Her eyes turned sympathetic. “I could reach out to him. See if he could be convinced to talk to you.”
“No, I don’t want to force anything on him. If he wants to see me, he knows where to find me.”
Michaela nodded, though she still had that sad look on her face. She shouldn’t be feeling sad right now. She should be feeling excited about her engagement. I swiftly changed the subject, and we talked about the party next weekend, which was to be an outdoor, afternoon tea affair in the gardens of a swanky hotel. Then we discussed what type of wedding she envisioned having.
An hour later, Michaela was walking me out when the doorbell rang. Through the colourful stained-glass panes on her front door, I spotted a familiar silhouette.
Michaela glanced at me. “I don’t know what he’s doing here. Do you want to hide while I talk to him?”
I shook my head and inhaled a breath for courage. “No. It’s fine. I’ll leave. He probably wants to talk to you about work or something.”
She nodded and went to open the door. “Michaela, hi,” Neil said before his eyes fell on me. Ooof! The eye contact felt like a stomach punch. He frowned. “Oh. Sorry to disturb. I didn’t realise you’d have company. I can go.”
“It’s fine. What did you need?” Michaela asked.
It was on the tip of my tongue to say goodbye to her and leave, but I was frozen in place. I couldn’t stop staring at him. He looked tired, and I yearned to take his glasses off, smooth out the stress lines in between his eyebrows, and run my hands through his short brown hair.
Neil dragged his eyes away from me and cleared his throat. “Trevor asked me to visit an archive to find the original architectural drawings of an old building where he wants to shoot a Running on Air episode. Supposedly, the archive is run by some cranky old geezer who’s difficult to deal with, but he tends to be more accommodating to women, so I was going to ask if you’d come with me.”
Again, his eyes flicked briefly to mine before returning to Michaela. “I’m so sorry, Neil. I can’t go,” she said. “My parents will be arriving for a visit soon, and I have a big dinner planned.”
“Right, James mentioned the engagement,” Neil replied. “Congratulations.”
“Thank you. I haven’t told Mum and Dad yet. That’s what the dinner’s for.”
“Well, I’m sure I can manage a curmudgeonly old archivist by myself. I’ve dealt with worse.”
“I can come with you,” I offered impulsively, drawing his attention.
Neil’s frown returned. “I’m not sure if—"
“Oh, for crying out loud. Just take my help, Neil. And quit acting like you don’t know me.”
His gaze cut to mine. “I wasn’t acting like—”
“What a great idea. Thank you so much for offering to help, Afric,” Michaela interjected enthusiastically. “Now, get going, you two. Most archives close at five, so you don’t have a lot of time to get there.”
She practically shoved me out the door, and then Neil and I were left standing on her front stoop, staring at one another like the most awkward pair that had ever existed.
“You don’t have to come,” Neil said, averting his gaze.
“I want to come. We need to talk.”
“I’m not sure I’m ready to talk.”
“Is that why you ignored my voicemail?”
One eyebrow rose. “You mean the one you left me at three in the morning rambling on about how you were sorry but also not sorry?”
“Yes. That one. Though that was only one part of what I said. I was mainly apologising.” I paused, inhaling a deep breath and channelling as much sincerity into my voice as I could muster. “You have no idea how sorry I am. I meant what I said about grovelling. Whatever you need from me, I’ll do it.”
There was a flash of emotion in his eyes as they locked on mine. I nearly fell over from the intensity of his gaze, and I yearned to know what he was thinking. We must’ve been standing there locked in a stare-down for a while because Michaela opened her living room window and stuck her head out.
“Why are you two still standing out there? Didn’t you hear what I said about the archive closing at five?”
My eyes flickered between Neil’s. Feeling unsure, I reached out and touched his hand. “Do you want me to come with you?”
His eyes closed for a second, his reply little more than a whisper. “Yes.”
Just like that, my spirits lifted. There were a hundred helium balloons beneath my feet, propelling me into the air.
“We’re going,” I said to Michaela before motioning for Neil to lead the way.
We walked quietly in the direction of the nearest Tube station, and I let Neil lead us onto the appropriate train. There weren’t many seats, so we ended up sitting side by side, our backs to the window.