen.
"Compiler error." I said. "What language are you on now?"
"XML." he answered.
"What looks wrong in the code?" I quizzed him scanning the screen for the errors.
"I really have no clue." he rubbed at his eyes. "I've been doing so many different languages back to back for the past three weeks I'm not even sure what to be looking for at this point."
"You're closing braces all have back slashes when they should be forward slashes." I said.
"Are you fucking kidding me." he grumbled.
"It's tedious as all hell I know." I said.
"Is this virtually the same as HTML?" he asked.
"They're very similar but they're just different enough you should know both. XML has to do more with translation of data from an app to a database." I said.
"This is infuriating. I have to change all these tags?" he asked.
"If you want to start coding on real projects then yes." I said.
"I thought I was going to be more on the design end on this team." he said getting annoyed.
"You're still going to be once we get back in the new year, Rhodes needed another designer and programmer duo so that what I'm conditioning you to be, Van." I said while he eyed me. "I'm doing you a favor. Maybe you'll get a raise or a more permanent position with these skills."
"Well I guess I should be thanking you then." he said under his breath and picked up his laptop to go across aisle to Louis and Liam's cubes.
I looked up at Harry who had been listening to the whole conversation and shrugged.
"It's tough I'll grant him that but I'm almost guaranteeing him a promotion after this project is over." I said.
"He's overreacting, he's still a college kid. Just think back to when you were learning how to do all this code." H defended him.
"I didn't give whoever was trying to help me attitude though." I said.
"Well, can you blame him? You're only like six years older than him that could get annoying. It's like your his older brother bossing him around, nobody likes that." he said.
"I guess you're right." I said.
"Just get your work done for today so we can get out of here." he said. "Grab a drink after?"
"How about I just pick up a couple cases of Saranacs so we can get buzzed in the comfort of your living room?" I asked.
"Even better." he nodded.
"And I've got to run off and grab your gift at mine." I said.
"Did you get something for Kaine? I'm gonna feel weird if it was just me who did." he said.
"Yeah, I took her to see Hamilton on Monday." I said.
"How in hell did you get tickets?" he asked.
"I stood in that damned cancellation line all day it was cold as hell but we saw it." I said. "And it was really amazing, I don't really like musicals but that one was class."
"I can't believe you got tickets." he said.
"I didn't really know it was as big as it was until I went online to get tickets, I wasn't about to pay 1000 dollars a seat but I got them face value in that line." I shrugged. "It's beyond worth it though."
"You'd walk over coals for her who are you kidding." he said under his breath.
I rolled my eyes at him and looked back down at my computer. I worked on a web template for the rest of the day and was glad when five o'clock came around. We were meeting at Harry's at seven so I had a little down time to get home and possibly take a short nap. I didn't want to show up empty handed to Kaine even though I already took her to the show so I grabbed the mug she took a liking to off my desk and brought it home with me.
There wasn't much preparation I had to do to get home tomorrow, I had my bags packed already and my travel clothes set out. Last time I was home my life was dramatically different and it would be nice to get back to my small hometown.
The short nap I set out to take ended up being a little longer than I anticipated. I hurried around and found a little ribbon in my kitchen drawer and tied it around the handle of a mug and wrapped it as best as I could in an old shoebox. It looked like shit compared to Harry's gift which the store wrapped up for me but it was as best as I could do. I stopped off at the liquor store and picked up a couple cases of Saranacs and then drove the rest of the way to Harry's.
"Do you want a hand?" he asked when he opened the door.
I had the two cases on top of each other than the two gift boxes on top of that, it was quite the balancing act.
"Thanks." I nodded and he took some of the things out of my hands.
"Glad you finally showed up." Kaine said from the couch eating out of a takeout box.
"I fell asleep I have literally no excuse for being late." I shrugged and put the cases down on the coffee table.
"It's alright food just got here, and so did she." Harry said taking a seat on the floor.
"Okay thanks for blowing my cover." she said. "Will you guys be back here by New Years?"
"Yeah our flight back is on the 29th." I nodded and took a seat next to her.
"Oh good I'm glad I'll be back here the next day too." she said.
"Are you bringing Everett with you?" I asked.
"No, he has to teach Monday after that and he thinks that flying in and out of here for just like two days is going to take too large of a toll on him." she explained.
"That's too bad." Harry shrugged.
"I know, I'm a little upset but I guess I can get over it. I'm flying out of here to Chicago to see him and his family before Christmas. It's our six months together on the 22nd so I thought it'd be good to see him." she said.
"That's all you've been together?" I asked.
"Yeah, because remember we didn't start dating until like a month after graduation and that was in May. You guys forget how much younger than you I am sometimes don't you?" she asked.
"I guess so. You just get us though so it's like we've known you forever." Harry said.
"Okay on that sappy note I'm grabbing your presents." she said and stood up and grabbed a couple large boxes near the door.
"What the hell, you still shouldn't have gotten us anything." he said.
"For the last time I wanted to. You've gotta open them together though." she said smiling.
We started tearing the paper off the boxes tossing it aside. I had no idea what she could have gotten us coming in a box this size. We took the lids off of the boxes and pulled out leather duffle bags with little savannah animals embossed into the sides. Mine had N.J.H. painted in white letters on it and Harry's had H.E.S. I knew the brand, Very Troubled Child, I had worked on their website once in the beginning years at Wolfe. And I knew it wasn't cheap, but they really were so beautifully hand crafted.
"Jesus Kay." I said under my breath. "Thank you."
"You guys are just always traveling it seems like and you can't keep using your gym bags from college anymore. You're professional men, you should be traveling like them too." she shrugged. "Plus I got myself one in this green color with birds on it so if we ever go anywhere all together again we can look sleek as hell."
"Dear god thank you. They're incredible." Harry said.
"You shouldn't have spent this much on us we don't deserve it." I said putting my arm around her and giving her a side hug.
"It's the least I could do for you after you made me so welcome here." she smiled.
"Alright Kaine, this one's from me." Harry said handing her a bag. "I hope to god you don't hate it."
She pulled a reddish brown leather and suede jacket and her eyes automatically lit up.
"Harry how could I hate this, I love it." she said putting it on.
"Is that Diesel?" I asked him.
"Yeah I was in there looking for some cool shirts and thought Kaine should toughen up her wardrobe a little." he said.
"This is seriously amazing I probably won't ever take it off." she said just looking down at it. "You know how long I've wanted a coat like this for, I can't believe you found one."
"You look good." Harry smiled at her.
"Thank you H, I love it." she said leaning down to give him a hug.
"Here, I have just a little something else for you." I said handing her the box.
"Okay Hamilton was enough, I don't even think I should open this." she said looking down at the box.
"When I say little I mean little." I said urging her and handing H his gift too.
She tore off the paper and opened the box and just laughed pulling the mug out.
"If you like the mug so much then you can have it." I joked.
"I have to admit I really loved pissing you off by drinking half your coffee out of it. But thank you. For this and Hamilton, I don't know which I liked better." she said giving me another small hug.
"Can I go?" Harry asked.
"You're like a five year old you don't have to ask me." I said.
"Well you definitely didn't wrap this because it looks way too nice." he said tearing away at the paper.
I watched his face as he pulled off the lid go from totally confused to absolutely shocked. He pulled out his shearling vest that he had been wanting for ages from YSL but he just kept putting it off.
"Niall what the hell, return it. You should not have spent this much." he said automatically.
"Well, you know when you return an engagement ring worth twenty thousand dollars with your best friend you get a lot more back than you know what to do with. I had a shit year H and you don't know how much I relied on you. It's just a thank you for literally everything you've done." I said. "So there's no way in hell I'm returning it, it's yours."
"It's way too much." he said.
"You've wanted it forever, get over it and put it on. It's just your aesthetic and everything it's yours." I said cracking a smile and he returned it.
"I love you man." he said standing up to hug me.
"Oh I know mate, I love you too." I said hugging him tight.
"Aw, bromance at it's finest." Kaine said, I nearly forgot she was there.
"Oh shut up." I said when I sat back down next to her.
"Alright Niall, yours you've gotta go to the closet down the hall for. It's in there." H said.
"Okay, I guess." I said standing up.
Once again I had no clue what he could have gotten for me. I didn't need anything from him I was just happy to have him around with me all the time. It's like I said before he was practically half of me, the sensible half at least. I opened the closet door to be greeted with a garment bag.
"What is this?" I called from down the hall.
"Just unzip it and put it on let's go." he yelled back.
After a couple minutes I found myself walking back down the hall in a Paul Smith suit. It was grey and it had a white grid on it and it fit like a glove. I felt great in it, I just didn't know why he got me a suit. The two of them just whistled at me when I emerged back into the living room.
"Why'd you get me a suit? I mean thank you, it's great and I love it, but just, why?" I asked.
"Do my spin I always do when I know I look good." Harry said.
"I'm not doing that." I answered.
"Just do it come on." he prodded. "With the wink."
I put my arms out and crossed my legs to spin around like he always did at work when he was wearing his suit and did the full spin around with the wink at the end. I felt the blush creeping up my neck already.
"Now that is a suit." Kaine said looking me up and down.
"None of your suits fit you right Niall, this one does. This one is perfect." he said.
"He's definitely right." she agreed nodding.
"How in hell did you get my measurements?" I asked.
"I just looked at your other suits and went down a size in them. Those were all just a little baggy, this one fits you right. Do you feel that?" he asked.
"Yeah it really is perfect." I nodded straightening out the collar.
"Do you feel that new suit power?" he asked.
"I definitely do. Thank you H. You really didn't have to but I'm sure as hell glad you did." I nodded and gave him another hug.
I saw Kaine biting her bottom lip out of the corner of my eye which made me feel even better about myself.
"You know what?" she said.
"What?" me and Harry both replied.
"You're gonna look even sexier when that black eye is gone for good." she teased.
"Would you shut the hell up Westbrook." I laughed.