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And they were Zoom-mates...

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[Claudia] “Call!”

 

He looked up to his second screen as his headphones pinged.

Claudia was messaging him on his company’s IM service.

[Callum] hey

 

What up?

[Claudia] what did you do?!?!?!?!?!

;p

 

Callum frowned at the screen.

 

[Callum] what you mean?

[Claudia] Heard legal going to contact you!

 

Callum felt his stomach drop. Legal? What on earth would they want with him?

 

[Callum] Where you hear that?

[Claudia] Dad.

 

Callum bit his lip. Claudia's Dad was relatively high up in the company. People tended to think that’s how she and Soren got their jobs, but they were both pretty good at what they did.

Though, Viren probably did help them get a foot in the door.

 

[Callum] No idea why legal would contact me.

Your dad's probs confused.

[Claudia] Nope.

Apparently Rayla’s going to zoom you.

Not trying to freak you out

Wanted you to be prepared

 

Callum took a deep breath.

 

[Callum] who Rayla?

[Claudia] Lawyer.

Big wig.

Did you copy any art or anything?

 

He sighed.

 

[Callum] no

Had some rando DM me on insta a few weeks ago saying I stole his stuff.

Total crap

[Claudia] ah

Probs that

Got everything backed up?

 

Callum grimaced. He was not the most organised of people when it came to his files.

 

[Callum] Probs?

Like... somewhere

[Claudia] lol

Well, as long as she doesn’t need to get forensic IT involved.

[Callum] forensic IT?

[Claudia] they can go through your computer for deleted stuff.

You DO NOT want forensic it involved ;)

And apparently she freaks at people who make her call in forensic it.

 

Callum took a sip from his water bottle. He did not need this first thing on a Monday morning.

 

[Callum] well thanks for the heads up.

I guess.

Haha

[Claudia] J

Let me know how it goes!

I'm so bored!!! I need the goss!

 

Callum rolled his eyes as he minimised the window and tried to go back to his latest art piece. He noticed an unread mail notification and absent mindedly brought up Outlook.

His blood ran cold when he read the subject heading.

“Notice of filed copyright infringement”

His eyes flicked to the sender

“Rayla Ghealach”

He could see there was a meeting request attached.

He clicked the message, not wanting to wait any longer.

 

“Dear Mr. Prince,

I trust this email finds you well in this time.

I am writing to you to inform you that a notice of copyright infringement has been lodged against the company regarding some of the recent marketing artwork you designed.

Legal proceedings have begun in regards this notice and as a result, we require all files pertaining to the artwork in question.

Would you be free to discuss the matter via teleconference at 10:30 today?

Regards,

Rayla Ghealach"

 

Callum’s pulse raced. He was certainly glad Claudia had contacted him or he might have totally freaked out reading that message.

He sighed and clicked ‘Reply’.

 

“Good morning Rayla,

I believe I may know something about this matter. I had an artist message me on my personal Instagram account complaining I had copied their art. Their claim is unfounded.

I am free to discuss further at 10:30.

Thanks,

Callum”

 

He looked down. He was dressed in sweatpants and a grungy t-shirt. He hadn’t brushed his hair in days. Sighing, he got to his feet and exited the room.

He peeked into the lounge, finding Ezran reclined on the couch, watching some animated show.

“Do you ever have class?” He teased.

“Not til 11 today.” Ez glanced back at him.

“Well, I’m jumping in the shower. I have a teleconference at 1030 so, you know, don’t barge in or anything.” Callum sighed and proceeded to the bathroom.

Once showered and dressed in semi-formal attire, he wandered into the kitchen to prepare a coffee. If he was going to talk to some scary lawyer, he was definitely going to need caffeine.

Looking at his reflection in the microwave door, he pushed his too-long hair out of his eyes.

It was getting to the point where he was tempted to take a scissors to his own locks to try and instil some semblance of order.

Coffee made, he proceeded back into his bedroom and makeshift home office. He checked the camera to ensure the background was inoffensive to legal, then got back to his current design, waiting on the meeting time.

Bang on the dot of 10:30 he received a notification of meeting request.

He took a deep breath and accepted.

Instantly the screen filled with an image.

The person on the other end was looking down and all he saw was a head of platinum blonde, almost white hair.

The room she was in was bright and airy. Shelves packed with books, trinkets and long trailing plants framed her.

She was dressed far more formally than he expected of someone who had spent multiple weeks working from home. Her teal blouse was immaculately pressed, and he glanced down at his slightly crumpled polo shirt with embarrassment.

He supposed that was probably the difference between legal and the art department.

Too late to do anything about it now.

“Em hi.” He spoke when she continued looking down, scribbling something on a notebook in front of her.

She didn’t respond, running her fingers through her hair as he heard her sigh over the microphone.

“Rayla, was it?”

She bit her pen, then glanced up at her screen, her eyes widening and moving to look in the direction of the camera.

“Oh, sorry. I didn’t notice you pick up.” She flushed a little.

Callum forced his mouth closed.

She was not what he expected from legal.

She was... stunning.

Her skin was almost as pale as her hair, complimenting her large lavender eyes. Her bone structure was amazing and all he could think was she would be a wonder to draw.

And the accent... Though maybe he should have anticipated that from her unintelligible surname.

“Hello?” She asked. “Can you hear me? Is the camera workin’ ok?”

“Eh, yeah, sorry... just some lag.” He hoped his blush wasn’t obvious.

She frowned again. “I think your mic isn’t workin’.” She paused. “Or on.”

Callum’s eyes flickered to his headset control and sure enough his microphone was muted. Cursing himself he pushed the “talk” button.  “Eh, yeah, sorry.”

“It’s fine.” She glanced down at her notes. “So, Callum? Em, how are you?”

“Em, I’m good, thanks.” He answered stiffly. “You?”

Her eyes darted down again. “Good. And its, eh, good, you’re good.” She bit her lip and obviously tried not to look at her notes. “How are you finding working from home?”

“Ok?” Callum frowned. This was weird. Didn’t they have a lawsuit to discuss?

“Ok?” She looked confused and flicked through her notepad.

Callum chuckled. “Em, is this some legal script thingie?”

She wrinkled her nose a little and looked at him through hooded lashes. “Is it that obvious?”

He shrugged, trying not to laugh.

She visibly relaxed a little, pushing the pad away. “HR make us go through this when we have to contact people. Weirdly, getting a call from legal seems to scare a lot of employees.”

“I can’t imagine why.” Callum deadpanned.

“Hey, I’m on your side.” She raised an eyebrow.

“Only if I haven’t done anything wrong.” Callum grinned, happy the ice had broken somewhat.

“Well, have you?” She smirked at him.

“No!” Callum exclaimed.

“Great! Then I won’t get you fired.” She replied sarcastically.

Callum’s face must have displayed his concern because her demeanour immediately changed.

“That was a joke.”

“Oh. Good.” He sighed.

“Ok, I don’t want to keep you too long.” She clearly looked to another screen and then some written notes. “So this guy... Kermit69 has lodged a copyright infringement against you for the series of images you did of... frogs?” She checked her notes. “For the Slurm campaign?”

Callum sighed. That sounded so dumb. “Yeah, he messaged me on my personal Instagram a few weeks ago to say I copied his stuff. I’d never heard of him before that, so I just ignored him. I’ve no idea how he connected my personal account to work.”

She scribbled some notes. “Did you look at his Instagram ever?” She clicked on something on her side. “By the way, do you mind if I record this chat?”

“Eh no, that’s fine.” He thought back to receiving the message from what he assumed was a nut. “I had a look through his account to figure out if I knew him but that was the first I saw of it.”

“Hmm.” She frowned at her notes. “And do you think there’s a likeness between his frogs and yours?”

Callum shrugged. “A frog is a frog. I guess superficially some of them were similar so maybe that’s where he got upset?”

“Ok.” She tapped her pen against her temple. “And where did the inspiration for your frogs come from?”

He sighed. This was the dumbest conversation he’s ever had, and it was with some stunning lawyer from head office. “Like... frogs? Google image searches? Cartoon frogs? My little brother has a pet frog?” He shrugged again. “Just... frogs.”

“Your brother has a pet frog?”

“Yeah? Is that an, eh, issue?” Callum replied with confusion.

“No. Just a weird pet.” She seemed to consider it.

“He’s a weird kid.” Callum smirked.

Lawyer Rayla snorted. “Fair enough.” She nodded at her notes. “Oooook, hmm, so I’m going to need you to forward on your... frog files to me and IT. You have them, I assume?”

“Yeah?” He grimaced. “Somewhere?”

She looked up at him and Claudia’s warning about her temper rang though his head.

“My filing system isn’t... eh, the most organised.”

She sighed; her eyebrows knitted together. “Ok, well, just go through everything and send me anything frog related.”

“Ok.” He pouted. That would not be fun. There were a lot of frogs as part of that campaign.

“I’ve already spoken to your supervisor and he knows this is priority number one, so your other projects are on the backburner until we clear this up.” She remarked, engaged on her own screen.

“Ok. Thanks.” He sighed. “Sorry if this is... lame or weird or whatever.”

She smirked at him. “Are you kidding? Getting to go hardcore legal against some no talent neck beard? This is exactly the kind of random case I was hoping isolation would throw at me.”

“Really?” Callum asked sceptically.

“It’s a nice break from sexual harassment or embezzlement.” She laughed and Callum’s pulse raced.

“Oh well, good. I suppose.”

“Yes, I’m glad I can take enjoyment in your misery.” She smirked, her eyes suddenly flickering to the camera before she flushed. “Em, but no, not really.”

Callum couldn’t help but smile at her. Legal must always have to watch what they said.  “Well, I’ll get looking through my files, I guess.”

“Great.” She smiled at him. “Thanks for making the time to talk to me. Just message or call or whatever if you have any questions or additional information. Don’t engage Kermit what’s his face if he messages you. Screenshot and send to me, ok?”

Callum smiled back at her. “No problem. Will do.”

“Well, nice chatting to you, Callum.” She moved the mouse on her end, clearly preparing to end the call.

“Yep. You too, Rayla.” He smiled, waving lamely.

She snorted then clicked her mouse and disappeared.

Callum sighed long and low.

He must have been going a little bonkers from the lack of company, because that was the most exhilarating thing that happened to him since he could remember.

He took his headphones off and ran a hand through his hair.

While he was not particularly happy at being... sued (he was being sued, right?) he could certainly imagine far less appealing lawyers to deal with.

Not wanting to disappoint his representation, he took a sip of his coffee and went to work tracking down his files.

 

---

Dear Rayla,

I trust this email finds you well.

Regarding our earlier conversation, please find attached the files in question.

Kind regards,

Callum.

Delete.

“Hey Rayla

Thanks for the chat earlier-“

Delete.

“Hi Rayla,”

He stared at the screen. What was the right mix of professional without being stiff? Or... weird. The lack of social interaction was making him question everything.

“Hi Rayla,

Thanks for your call earlier. I’ve attached a link to all the files I think are pertinent to the erroneous claim discussed.

Please let me know if you require

(too formal?)

Please let me know if you need anything else.

Regards

Thanks,

Callum”

He hit “send” then leaned back in his chair, sighing.

While he didn’t want to look like an idiot in front of the beautiful lawyer, he hoped she had call to contact him again.

 

---

 

[Claudia] so......?!??!!?!?!

 

He snorted at the message. He was actually impressed Claudia had waited this long.

 

[Callum] so what?

[Claudia] *eyeroll*

How’d it go with legal?

 

Callum smirked.

 

[Callum] Fine.

I think.

Was the insta weirdo. Sent them my files and they said they’d contact me if anything comes up

*shrug*

[Claudia] what’s Rayla like?!

I heard she made Steve cry!

[Callum] didnt he get fired for harassment?

[Claudia] Oh, he’s ok. Just doesn’t have a filter

He said she’s a real ice queen.

[Callum] hmm…

She’s fine.

Nice actually.

Well, was nice to me anyway.

[Claudia] Maybe she’s just lulling you into a false sense of security…?

I stalked her on LinkedIn.

She’s hot.

 

Callum raised his eyebrow in amusement and agreement. That she was.

 

[Callum] I dont think legal would approve of that sort of talk over company messaging ;)

[Claudia] Legal are no fun ;)

Art dept is where it’s at

 

---

 

RE: Notice of filed copyright infringement

Morning Callum,

Thanks for sending those files through.

Would you be free at some point to discuss them in a little more detail?

Thanks,

Rayla.

 

RE: Notice of filed copyright infringement

Hi Rayla,

That’s fine. I don’t have any other meetings today so I’m free to chat whenever.

Thanks,

Callum.

 

[Rayla] Hi Callum

How are you this morning?

 

He jumped when his IM service flashed on screen. He was not expecting her to respond so quickly, even though he could see she was online.

 

[Callum] Hi.

I’m good.

You?

[Rayla] Good thanks.

You free to chat now?

 

He glanced down at his unruly clothing. 

 

[Callum] Em, 2 mins?

[Rayla] Sure.

Just call me when you’re free.

 

Callum got up, toying with jumping in the shower before electing to just throw on a relatively un-creased button-down shirt and running his fingers through his hair. He glanced down at his sweatpants but ultimately elected not to bother changing them. He glanced at himself in his bedroom mirror, took a deep breath and sat down.

Taking one last look around to ensure his immediate surroundings were somewhat respectable, he pressed “Call” on the button next to Rayla’s name.

The connection screen blinked for a second and then Rayla appeared.

“Hi.” She smiled at him.

“Hi.” He felt his face flush.

She was stupidly pretty.

“Coping with isolation, the end of the world and being sued?” She grinned, raising her eyebrows.

“Is this another HR script?” He smirked at her.

“Nope. This is my personal one. I think it’s far better.” She chuckled, adjusting her headset.

“Well, it probably couldn’t be worse.”

“I’ll be sure to pass your feedback on to HR.” She began scribbling in her notepad.

“Please don’t.” He laughed. “The less HR know about me the better.”

“Callum Prince says… your scripts suck… and my delivery… not at all… the problem.” She put her pen down. “Done. I’ll forward that onto them after this. Want me to CC you in?”

Callum rolled his eyes, snorting in amusement. “Yeah and my boss as well, if you could.”

“Will do.” She bit her lip, struggling to suppress a smile. “So… these files. Thanks for sending them on.” She took a deep breath. “Are they the originals?”

He shrugged. “It’s all the original line work and layers.”

She nodded, looking down. “But you’ve saved something to them recently?”

“Eh,” Callum flushed. “Well, I just gave them more logical names. My naming system isn’t exactly the most straight forward. Not with works in progress anyway.”

“Ah…ok.” She wrote something down then looked back up. “I’m going to need the originals in their original format, if that’s ok.”

Callum grimaced.

“Oh dear, what?” She looked concerned.

“Well, it’s just… the names I gave them… you know… sometimes you’re working and you get a bit frustrated with stuff?” He rubbed his temple. “And some of the file names maybe reflect that frustration.”

Rayla sighed, tapping her pen against her forehead. “Ooook, so are we talking work inappropriate names or inappropriate inappropriate names?”

Callum raised his hands. “No, just, you know, not super professional names.”

“Example?”

He shrugged. “Em, maybe, I named one ‘annoyed’ or ‘sickofthis’ and, I don’t know ‘imsickoffrogs.”

“Is that the worst of it?” She at least looked amused.

“Probably? I can’t remember exactly but that’s how my stuff tends to get named after a while.”

Rayla snickered, shaking her head. “Ok, that’s fine. I can work with that.” She sighed; her eyes wide. “You scared me there for a second.”

“That’s really ok?” Callum still felt embarrassed.

“Yeah, that’s relatively normal.” She looked away as she typed something on her keyboard. “You should see some of the dumb names people call their stuff and expect it not to get found out.” She glanced back at the camera. “Word to the wise, IT has filters and searches for the most common euphemisms. If you don’t want to hear from HR, I would avoid using stuff like that as a file name.”

Callum breathed a sigh of relief. “Please tell me people aren’t that dumb.”

She raised an eyebrow. “You have no idea.” She typed a few more words, her attention on another screen and Callum took the opportunity to stare at her a little. She was dressed in a plain navy top today but from the drape of the material, he assumed it was silk. Her hair was loosely tied up, soft tendrils framing her face.

“Ok.” She finished what she was typing and looked back at the camera.

Callum quickly glanced down and pretended he hadn’t been staring.

She didn’t seem to notice. “So, just send through the original files, weird names and all and we can go from there.”

“Ok, I’ll send those- AHHHH FUCK!!!” Callum screamed as something wet and slimy landed on his face. He fell backwards off his chair in fright. He put a hand to his face and pulled off his attacker, revealing a plump green tree frog. “Fuck Bait, you scared the shit out of me.” He glared at the small amphibian before remembering he was still on a video call.

He jumped to his feet, red faced, to find Rayla looking shocked and confused on screen.

“Are you ok?!” She looked at him with wide-eyed concern.

Callum sighed, attempting to regain some dignity. “Yeah. Sorry. My brother’s stupid frog must have got out of his enclosure. He likes body heat so, you know, jumps on your face.” Callum held his hand up to the camera.

Bait croaked grumpily.

“Did you hurt yourself?” Biting her lip, she was clearly struggling to keep her countenance.

Callum sighed, sitting down once again. “Apart from a bruised ego?”

Rayla descended into peals of laughter.

He watched her giggle, struggling not to laugh himself. Now over his initial fright, he could only imagine how that looked to her.

“I’m sorry.” She took a deep breath, wiping her eyes. “I’m ok. Anyway,” She snorted, taking a deep breath. “Just…” snort “Send those… files through…”

Callum began to laugh at her clear inability to remain professional and she seemed to take this as a cue to break into another fit of giggles.

“Whenever you’re ready.” He smirked at her.

She took a deep breath and wiped her face. “I’m ok.”

“Well, as long as you’re ok.” He replied sarcastically.

Rayla shook her head and nodded. “Yep. Over it now. Anyway, files through.” She sighed as she attempted not to descend into laughter again. “Ok, I have to go. I can’t…”

Callum smiled at her, struggling not to laugh himself. “Ok, yep, files through.”

“Yep, ok.” She glanced at him, her shoulders shaking. “Gotta go.” She hung up abruptly.

Callum began to laugh himself. He liked to imagine she was somewhere, hours away laughing mercilessly at him. He wasn’t particularly happy to have made such an enormous fool of himself in front of her, but at least there was no way she’d forget him now.

Chuckling to himself, he glared at Bait. “You are a bad friend.”

 

---

 

RE: Notice of filed copyright infringement

Hi Rayla,

I hope you are well recovered.

Please find a link to sharepoint with all the files in the original state.

Let me know if you need anything else.

Cheers,

Callum.

 

RE: Notice of filed copyright infringement

I think it is unlikely I will ever truly recover.

Thanks for the files.

R

 

Callum chuckled at her response, looking back to his current design piece. While it was nice to have an excuse to interact with her, he was not enjoying trawling through files in search of long forgotten work.

He heard a ping in his headphone and looked up, expecting a message from Claudia or another of his colleagues.

He was surprised to see Rayla’s professional looking photograph flashing in the IM window. He clicked on the window, giddy at the chance to talk to her again.

 

[Rayla] You haven’t got a concussion or anything have you?

I might have failed in my duty of care to ensure you were uninjured after you recent animal attack.

*Your

Perhaps a bit late checking 24 hrs later.

[Callum] I’ll live.

[Rayla] Excellent

Free for chat?

Phone?

[Callum] sure

 

He was shocked to find his headphones ringing immediately. He quickly smoothed his hair before picking up.

“Hi.”

He was a little surprised as Rayla’s screen remained blank.

Just an audio chat then. “Hi.” He tried to keep the disappointment from his voice.

“Sorry to bother you so soon after our last call. Something has come up.” She paused. “Could I get your personal phone number, if that’s not too intrusive?”

“Eh, no that’s fine.” Callum’s heart raced. What did she want his personal phone number for?

“Great.” He thought he could hear her stand up. “You free now?”

“Yep.” Callum frowned.

“Ok.” She hung up without further word.

Callum rubbed his temples, while it would be nice to imagine she wanted his personal number for personal reasons, he could not imagine this was good.

What on earth was going on? Had HR actually objected to one of his file names? He thought they were pretty dumb but not a fireable offence, surely? But maybe they had moved the goalposts on what was considered ‘fireable’ with everything going on?

He frowned as an unfamiliar number flashed on his phone screen. Taking a deep breath, he selected the answer option.

“Hello?”

“Hello Callum?” She sounded a little concerned herself and Callum felt his anxiety rise.

“Yep.” He took a sip of water and proceeded out of his room, through the hallway and onto his balcony. He glanced in the living room window, rolling his eyes at Ezran once again reclined on the sofa, Bait resting on his forehead.

“Sorry to bother you on your personal phone.” She continued. “Kermit has lodged a further complaint about you, and I thought it would be… easier to discuss it off work channels.”

Callum swallowed. “That doesn’t sound good.”

Rayla sighed, but he thought he heard amusement in it, rather than worry. “Listen, I’m pretty sure it’s nothing but yeah… probably not something either of us want to get pinged for discussing on the network.”

Callum huffed. “Ok, I’m really worried now.”

Rayla took a deep breath. “Ok, well, hopefully you’ve no reason to be. And if you do, you’re gross and I don’t care, you can suffer.” There was some amusement in her voice, but he could tell there was some truth in her words as well. “You said in our initial conversation that you looked at Kermit69’s account but did not otherwise interact with him. Is that accurate?” She seemed to shift into lawyer mode.

“Yes.” Callum nodded, looking out over the gardens in his apartment building.

“You did not send him any messages or images?” He could hear scratching, which he assumed was her writing.

“No. Definitely not.” He wondered if he should write something down too.

“And you didn’t create any other accounts and send him messages or images from them?”

“What? No.” Callum leaned back against the railing. “I just assumed he was a bit out there and ignored him. I guess I should have blocked him. But that’s it.”

“Ok. Good.” She paused. “I’ll get onto IT to clear this up.”

Callum bounced on the balls of his feet, acknowledging Ezran with a nod when his brother waved at him through the window. “Em, what is he saying I did?”

Rayla exhaled, some of her former amusement returning. “He’s alleging you sent him some… images.”

“Images?” Callum asked, confused. “Like, frog stuff?”

“Pfft, you and I wish.” She snorted.

“Oh no, what’s he saying I did?” Callum gripped the railing.

“Well, he’s alleging you sent some… intimate photographs to him.” She snickered.

“He said I sent dick pics?!” Callum jumped. “Shit. Sorry. Eh-”

Rayla chuckled. “If that’s what the kids are calling it these days, then yes, he’s saying you sent him dick pics.”

“What the fu-” Callum groaned. “Why on earth would anyone do that?”

Rayla sighed, laughing. “I have no idea. I don’t think he’s all there, to be fair. I think he’s alleging you were trying to pay him off for the frog images or something.” She snorted. “Honestly, I don’t care. My job is protecting you and the company, not trying to figure out the motives of frog fanciers on Instagram.”

“Wow.” Callum slid down the balcony railing, feeling some relief.

“Yep. Count yourself lucky you didn’t have to view the images.”

Callum grimaced. “Gross.” He shook his head. “Is that part of your job?”

“Rarely. Most of even the dumbest of sexual harassers aren’t stupid enough to send images of their own junk using company property.”

“Ew.” Callum turned up his nose.

“Tis why we get paid the big bucks and you creative types get stuck in the basement working for beans.” She chuckled. “So now you understand why I didn’t want to have a teleconference about this?”

Callum shrugged, laughing softly. “Yeah, thanks.” He paused. “So, what if I had sent the pics? Were you going to cover that up?”

“Pfft.” She snorted loudly. “You wish. I would have given you the opportunity to resign before we fired you.”

“Oh.” He replied, his voice small.

“I’m not in the business of protecting creeps, thanks.”

“Fair enough.” He chuckled.

“As if you weren’t warned about me.”

Callum thought back to his conversations with Claudia. “Em, I’m not sure what you mean.”

“Sure.” She didn’t sound offended. “You are a bad liar. I definitely believe you about the little photography session now.”

“Well, you know, I might have been pre-warned that legal was going to contact me and maybe someone mentioned you were very… professional.”

 “Oh, how diplomatic, Mr. Prince.” Rayla chuckled. “Maybe we could find a place for you in our department. I must warn you though, you are expected to wear trousers with a shirt in legal.”

Callum choked. “What?! I’ve been wearing trousers every time we’ve spoken!”

“I believe you’re wearing sweatpants and a dress shirt the other day… during the frog attack.” She teased.

Shit.

He had completely forgotten about his mismatched clothes when he stood up after falling off his chair.

She chuckled. “Hey, it’s one better than the guy who answered in his boxers the other day.”

“Someone answered a videochat with legal in their boxers?” Callum asked in disbelief.

“I think he forgot he had a glass table.”

Callum laughed. “Well, I guess you can keep your big bucks if I don’t have to look at random people’s junk or chat to people in their underwear.”

“Hmm,” Rayla seemed to consider this. “I think it’s more than made up for by seeing other people being attacked by their frog muses.”

Callum chuckled. “And I suppose you’ve told all of legal about that.”

“Na.”

Callum started in surprise. “Oh, thanks.”

“Only because most lawyers don’t have a sense of humour.” She teased again.

“You do.” Callum flushed.

“Eh…thanks.” She paused on the other end. “Well, I better let you get back to your colouring in, or whatever it is you guys do. I’ll scrub my head with brain bleach and let you know if there’s any further developments.”

“Ok.” Callum pushed himself off the balcony floor. “Thanks for taking ten years off my life.”

“No problem!” She chuckled. “Thanks Callum.”

“Bye Rayla.” He hung up the phone and stared at her number for a few seconds before electing to save it.

It only made sense if he needed to call her about something lawsuit related.

Obviously.

He made his way into the living room and collapsed into a vacant armchair.

“You ok?” Ezran glanced back at him. “That looked like an intense conversation out there.”

Callum shook his head. “Ugh, this lawsuit thing is getting weirder and weirder.”

“Really?” Ezran sat up.

“Yeah,” Callum ran a hand through his hair. “The weirdo is saying I tried to bribe him with dick pics.”

Ezran descended into a fit of giggles. “Are you serious!?”

“Yes! So, I had to explain to this cute lawyer that I’m not in the business of paying for artwork via penis photos.” He sighed, glaring at Bait. “And that little asshole jumped on my face while I was in a video chat with her and sacred the life out of both of us.”

“Well, at least you made an impression.” Ezran grinned at Bait before looking back at Callum.

“Yeah, that’s exactly the type of impression I like to make.” Callum replied sarcastically.

“Better than no impression.” Ezran shrugged. “So, who’s this lawyer?”

Callum sighed, thinking back on their conversations to date. “Just one of the senior lawyers from head office.”

“One of the senior lawyers in your company is cute? I know you like them older but really?” Ezran teased.

Callum rolled his eyes. “She’s, like, my age. I guess. I don’t know. But she’s young.”

“You gonna ask her out when this is all over?”

Callum snorted. Ezran was always encouraging him to ask women out. “This being isolation or my lawsuit?”

Ezran shrugged. “Isolation, I suppose.”

Callum sighed, getting to his feet. “Well, she lives in Duren, so I don’t think that’s worth worrying about. Anyway, I better get back to work. I can’t be bothered cooking tonight. You want Uber eats?”

 “Hell yeah!” Ezran grinned. “Thai?”

Callum looked around the door. “Sure, why not?”

 

---

 

Callum munched happily on his takeaway. As usual, they had argued over what to order and got far too much but they could easily live off leftovers for few days.

He and Ezran were chuckling along to Brooklyn 99 when Callum saw his phone light up with a notification. He glanced at it, intent to ignore it in favour of his dinner, when he noticed Rayla’s name.

He choked a little on his Pad Thai, hastily dropping his plate on the coffee table. He grabbed a napkin and wiped his greasy fingers before picking up his phone and unlocking it.

She had sent him a message.

Why would she be messaging him on his personal phone?

After hours.

He swiped down on notification and read it.

“Frog issue” Was all it that was written.

He opened the app proper and frowned as a gif began loading.

To his surprise, it was a gif of him.

Of Bait landing on his face and him falling over.

What the hell?!

He erupted into laughter as he watched the sequence over and over.

No wonder she couldn’t keep it together.

He looked like a complete idiot.

 

CallumLOL

  WTF?!

  Where did you get that?

 

He replied without thinking it through, immediately regretting how informal he was.

But she had just sent him a gif of himself being attacked by Bait and falling off a chair.

Surely formality was out the window at this point.

 

RaylaMy video chat set to record by default.

Changed now but do not regret setting it up like that.

 

“What are you laughing at?” Ezran peered at his phone.

 

CallumOMG

Delete that!

 

RaylaNever!

It’s going viral.

 

CallumWTF!?!? NO!!!!

 

RaylaLOL

I wish.

Legal remember?

I’ll just have to know I have the viral gif of the year and wallow in self-pity for I can never share it.

 

“Hey!” Ezran nudged him with his foot. “What is it?!”

“Just a gif.” Callum held up his phone for Ezran to see.

Ezran narrowed his eyes at the image and watched it play a few times before realizing it was Callum in the image. “Whaaaa?! Where did that come from?”

Callum chuckled. “Rayla records her video chats. She sent it.”

“Rayla?” Ez frowned.

“The lawyer.” Callum grinned at his phone.

Ezran smirked at him.

“What?” Callum tried to hide his goofy smile.

“Your lawyer friend made a gif off you falling of your chair?” Ezran teased.

“She’s not my friend.” Callum hoped the low light masked his intense blush. “She's just a chick from work.”

“Uh huh.” Ezran grinned, his tone sarcastic. “That seems like normal work acquaintance behaviour.”

Callum tried not to beam.

It wasn’t normal work acquaintance behaviour, was it…?

 

Chapter Text

The Frog Files: Day 2

Rayla sighed as she re-read her email, lazily petting Shadow.

Was it late enough in the day to get out of her stiff work clothes and into her sweatpants?

Just another twenty minutes and she would call it a day. She could see most of her teammates had already logged off, but her stupid sense of moral obligation meant she would feel too guilty to finish early.  

At least it had been a funny day. Seeing Callum get jumped by his brother’s frog had been the funniest thing she’d seen in weeks.

And chatting to him on the phone had been kind of fun. His reaction to Kermit's accusations had been adorable.

When Opeli had given her the brief she had expected to find some humour in it but this was way beyond her expectations.

She’d kill to see that frog attack again…

She started, frantically clicking through folders until she found her teleconference temp files.

YES!

She had recorded their chat.

Usually, she just used such recordings to keep her notes in order but this would be gold.

She opened the file and instantly began chuckling.

Man, he was a dork... with his fluffy, too long hair, crumpled polo, and big green eyes.

She watched the video, listening to their chat to reminder herself of any important details she might have missed.

Wow, she sounded super informal. She hoped Opeli wouldn’t want to see this. She would definitely disapprove.

It was weird watching herself in the bottom corner. She sure was smiling a lot. That was kind of embarrassing. She did not look professional at all.

She saw herself look away at one point, clearly typing and was surprised to see Callum continuing to stare at the screen, his eyes intently looking at something.

At her?

She flushed, scratching her cat, Shadow’s head. She was just getting ahead of herself.

Why would he stare at her?

He was probably just zoning out…

ScreenRayla looked back to the camera and Rayla laughed out loud as Callum did the most obvious ‘looking around at other things’ gesture she had ever seen.

How had she missed that at the time?!

She cuddled Shadow.

Callum was an idiot.

Like… kind of a cute idiot, but an idiot, nonetheless.

And then the frog attack.

She cackled loudly at his manic screaming and the blur of clothing as he disappeared from screen.

Her own expressions on the video where almost as funny. She seemed completely flabbergasted.

That attack would make the best gif.

Except she had no idea how to make gifs.

Oh well, it was time to finish up for the day anyway. Her rear was killing her from sitting in her chair for so long and she desperately wanted to change into comfortable clothes,

She drummed her fingers on her desk for a moment.

Just a quick google... “how to make a gif”

 

Rayla chuckled at the gif. She was pretty proud of it, if she did say so herself.

She glanced at the time.

Wow... she had got a bit caught up in that.

Shadow mewed grumpily as he was dislodged from her lap so Rayla could get to her feet. She elected to just put her pyjamas on, foregoing her lounge wear entirely.

It was too late to cook anything decent but she could survive happily on ramen.

She wandered to the kitchen and went about preparing her noodles.

Water bubbling happily, she opened her phone as she waited for her timer to sound.

She opened her gallery and snorted at the Callum gif again.

She chewed her lip. She would kill to send it to him. He was weirdly fun to tease.

That would be way too inappropriate though. If Opeli found out she’d get a written warning for sure.

She turned off her timer when it buzzed and pocketed her phone as she turned to the stove.

---

Rayla scrolled through the tv channels, trying to find something to watch, Shadow curled up at her feet.

She needed to see that gif once more. It was too funny.

How would Opeli even know if she sent it to him? He didn’t seem the type to report that sort of thing. He'd already sworn in front of her.

And mentioned dick picks.

Formality was kinda out the window at this stage.

She chewed her bottom lip, then opened her phone. Once again, she questioned her decisions.

Was she really about to send this gif to him? What if he asked where she got it?

“Oh, I just spent two hours watching tutorials and download programs to make it. You know, as you done. Casual stuff.”

She took a sip of her wine and threw caution to the wind.

“Frog issue" She wrote simply and then attached the file.

She winced as his message almost instantly changed to “read".

Sipping her wine again, she could see he was typing.

Oh no, this had been a mistake. What was she thinking messaging him on his private number?! That was so inappropriate and a crazy misuse of trust.

She swallowed as three messages arrived from him in quick succession.

Callum: LOL

WTF?!

Where did you get that?!

Rayla grinned. What a dummy.

Chapter Text

Callum logged onto his laptop and checked his email, his pulse racing a little when he saw a meeting request from Rayla.

He glanced at the clock. He still had time to shower before.

He was really liking this working from home thing.

Once showered and dressed in a somewhat respectable outfit, he proceeded to the kitchen, surprised to see Ezran in an apron surrounded by baking paraphernalia.

“What are you doing up this early?” He looked at the mess. “And baking?”

Ezran didn’t look up from his work. “I had a tutorial at 8 this morning but it was cancelled.”

“I'm surprised you didn’t just go back to sleep.” Callum began preparing some coffee.

“I’ve been craving jelly tarts for weeks now. It seemed like a good opportunity to try and make some.” Ezran grinned at him.

Callum chuckled. “Wow, you must be desperate.” He turned the stovetop coffee maker down as he heard it begin to bubble. “I heard Barius’ is open for take away now we’re in Phase Two. We should go for a hike on the weekend. Get some fresh air.”

“That’s a great idea, Callum.” Ezran glanced up from his pastry.

“I’m sure you need a break from your hectic schedule of two hours of lectures a day.” Callum poured himself a steaming coffee, offering one to Ezran who declined.

“Hey, I have essays and project work too!”

“Sure.” Callum replied sarcastically, making his way to the kitchen door. “I’ve a meeting in half an hour, by the way.”

“With your lawyer friend?” Ezran teased.

Callum rolled his eyes, feeling his face go red. “Yeah, with Rayla. Talk to you later. Don’t burn the apartment down.”

He checked his hair in the mirror once more, then sat down to waste time until his meeting.

Punctual as always, his headset began ringing at 30 minutes past.  

He took a deep breath and accepted the call, his pulse racing a little faster as Rayla once again appeared on his screen.

“Morning.” She smiled warmly. “I must inform you; this call is being recorded.”

“Morning.” He struggled to keep the goofy grin off his face. “Eh, that’s fine.”

“How are you enjoying hump day?” She asked, her eyes moving to her other screen.

Callum flushed. “What?”

She looked back at him; her brow furrowed a little. “Hump day?”

“Eh? What day?” Callum knew his red face must have been super obvious at this stage.

Rayla frowned at him. “Wednesday? You know, when you’re over the hump? All downhill from here…?”

Realisation dawned on Callum. “Oh... oooh, eh, yeah fine.”

A clear blush started to blossom on Rayla’s cheeks. “The graphics people don’t call it hump day?”

Callum snickered. “Eh. I’ve never heard anyone call it, em, hump day.”

She looked worried. “Oh... that’s what they call it back home.”

“Oh.” Callum was a little lost for words.

She was cute when she was flustered.

Cuter.

Her eyes darting down, she appeared distracted. “You knew what I meant though?”  She finished what she was doing off screen and looked at him earnestly.

“Em, I guess...” Callum winced, his attention suddenly distracted by his phone vibrating on his desk.

He looked down, furrowing his brow when he saw a message from Rayla. He glanced up at her, but she didn’t acknowledge the message.

“So anyway, this timeline.” She sighed. “We need to pin it down.”

“Uh huh.” Callum glanced up at her as he opened his phone and read her message.

Rayla – What does it mean here?!

Callum snorted, his eyes flickering between his phone and the screen as he replied.

Callum – nothing

“So, on the 8th…” Her eyes moved down, and he could see her hand moving off screen. “You can confirm you were working. Sent emails, saved files… and, eh,… that?”

Rayla – It clearly means something!

“Eh… when?” Callum chuckled, his finger swiping across his screen.

Callum – well, you know... I guess… humping day?

I dunno.

You know what that means?

Rayla coughed and sighed, her face crimson. “The 8th?”

Rayla – yes I know!

I’m not 12!!!

that’s not what I meant!!!!

Callum sniggered softly. “Eh, yep. I was working the 8th. Sent a few emails. Saved… twenty odd files.”

Callum – I figured.

              Didn’t seem like the kind of thing you would casually bring up on a recorded call.

“Good.” Rayla looked down.

Rayla – I’ve been calling it that for years!

Why did no-one tell me?!?!

Callum struggled not to laugh. He glanced up at Rayla, smirking at her red face.

“Anyway,” She sighed, looking flustered. “I’ve got some other dates I need to check with you-”

“Jelly tarts!”

Callum jumped and turned to find Ezran had burst into the room.

“Ez! I told you I had a meeting!” Callum glared at him.

“Oh, did you?” Ezran smirked. “I thought you might like a freshly baked jelly tart!” He strolled up to Callum’s desk and left a plate next to his coffee. He glanced up at the screen. “Oh sorry, it’s a video meeting.”

Callum rolled his eyes at his brother’s miserable attempt at looking nonchalant.

“Sorry to interrupt.” He waved at Rayla.

Callum heard her laugh over the line and looked up to see her waving slowly back.

“How’s it going?” Ezran grinned at Callum.

“Fine. Good.” Callum narrowed his eyes at him. “Thanks. Why don’t you go walk Bait or something?”

“Maybe this afternoon. I’ll go back to my essay.” Ezran chuckled, as he made his way out of the room. “Chat to you later, Callum.”

“Your house mate?” Rayla smirked at Callum’s obvious discomfort.

“No, my little brother.” Callum rolled his eyes, hoping his blush wasn’t obvious over the video. He looked at the jelly tarts Ezran had left him. They actually looked pretty good.

“Your brother?” Rayla sounded unimpressed. “Do you live at home?”

“No!” Callum responded, a little insulted. “He lives in my apartment. He’s going to vet school. It’s a hell of a commute from home and… he’s not that keen on living in student accommodation or house sharing.”

“Ah.” Rayla nodded, the derisive tone gone from her voice. “I get that. I hated living with other people in uni.”

“Yeah, me too.” Callum sighed, remembering his days in his house share. There were times when living with Claudia, Soren and Marco was fun, but he always struggled to have his own space. Time to chill out. Reflect.

“Did you tell him to walk Bait?” She looked amused. “Is that your frog?”

Callum snickered, rolling his eyes. “It’s his frog and yeah, he takes it for walks.”

“What? On a leash?!” She chuckled.

“No!” Callum snorted. “He has this backpack with… a porthole type thing in it.”

“You’re joking…?” Rayla asked flatly.

Callum sighed dramatically. “I wish I was.”

“That’s sweet.” She smiled softly at him.

Callum blushed; a bit lost for words.

“What did he bring you?” Her eyes flicked down, trying to see the plate Ezran deposited on his desk.

Callum lifted it up to show her. “Jelly tarts. Ez is obsessed with them. Isolation broke him this morning and he decided to make some.”

“They look like hamentashen.” Rayla eyed the baked treats.

“Eh, if you say so.” Callum sniffed one and took a bite. “Not bad.”

“Well, that’s what we call them back home.” She sighed. “I’m jealous. They’re kind of a thing in Katolis, aren’t they? I remember having them there when I visited as a kid.”

“Yeah, I guess there are places known for them.” Callum chuckled. “I’d offer to mail you any leftovers but there will be no leftovers.”

“Send me the recipe?” Rayla asked, sounding hopeful.

“Sure. I’ll get if off Ez once we’re done.” He paused. “Eh, do you bake?”

She shrugged. “No, not really but what else is there to do these days?”

“Fair enough.” Callum sighed happily.

Rayla looked away, a slight blush on her cheeks. “Ok, so this call has turned into a dumpster fire. I’m going to hang up and call you back, ok?”

Callum chuckled. “No problem.”

His screen went blank momentarily before it flashed for an incoming call again.

He picked up, smiling back at Rayla.

“Good morning, Callum. This call is being recorded.” She was much better at appearing normal with this call than her HR script. “How are you today?”

“Fine, thanks.” His mind cast back to her first morning greeting.

…Hump day…

He took a deep breath in an attempt to quell his snickering.

She eyed him wearily. “If you don’t mind, I need to discuss some dates with you.”

Callum nodded, struggling not to descend into a fit of giggles.

 “Anyway, back to the timeline…” Rayla looked at her notes. “Can you please confirm you were working on the 8th? Sent emails…?”

Callum nodded again, biting his lip to maintain his composure.

“I need you to verbally confirm please, Callum.”

“Yes.” He snorted, his shoulders shaking.

Rayla rolled her eyes and shook her head. “You’re thinking about that stupid hump day thing, aren’t you?”

Callum grimaced. “Maybe”

“Ugh" She sighed, a small smile on her lips then disappeared.

Callum snorted then tried to regain his composure as she called again.

“Good morning-"

He snorted and she rolled her eyes as she began to chuckle as well.

“You are by far the worst client I have ever dealt with.” She teased.

“Worse than the boxers guy?”

“Infinitely.”

---

 

Callum looked at the time as he finally hung up on Rayla. Between the snickering and laughing, it had taken them over an hour and a half to get a 10-minute recording of him confirming dates and times for her.

Intent on making another coffee, he strolled out to the kitchen, still chuckling softly to himself.

“Oh, finally done with your meeting, are you?” Ezran looked up from the sandwich he was making.

“Eh, yep.” Callum tried to hide his grin, feeling his face burn.

“It all sounded very professional.” Ezran leaned against the counter.

“Very.” Callum got to work making himself a coffee. “Made all the more professional by my little brother coming in with baked treats.”

Ezran grinned. “She is cute.”

Callum flushed darker. “I guess.”

“Pfft.” Ezran rolled his eyes. “You guys seem to get on well.”

“And once again, Ez, she lives in Duren.” Callum went to the fridge to retrieve the milk.

“That’s only an hour flight.” Ezran teased.

“An hour and a half.” Callum began pouring his coffee.

“Looked it up?” Ezran sing-songed.

Callum sighed, embarrassed. “No! Everyone knows it’s an hour and a half flight to Duren.”

“Uh huh.” Ezran chuckled.

“Ok, well, I’m back to work.” Callum avoided eye contact as he strolled towards his room.

“Have fun!” Ezran called after him.

 

---

 

Callum rubbed his eyes as he clicked between layers, trying to decide which direction to go with his latest assignment.

His phone vibrated on the table next to him and he grinned to see a message from Rayla. He muted his playlist and dropped his tablet to pick up his phone.

Raylahttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cBkWhkAZ9ds

Saw this and thought of you

Callum’s heart raced at the message.

Or rather, Kermit.

This is what I imagine he sounds like

He clicked the link, snorting in amusement as a tiny, puffed up frog squeaked indignantly at the camera.

Callum – That’s the cutest thing I’ve ever seen

Rayla – I know, right?

He stared at his phone, worrying his bottom lip. “Yeah.” Seemed a dumb response and would pretty much close down the conversation.

Callum – where did you find that

Rayla - #supercuteanimals on insta

Callum – you follow supercuteanimals?

Rayla – oh what, lawyers can’t like cute things?

Callum – well, that’s what the media tells me

Rayla – haha…

              Ugh, your frog doesn’t have an Instagram, does he?

Callum – again, not my frog.

              My brothers

no, but best not give him any ideas.

Rayla – next time he brings you jelly tarts I’m recommending he gets Bait an Instagram

Callum please don’t

Rayla – sorry

              Don’t have a choice

Callum – How about I bribe you?

Rayla – Like you tried to bribe Kermit…?

Callum flushed crimson.

Rayla – I’m good, thanks

Callum – ha ha

I meant more like this

              https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=epUk3T2Kfno

Rayla – that’s a brave click for me 

Callum rolled his eyes, grinning.

Rayla - ok, that’s the cutest thing ever

I am everyone in that video right now

Callum – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Bmhjf0rKe8

Rayla – You’ve made a terrible mistake.

Callum started. Had he accidentally sent her something weird? He clicked the link again.

No, just a kitten on it’s back being cute.

Rayla – you’re going to get slammed with photos of my cat now.

He grinned. That seemed like the exact opposite of a mistake.

 

---

 

 

 

[Rayla] yo!

[Callum] lol… yo…?

[Rayla] What? Its casual Friday.

              That extends to IM

[Callum] uh huh

[Rayla] Anyway, free for a video chat at some point?    

              Need to ‘witness’ you sign some documents.

[Callum] Documents?

[Rayla] Virtual docs.

              But I still have to witness you virtually signing them

[Callum] ok

              when suits?

[Rayla] now?

[Callum] sure

 

He ran a hand through his hair and clicked ‘accept’ when his headset beeped.

Rayla once again appeared on his screen.

He was surprised to see her dressed completely differently to their previous meetings. She had a faded band t-shirt on and what looked like galaxy print leggings, though it was hard to tell from her cross-legged position on her chair. Her hair was thrown up in a messy bun, the shorter lengths framing her face.

“Hi.” She smiled at him.

“Eh hi.” He shook himself.

“What?” She frowned.

“Nothing.” He shrugged. “You just… look different. Than normal.”

She rolled her eyes, smiling. “It’s casual Friday.”

“I guess…” He sniggered. “It just seems to be a pretty stark contrast from Thursday Rayla.”

“Well, Friday Callum looks as disheveled as Thursday Callum and Frog Attack Callum.” She smirked.

“This week has been the most dressed up I’ve been since we started working from home, thanks!” He pretended to be offended. “Half my department were in their pyjamas in our last conference call.”

“I can well believe it.” She typed something on her keyboard and a notification popped up on his screen. “Can you read through this and sign where indicated?”

Callum accepted the file, his eyes glazing over as the multi-page document appeared on his screen. “Yep.” He briefly scanned the article until he came to the appropriate space for him to sign. Clicking on the image, he picked up his electronic pen.

“Em, hello?” Rayla asked, disbelieving.

“What?” He frowned at her. “You told me to sign it.”

“I asked to you to read it and sign it.” Rayla stared at him.

“Really?” Callum asked, furrowing his brow.

She sighed, rubbing her face. “Please don’t tell me you just randomly sign documents people give you.”

Callum flushed. “Well, I scan them.”

“Ugh.” She rolled her eyes. “You’re hopeless. Read it properly, please.”

“Why? Have you stuck something weird in there?” Callum asked with a raised eyebrow.

Maaaaybe? You never know.” She teased before becoming more serious. “Basic legal advice, never sign something you haven’t read.”

“Ok, I’ll read it and call you back.” Callum rolled his eyes. “You know, you could have emailed it earlier.”

“I don’t trust you.” Rayla narrowed her eyes at him.

He flushed. “What, you’re just going to sit there and watch me read?”

“I’m not going to stare at you, dummy. I’ll just be on the line.” Rayla’s cheeks looked a little pinker.

“Still makes it hard to read it.”

“Yeah, well-" A large, smokey grey cat hopped into Rayla’s lap. “Oof, hello.” She grinned down at the cat as it made itself at home.

“Ah, well I’m glad to see animal attacks don’t just happen here.” Callum smirked, leaning back in his chair.

Rayla smiled. “Shadow is much more civilised than your frog, thank you.”

“My brother’s frog.” He corrected. “Just the one cat then? You’re not some crazy, spinster cat lady and if you zoomed out the room is just wall to wall cats?” Callum asked with a lopsided smirk on his face.

“What makes you think I’m single?” Rayla asked innocently.

Callum’s stomach dropped. That was a good question. “Ehhh.” Maybe it was more hoped than thought…

Rayla snorted, rolling her eyes. “Read your document, Callum.”

Callum did as told and dropped his eyes to the document before him.

Why did he assume she was single? Why did he even care? She was only talking to him because of this dumb lawsuit. It’s not like they were friends… or anything else.

Maybe he was just going a little crazy from going so long without physically interacting with other people? Maybe he was reading too much into her little smirks and those non-work-related messages.

And even if she was single, she lived a plane ride away. In a city he couldn’t even travel to without a permit.

He sighed, running his hand over his face.

He needed to concentrate on this dumb document.

Finally digesting it, he looked up to find her scrolling through her phone and stroking her purring cat. 

“Done.” He sighed.

Rayla glanced up at him, putting her phone down and scratching the long-haired feline under the chin. “Great”

Callum snorted. “You look like a Bond villain.”

Rayla laughed, looking satisfied. “Excellent. That’s exactly the aesthetic I was going for.”

He chuckled, shaking his head as he picked up his pen. “So, you’ll let me sign now?”

“I suppose…” She joked, stretching her arms above her head. “Plans for the weekend?”

“Not much these days.” Callum signed, where appropriate, glancing up at her. “Going to try and get out for a hike.”

 “Bringing your frog?” She smirked.

“Again, not my frog and you joke but Ez will probably insist.” “Are you going to make jelly tarts?”

“I’m going to try.” She shrugged. “Maybe a streaming party with my Dads. Nonstop excitement.”

“Yeah, pretty much.” Callum saved the signed document and sent it back to her. “All done here.”

“Great. Well, have a good weekend.” She glanced at him, a small smile on her lips as she cradled her cat and appeared to scan the document. “I dare say I’ll be talking to you next week.”

Callum nodded, smiling back at her. “Have a good weekend.”

Rayla ended the call and Callum sighed. This was the first time in his life of working a 9 to 5 that he was actually disappointed it was the weekend.

After speaking to Rayla daily this whole week, it felt weirdly lonely to think he wouldn’t speak to her until Monday.

At the absolute best.

And he wouldn’t even really have anything to distract him.

Truth be told, he hadn’t even been finding isolation that bad. Sure, he missed going out when he wanted and grabbing a coffee or a drink but overall, he had fared pretty well. It had given him time to catch up on his own drawing projects, watch some tv shows he’d been trying to find time for, and to read a few books that had piled up on his nightstand.

Now though, a weekend with no reason to even casually chat with the enigmatic lawyer in Duren seemed a stupidly long time.

He sighed and opened up his tablet. He was definitely going to need to find things to entertain him for the next two days.

 

---

 

Callum took a swig of his beer as he scrolled through his messages.

Saw this and thought of you”

He could feel the colour rising in his cheeks. He glanced over at Ezran on the sofa, finding him thoroughly engrossed in the movie.

Callum's fingers itched to message Rayla something.

Anything.

She had initiated both of their message conversations so it wouldn’t be weird if he sent her a random message.

Would it…?

He sighed, putting his phone down.

It had only been a few hours since they spoke.

Since he had put his giant foot in his mouth and mentioned about her being single.

She was definitely going to think he was interested now.

What makes you think I’m single?

What did that even mean? Did it mean she wasn’t single?

The way she said it though… it was kind of flirty… like she wanted him to know that she knew….

Had he messed everything up? They had spent most of the previous night messaging back and forth but it was pretty innocuous stuff.

Pictures of her cat. Some random Bait ones. Other videos of cute or funny animals.

What was he even hoping for? She lived hours away. She was absolutely stunning and she was an insanely accomplished lawyer.

What possible interest could she have in him?

“Ugh!” Callum rubbed his temples. He was reading waaaaay too much into this.

“Shrek 2 a little too cerebral for you?” Ezran looked at him, grinning.

 

---

 

“Ez, are you actually bringing that thing?” Callum sighed as they exited the car.

“What? Bait has been cooped up inside as long as us.” Ezran coaxed Bait into his bubble backpack, grinning. “Anyway, what do you care? It’s not like we’ll get close enough to anyone for them to know.”

“Ezran, you have a transparent backpack with a frog in it. People can see that from 1.5m away.” Callum rolled his eyes as he laced up his hiking boots.

“It’s a pity Dad couldn’t make it.” Ez sighed, obviously changing the subject.

“Yeah, next time.” Callum ruffled his hair.

The hike to Barius’ café was pleasant, though taxing at times. They could have just driven to the inlet that sheltered the quaint shack, but this hike had been a staple of their childhood.

They had to earn their jelly tarts, according to Harrow.

Callum basked in the sunshine, relishing the vast open space.

To his left was dense woodland; bushes, trees and wildflowers just coming into bloom. Pollen danced on the breeze and insects buzzed among the dense flora. They clambered along a well worn path of rough sandstone that hemmed the bay to his right. The easy beach walk had given way to a steady climb which afforded a magnificent view of the impossibly clear turquoise waters below.

Callum stood back and snapped a few photos.

His Dad would be sorry to have missed this, especially on such a clear, bright day.

Their mother had loved this hike on a day like this.

He turned back to the track, only to have something wet and slimy land on his face.

“Ugh, Bait!” He grimaced as he brought a hand up to remove the grumpy green frog.

“Wait! I want to get a photo for Dad!” Ezran had his phone already in hand.

“I’m sure Dad is just dying to see a photo of me with Bait on my face.” Callum rolled his eyes, snickering.

“Well, he liked the gif.” Ezran teased as he snapped a few pics.

“Ugh, I still can’t believe you sent that to him.” Callum chuckled.

Ezran pointedly ignored him. “Now a selfie!” He put his arm around Callum and grinned at the phone.

Photo session over, Ezran elected to hold Bait while they made the short distance to Barius’ café, the final stretch of the hike much less strenuous.

Callum was surprised to see it quite busy. It was a popular place most times, but he had just assumed most people would still be staying at home.

Though with such pleasant weather on the first official day of Phase two, perhaps it was to be expected.

It was strange seeing so many people, though Callum relaxed a little when he noticed everyone was keeping their distance.

He and Ezran joined the staggered queue, flicking through photos and sending them onto their father, regretfully busy at work.

They eventually got to the counter, finding Barius surly as usual.

“What can I get you?” He sounded tired and impatient.

“A mocha, a latte and three jelly tarts, please.” Callum pulled out his card.

Barius glanced up at them, glaring at Callum, then Ezran. “That greedy frog isn’t here is it? No pets!”

“No!” Ezran shook his head, ensuring his back was fully to the sullen baker. Barius still hadn’t forgiven Bait for jumping on his face.

Understandably so, in some people’s opinions.

“Fine. A mocha, a latte and three jelly tarts.” Barius barked the order out, jabbing his tablet and inclining his head at Callum to tap his card.

They meandered out on to the veranda and waited on their orders.

The view was wonderful, as always.

Barius’ café started out as a small van, selling baked treats to the surfers who frequented this bay. Soon his offerings became an attraction in themselves and he took over an old beach shack, expanding slowly. His café now was a ramshackle series of rooms, decorated with the various items that washed up on the shore.

The place looked stark now, the once crowded seats and over stuffed couches removed to facilitate the mandated person per square meter rules dictated by Phase Two.

All of the few chairs and tables were taken but Callum and Ezran were happy to sit outside on an outcrop and enjoy the sunshine.

“I need to take a leak.” Callum rested his coffee in a corner of their selected rock, leaving his backpack down next to Bait’s bubble pack.

Having relieved himself, he returned to find Ezran struggling to hide his laughter.

“Ugh, what now? Get some particularly good frog selfies?” Callum sat next to his brother and sipped his latte, ensuring it was a drinkable temperature.

“Nothing.” Ezran snorted.

Callum frowned at him, his attention diverted by the notification flashing on his phone, the top just poking out of his backpack.

He felt his stomach do a funny little flip when he saw there was a message from Rayla. Opening the phone, he frowned at her notification summary.

Rayla – lol

Callum opened the message app, his stomach dropping to see the photo of him with Bait on his face, the stunning bay in the background.

“Ez, what the hell?!” Callum racked a hand through his hair. “You sent Rayla a picture?!”

“What?” Ezran struggled not to laugh. “You’ve been staring at your phone all today and yesterday. You clearly want to message her. I’m just helping!”

“Sending her a photo of me with a frog on my face is not helping!” Callum cringed.

Callum – ugh, my brother sent that

Rayla -   tell him thanks

              seeing you being attacked by your frog again really made my Saturday.

Callum – well, I’m glad you can once again enjoy me being attacked by MY BROTHERS FROG.

Rayla – As am I

              Where are you?

              It’s gorgeous.

Callum – Medb’s Promontory

Rayla – Great day.

              This is what I’m looking at.

She sent through a photo of her cat gazing out the window at a grey, rainy sky.

Rayla – I’m jealous

              Would love to go for a hike

Callum – Your weather any better tomorrow?

Rayla – No. And I’m nowhere near anywhere decent anyway.

              Could maybe go the park nearby but its not the same.

              I miss proper hikes.

Callum – Well, if it makes you feel any worse, we also got the best jelly tarts in Katolis.

Callum held out his jelly tart, artfully wrapped in brown paper. He framed it with the stunning coastline in the background and took a snap, then sent it to Rayla.

Rayla – That’s just mean!

Callum smiled before being distracted by Ezran’s snickering.

“We’re still here you know.” He teased around a mouthful of jelly tart; Bait perched on his shoulder.

“Yeah, whatever.” Callum blushed, looking away and trying to suppress his grin.

“Don’t say I never do anything for you.” Ezran kicked some sand in his direction.

Callum ignored him, returning his attention to his phone, his heart hammering in his chest.

Callum – Well, if you’re ever in Katolis, I’ll treat you to one to make up for it.

Rayla – I’m going to hold you to that, you know...

Chapter Text

Rayla stared at the kettle, patiently waiting for it to boil, her mind miles away.

“How are you enjoying hump day?”

Enjoying hump day...

Hump day...

Ugh, had she actually said that?

She felt her face burning as she squeezed her eyes shut.

That was so embarrassing.

She couldn’t decide which was worse, that she had been saying that for years or that she just casually said it to Callum.

He was probably going to think she was coming onto him.

She thought back to her behaviour in the recording from the previous day. All those smiles and the teasing...

And those hours she spent making that dumb gif.

Ok, maybe she had previously been flirting with him... a little, but that was totally harmless.

The hump day thing? Well, that would have been less than subtle.

At least she had cleared it up after.

She wasn’t interested in him like that.

She barely knew him.

It was simply a cultural misunderstanding.

Not that it stopped him from laughing at her.

“well, you know... I guess… humping day?

I dunno.

You know what that means?”

She groaned, gritting her teeth. She had nearly died reading that message. He must have thought she was insane.

Or super forward.

Or desperate.

Maybe all three...

The kettle began to sing, startling her out of her painful reverie.

It was probably karma for all of the enjoyment she had got from him being attacked by his brother’s frog.

Her phone began ringing as she poured the hot water for tea.

She smiled to see Ethari and Runaan’s picture on her lock screen.

“Hi!” She said cheerily, the phone squashed between her face and shoulder as she stirred her tea. “How are you guys?”

“Rayla! Its lovely to speak to you.” Ethari’s soft voice made her smile.

“You too.” She sighed. It seemed like an age since she had seen her Dads.

“How are you holding up? Shadow keeping you company?”

“Hmm, he’s better than nothing.” Rayla took the phone in her hand, peering around the kitchen table to where Shadow was stretched out in the only beam of sunlight shining through the window.

“Still working from home?”

“Yep.” Rayla leaned against the counter, sipping her too hot tea.

“Well, at least you can work in your pyjamas.” Ethari chuckled.

“Ugh, I wish.” Rayla rolled her eyes. “My boss wants us to ‘retain the normality of work’ so she expects us to dress like we would in the office.”

“You’re joking!”

“Afraid not.” She sighed.

“How would she know?”

“We have a team conference call every morning.”

“Ah... why don’t you just wear a normal top and pyjama bottoms?” Ethari offered.

Rayla chuckled. “That doesn’t always work out.”

“What do you mean?”

Rayla began to lose it as she remembered Callum jumping up to reveal his mismatched shirt and sweatpants. “Ugh, so I was video conferencing with this guy, and he got attacked by a frog-”

“Attacked by a frog?!” Ethari sounded confused.

“His brother’s pet frog.” Rayla began to descend into giggles as she remembered the incident. “Anyway-” She snorted, struggling to compose herself enough to tell the rest of the story.

“Wow, well it sounds like you’ve been working hard.” Ethari teased.

Rayla laughed. “Well, its certainly an interesting case. The frog guy is one of our graphic designers. He’s been accused of art theft so I’m sorting that out.”

“Oh dear, did he do it?” Ethari sounded characteristically concerned.

“Na, doesn’t look like it. It’s nice to be defending someone for once.”

“Haha, I can imagine.” Ethari sighed. “Listen, I’m sorry to say, but I think we’re going to have to delay our trip to the city. Runaan has come down with something-"

“Its just a cold, Ethari. You’re making a mountain out of a mole hill"

Rayla snorted as Runaan could be just heard in the background. “Wow, he sounds terrible.”

“He looks terrible too.” Ethari spoke in hushed tones. “And as usual, he’s being a terrible patient.”

Rayla rolled her eyes, smiling. “Well, I feel for you. Maybe we can re-arrange for next week?”

“Sounds like a plan.” Ethari’s voice returned to normal volumes. “Maybe we could do one of those watch parties you mentioned, in the meantime? That could be fun.”

“Hmm... depends on what movie we watch.” Rayla replied sarcastically.

“Oh, you two, always giving me grief about my taste in movies.” Ethari pretended to sound offended.

“Yeah, for good reason.” Rayla sniggered. “Anyway, I better get back to work. Let me know about the watch party.”

“Will do, Rayla.” Ethari paused. “Love you.”

She chuckled. “Love you guys too.”

Rayla sighed as she sipped her tea. She had been looking forward to a visit from her Dads but if Runaan was sick, it couldn’t be helped.

Truth be told, she was going stir crazy. She hadn’t really seen or spoken to anyone in person in weeks.

Barring delivery people.

Which was probably why she was getting a little obsessed with Callum.

Or rather with the whole frog case.

She was just a bit lonely.

It wasn’t anything about him in particular.

Just circumstances.

The other people on her team were pretty stiff and humourless. Even though she had done well and been promoted early, she never really felt herself in that group. She seemed to always be on guard, projecting a persona.

Conversely, Callum was easy to talk to and admittedly funny, in his own dorky way.

And he was just way too fun to tease.

It didn’t really matter if she flirted with him a little. Everyone was going a bit crazy in isolation.

It was just harmless fun.

It didn’t mean anything.

 

---

 

Rayla chuckled as she scrolled through Instagram. She definitely needed this break from writing briefs. Today had been hours of non-stop work. It was nice to lean back in her chair and browse mindlessly.

She smirked as a tiny puffed up frog shuffled around her screen, laughing out right when she unmuted it and its indignant squeaks rang out loudly in her bedroom.

That was too cute.

Callum would probably love this, she thought to herself, blushing a little.

Did he even actually like frogs?

No, even a frog hater would love this video.

She bounced her leg nervously before electing to copy the link and just send it to him. No point in over analysing things.

She hadn’t spoken to anyone about anything non-work related all day.

She was going a bit mental.

Clearly.

She pasted the link into her messenger app and sent it.

Saw this and thought of you.

Her eyes went wide as she realised what she had just written.

That sounded way too cheesy! Crap!

She didn’t want him to think she was thinking about him! What kind of desperate weirdo did that message make her out to be?

She needed to salvage this asap!

Or rather, Kermit.

This is what I imagine he sounds like

She chewed on her thumb nail as she saw his read receipt.

Callum – That’s the cutest thing I’ve ever seen

She sighed in relief. Ok, she had saved that one. She was definitely going to have to pause before replying to him from now on. Isolation had obviously broken her normal meter.

Rayla – I know, right?

.

.

.

.

.

She frowned. He had seen her message, but it didn’t look like he was going to respond. It was kind of a rhetorical question though. And maybe he was busy. Or just didn’t want to message her.

Maybe he had a girlfriend…

Which had nothing to do with any of this. Why did she even think about that?

Callum – where did you find that

She breathed a sigh of relief. She hadn’t freaked him out.

Not yet anyway…

 

---

 

Rayla found herself taking longer than usual to pick her “working from home casual Friday” outfit. Usually she just threw on a pair of sweats and a t-shirt. She rarely had teleconferences with anyone barring her team, but she already knew she was going to have to call Callum today.

She decided upon a pair of leggings and her favourite band tee. It seemed the right level of relaxed without looking like a slob.

She looked in the mirror, frowning at her hair. Messy buns were the worst. Where was the line between messy bun and dragged-backwards-through-a-bush bun? She tugged some loose bits down around her face, then pulled the bun again.

What was she doing? She rolled her eyes at herself.

She was being stupid.

It was just a teleconference with Callum...

 

---

 

You’re not some crazy, spinster cat lady and if you zoomed out the room is just wall to wall cats?

Rayla smiled as she tried to concentrate on the movie. She was reclined on her sofa, “trapped" by Shadow purring contentedly in her lap.

Man, Callum was such a dork.

What makes you think I’m single?

She was pretty proud of her come back.

He thought he had her.

Dummy.

She definitely had the upper hand that time.

She bit her lip, her eyes unfocused on the television screen.

She had seriously rattled him. He had looked so… unnerved as he read through the document.

It was… cute.

She pulled out her phone, a little disappointed to see no notifications.

She was so bored. What a way to spend a Friday night.

Not that she had a hectic social life pre-isolation, but at least she had options.

She sighed, scrolling through her messages.

There was no way she was going to message him. She had already been the one to initiate both of their message conversations. She was going to look super desperate if she initiated the third.

Anyway, she was fine. She didn’t really want to message chat with him. Not really.

She looked at her phone again, debating whether or not to re-read his messages.

This was really not good.

 

---

 

Rayla threw a sock at Shadow, snorting and rolling her eyes as he immediately began batting it around the living room.

At least his antics made laundry ever so slightly more bearable.

Another exciting day in isolation. Saturday’s were just meaningless at this stage.

Here she was, doing laundry alone in her apartment with her cat while it drizzled relentlessly outside. Sad.

Her phone vibrated loudly from where it was charging on the kitchen bench.

She groaned, not really wanting to get up and check it.

It was probably just a spam email or a new YouTube video or something.

She tried to ignore it.

She tried really hard.

But in the end, curiosity got the better of her.

Rayla opted not to question the butterflies in her stomach when she realised it was a message from Callum.

A picture message.

She giggled, feeling herself blush, as a picture of him with his brother’s frog once again on his face filled her screen.

He looked adorably disgruntled. His face was flushed and his hair somehow even messier than usual. Behind him she could just make out a stunning bay full of impossibly white sand and beautiful turquoise water.

Rayla - Lol

She rolled her eyes at herself. Wow, that was articulate. Drumming her fingers on the counter, she was still trying to come up with a decent come back when Callum replied.

Callum – ugh, my brother sent that

Rayla’s stomach dropped a little.

So, he hadn’t messaged her…

She rubbed the bridge of her nose. Why did that even bother her? She just wanted a distraction… and she had one.

Rayla -   tell him thanks

              seeing you being attacked by your frog again really made my Saturday.

Callum – well, I’m glad you can once again enjoy me being attacked by MY BROTHERS FROG.

She smirked.

He was just waaaaay to fun to tease.

Rayla unplugged her phone and collapsed into her couch, she and Callum messaging back and forth rapidly. Shadow jumped into her lap and nuzzled her chin as another picture message arrived from Callum.

This time it was of a seriously delicious looking hamentashen, more of the gorgeous landscape in the background.

Rayla – That’s just mean!

She snorted, rolling her eyes.

Callum – Well, if you’re ever in Katolis, I’ll treat you to one to make up for it.

The butterflies once again made their presence know. Rayla bit her lip, hugging Shadow close.

Oh dear… she might be in trouble…

Rayla – I’m going to hold you to that, you know...

Chapter Text

Callum’s phone vibrated loudly on his bedside table, waking him from his cosy slumber. He groaned, looking at the time on the lockscreen.

08:07

That was far too early to be awake on a Sunday morning.

He toyed with the idea of ignoring the notification and going back to sleep, but the gnawing hope that it was a message from Rayla left him unable to relax.

Sighing, he picked up his phone, butterflies in his stomach when he realised it was indeed a message from her.

He opened the message, snorting when a picture of some baking disaster lit up his screen.

Rayla – jelly tart fail

Callum -  oh dear

              At least you tried?

Rayla – Failure is not acceptable.

Callum -  You must have been up early to have them finished by now.

              Do they at least taste ok?

Rayla – meh

              They’re not inedible…

              Shadow was up at 6.30 meowing in my face

              How did your brother do the pastry folding bit?

Callum – I’ll ask him whenever he emerges from his room.

Rayla – You’re awake early for a Sunday.

Callum – I forgot to put my phone on silent.

Rayla – ah, did I wake you?

              Good.

              Revenge for teasing me with nice weather and jelly tarts yesterday.

Callum snorted, imagining the cheeky grin that would surely be on her face right now.

Callum – Is your weather any better?

Rayla – It’s not raining, at least

              Still pretty miserable

Callum – no escape from indoors then?

Rayla – Hmm, I might go for a walk in the park later.

              Get out of the apartment.

              Getting a bit sick of the same four walls.

Callum – Better than nothing?

Rayla – Just.

              The parks in Duren universally suck

              And the nearest decent national park is an hour and a half drive

              And I don’t have a car

              So crappy urban park it is

Callum – At least the food is good in Duren?

Rayla – yeah, it’s about the only thing it has going for it.

Callum – Really?

Rayla – well, in my opinion.

              I grew up in the countryside

              I’m not really a big city kinda gal

Callum – why do you live in Duren then?

Rayla – I got an internship at uni to come work here.

              I only really intended on doing a year or so around uni work but well… here we are.

Callum – ah

              You think you’ll ever move home?

Rayla – Hmm… maybe eventually

              Not much work there though

Callum – what about another city?

              Duren is pretty notorious for being ‘big smoke’

              There have to be other cities that have a bit of better work/life balance

Cities like Katolis, he wanted to say. Not because that was where he lived, of course. Just because it was a pretty well know fact. Sure, it was a big city, but hop on the freeway and you were only 40 minutes away from national parks, gorgeous beaches, and general wilderness.

Rayla – True

              Most of the big firms are here though so that’s where most of the job openings are.

Callum – maybe concentrate on perfecting those jelly tarts and you can come here and work for Barius at the Prom

Callum chewed his lip. Did that seem forward? It was clearly a joke, right? It’s not like he was actually suggesting she move to Katolis. That would be crazy.

It wasn’t like it was something he had been thinking about… like how it would be cool to actually hang out with her in person.

Because that was something that would never happen.

And she was only talking to him because of the lawsuit.

He needed to tattoo that onto his arm or something.

Rayla – Oh I see what’s going on here.

Callum panicked. Oh no, she had read way too much into that comment. His heart raced as he tried to think of some way of explaining himself without looking like he was a total dork.

Or worse, a creep.

Rayla – You’re trying to get out of buying me that jelly tart.

              Well, I have your promise in writing.

              That constitutes a legal contract

Callum snickered, his pulse beginning to return to normal.

Callum – Oh well, in that case.

Rayla –  I’m glad we cleared that up.

              I better get working on clearing this mess.

              I’ll let you get back to sleep.

              Don’t forget to ask your brother about his pastry skills.

Callum – haha, will do.

              Good luck.

 

Callum sighed, glancing at the time. There was no way he was going to get back to sleep now, though it wasn’t the worst start to his Sunday.

He had showered, dressed and was in the kitchen preparing breakfast when Ezran came shuffling out of his room, yawning and stretching.

“You’re up early?” Callum glanced at him as he buttered his toast.

“I could say the same for you.” Ezran wandered over to the coffee bubbling on the stove.

“I forgot to put my phone on silent last night.” Callum explained around a mouthful of toast.

“Ooh, was Rayla messaging you first thing?” Ezran teased, sipping his coffee.

Callum blushed, rolling his eyes. “She tried making jelly tarts.”

Ezran smirked, raising his eyebrows.

“What?” Callum began putting the butter away in an effort to hide his embarrassment. This was totally wrong. He should be the one teasing his little brother, not the other way around.

“How did they turn out?” Ezran elected to let him off easy.

“Not great.” Callum closed the fridge, pulling his phone from his back pocket. He showed the picture of Rayla’s poor attempt at jelly tarts to Ezran.

Ezran snorted loudly. “Wow, you’re going to have to learn how to bake.” He chuckled. “She’s definitely not going to be the domestic one in the relationship.”

Callum shook his head, electing to ignore the bait. “She asked how you did the pastry folding bit.”

Ezran grinned. “How about we all do a baking Zoom meeting.”

Callum sighed. “No, Ez.”

“And then I can subtly exit stage left and you guys can just bake together?” He continued, dramatically miming walking backwards out of the kitchen.

“Come on, seriously.”

“I am serious.” Ezran leaned on the door frame. “I will only reveal my secrets over video. I refuse to write them down.”

Callum snorted. “Well, she’d appreciate that.”

“Huh?” Ezran wrinkled his nose in confusion.

“Nothing.” Callum sighed, putting his phone away. He wasn’t getting anywhere right now.

“Oh, sorry.” Ezran smirked. “Private joke between you guys?”

Callum shook his head as he made his way to the lounge. “You are the world’s most annoying little brother.”

 

 

Callum sipped his coffee as he read over his next brief. Though it was a fresh week, it was hard for him to concentrate on his work. He found himself incessantly checking is email, instant messenger, and phone, hoping for word from Rayla.

He sighed. He was being ridiculous.

This was getting way out of hand.

But it was so hard to ignore that little rush of adrenaline when she messaged him.

So yeah, he liked her.

A lot.

It would be hard not to. She was stunningly beautiful but more than that, she was funny and engaging.

He wanted to know more about her. To get to know her. Properly.

But even if they weren’t in some forced social isolation dystopian weirdness, she lived in another city.

Getting a crush on her was pointless in, oh so many ways…

Yet, it seemed he was already too far gone.

 

 

[Rayla] hey, you free for a teleconference today?

Callum’s pulse raced at her message. The morning had absolutely dragged as he hoped he would hear from her.

[Callum] sure

[Rayla] cool

[Callum] good news or bad news?

[Rayla] hmm… both?

              Kermit’s lodged another claim

              It’s probably good because it goes to prove he’s being frivolous

              But it’s annoying because it means more work for us both

[Callum] Ah, ok

 

Callum jumped as his phone vibrated. He looked down, not unsurprised to see a message from Rayla.

She was super cautious about what she said on the network.

It made him very nervous about all the things he had been writing to people over the years.

 

Raylaalso, my boss might join in so try and act normal -

              I realise that will be a struggle

Callum grinned. He really liked her sarcastic sense of humour.

Callum I’m insulted

              I always act normal

Rayla – you know a normal person would just be normal

              They wouldn’t have to act

And you were attacked by your frog the second time I spoke to you.

Callum once again, my brother’s frog and he is safely secured.

Rayla – what about your brother? Is he safely secured?

              He’s not going to come waltzing in with a croquembouche, is he?

Callum snorted as her messages came though in rapid succession. She was quick witted.

Callum – I’d actually be impressed if he did.

Rayla – me too

              My boss?

              Maybe not so much

Callum sniggered as his headphones began ringing. He looked up to see an unfamiliar name on the screen.

Callum is your boss Opeli McGill?

Rayla – yes

              ACT NORMAL!

 

Callum rolled his eyes and tried to keep the smile from his face as he answered the call.

His screen changed to show a slightly stern looking blonde woman of indeterminate age.

“Good morning.” He smiled, a little nervous.

“Good morning, Callum. I trust Rayla has made you aware of the need for a meeting.” She smiled back, her face softening a little. “I’ll just dial her in.” Her eyes dropped and she typed something on her keyboard before Rayla appeared on screen.

Resisting the urge to squirm, Callum felt himself blushing.

“Morning Opeli, Callum.” Rayla said brightly.

“Morning.” Opeli repeated. “I hope you don’t mind me joining in. Just touching base with this case.”

“That’s fine.” Callum nodded, not exactly sure if she was speaking to him or Rayla.

“Ok, so I see from your email this guy… Arthur Kasef has lodged another claim of copyright infringement?” Opeli looked up from her notes.

Callum raised his eyebrows. So, Kermit finally had a real name.

“Yes.” Rayla sighed. “I spoke with him late Friday afternoon and it looked like everything was winding down, then I signed in this morning to find that email from him.”

Opeli nodded, her eyes apparently on another screen. “So, you think this is just vexatious at this point?”

Rayla shrugged. “I assume. It’s all pretty generic stuff he’s complaining about now. I think we can use that to just dismiss his claim entirely.” She paused. “I’ll just need some more files from you, Callum, if that’s ok.”

“Eh yep, sure.” Callum nodded, not entirely keeping up.

“Ok, well, maybe I’ll leave you to it?” Opeli directed her attention to Rayla. “You seem to have a handle on things.”

“No problem.” Rayla smiled. “I’ll CC you in on any correspondence.”

“Sounds good.” Opeli smiled. “Nice chatting with you both. Please ensure you are taking care of your mental health during this time, and remember the employee support services are available 24/7, should you need them. Goodbye.”

“Bye.” Callum just managed to get in before her screen went blank and Rayla’s feed changed size to occupy his entire screen. He sniggered. “Another HR script?”

Rayla laughed, shaking her head. “See, it’s not just me!”

“I guess we know why you guys became lawyers and not actors.” Callum grinned.

“Well, the arts aren’t for everyone.” Rayla looked down at her notes. “So… Kermit is now claiming you copied some drink can images from him.”

“I thought his name was Arthur.” Callum frowned.

“I prefer to refer to him as Kermit, thank you very much.” Rayla continued, unmoved. “Anyway, it’s pretty obvious he’s just grasping at straws, but we still need to get all our ducks in a row. Do you think you can look into this ASAP? He wants to teleconference this afternoon.”

Callum furrowed his brow. “Teleconference?”

“Oh, you won’t be in it.” She explained. “Just me, but I’ll still need file info and that. Like the frog stuff.”

“Ah.” Callum chuckled. “I think I know what’s going on.”

“What?” Rayla appeared hopeful. “Do you recognise the name? Do you know him?”

“No.” Callum shook his head. “You said you thought things were wrapping up and then you have a video-chat with him Friday?”

“Yeah?” Rayla asked, confused.

“So, he’s seen you?” Callum explained slowly.

Yeeees?” Rayla asked in an exaggerated manner, still appearing none the wiser.

Callum shrugged, blushing.

“What?” Rayla sighed, seeming to grow a little anxious.

“Well, it’s just… you know…” Callum struggled to find the right words. “I guess you’re kinda easy on the eyes and if he’s been isolated alone for ages… maybe he’s just… milking it?”

Rayla blinked in confusion for a moment, a pink blush blossoming on her cheeks. She opened and closed her mouth, then looked down, shaking her head. “That’s stupid.”

“It’s just a theory.” Callum could feel his face burning.

Rayla shook her head, biting her lip. “No-one goes to that sort of trouble to talk to a random person. He’s got the entire internet to… satisfy that sort of thing.” She finally looked back at him. “He’s just a random nut.”

“Maybe.” Callum shrugged. “Don’t teleconference and see how he takes it?”

“I’m not taking legal advice from you.” She replied sarcastically, a lopsided smirk on her face. “Anyway, back to these files, I sent you through an email of the stuff he’s disputing. Can you look and see if you have the originals?”

“Sure.” Callum welcomed the change of subject.

Why had he said anything? That was so embarrassing. Now she knew he thought she was pretty. Not that he’d used those words exactly… maybe he’d been subtle enough? He hadn’t said he thought she was easy on the eyes, just that she was.

Like it was an arbitrary fact.

Which it definitely was. No-one would dispute that she was pretty.

No-one with sense anyway.

He was getting off track.

He sighed, glancing at his inbox and reading her email. “Yeah, I’ve got this stuff handy. It’s pretty recent.”

“No weird file names this time?” Rayla leaned back in her chair, smiling.

“None any weirder than the frog ones.” Callum mused on this. “I think.”

“Good.” Rayla stretched her arms above her head, sighing. “Did you manage to get the secrets of pastry folding out of your brother yet?”

Callum rolled his eyes, remembering Ezran’s repeated refusal to divulge the method in any way other than video call. “Not yet. Maybe send a picture of your cat as a bribe. He loves animals.”

“You and bribes.” She snorted. “How was the rest of your Sunday?”

Callum sighed, scrolling through his files. “Fine. Same old, same old. Ate unhealthy food, went on the net, watched zombie movies.”

“Oh really?” Rayla sat up a little straighter. “Which ones?”

“28 Days Later and the sequel.” Callum looked at her on screen, surprised at her interest. “You like zombie movies?”

“Hmm,” She considered his question. “I’m more into sci-fi but I’ll watch a good zombie movie. 28 Days Later is awesome.”

“Yeah, it’s pretty good. The soundtrack is fantastic.” Callum paused. “We’re watching Shaun of the Dead tonight.”

“Oh, I haven’t seen that one!” She sighed. “My Dads are trying to get me to do a watch party with them.”

Callum chuckled as he continued clicking folders. “You don’t sound that enthusiastic.”

Rayla shrugged. “Well, if it was Runaan’s turn I’d manage. He’d make us watch some courtroom drama or something but Ethari? Ugh, he’ll force us to endure some sappy arty thing.” She turned up her nose.

Callum laughed. “Tell them you’re having a watch party with us. I’ll cover for you.” He blushed. It wasn’t exactly an invitation. It was a suggestion of an invitation.

Rayla appeared to blush. “I suppose I could do that.”

Callum tried not to let his confusion show. What did that mean?

Rayla looked at her watch. “How are those files coming along?”

Callum squinted at the screen. “Last one just uploaded.”

“Great.” Rayla smiled. “Well, I’ll try and get this new mess sorted out. Chat to you later.”

“Eh yeah, sure.” Callum smiled back before the screen went black.

Chat to you later

Ok, what did that mean? Was it just a general ‘goodbye’ or did it really mean they would chat later?

And the watch party? Was that happening?

He frowned, rubbing his eyes.

This was all getting way too confusing.

 

Callum lounged on the couch, waiting for Ezran to finish dinner.

He sipped a beer and scrolled through his phone, trying to distract himself.

Once again, he found himself staring at his message conversation with Rayla.

He tapped his fingers against his thigh, racking his brain from something informal to say to re-break the ice and resume their message conversation.

He desperately wanted to know if they were actually having a watch party, but it would be way to embarrassing if she said no.

Or worse... ignored him.

He didn’t want to bring up jelly tarts again because he was running out of excuses as to why Ezran wouldn’t tell him how to fold the stupid pastry.

Maybe he should just look it up on YouTube and pretend that was Ezran’s method.

Why hadn’t she just done that?

Maybe it was just an excuse to chat to him..?

No.

 He was being an idiot. Why would she want to talk to him about jelly tarts?

He sighed, taking another drink.

Rayla is typing

Callum choked on his beer as he stared at the screen. What was she going to say?

All of a sudden, the typing notification disappeared.

He glared at the phone, willing her to start typing again.

Nothing.

He took another drink, his leg shaking with nervous energy.

Still nothing.

What if she had only accidentally started typing in that conversation?

His screen rudely remained blank.

Well, that was clearly what had happened. She wasn’t intending on messaging him at all. It had been a mistake.

Callum sighed, putting his phone down.

He needed a distraction. He strolled out to the kitchen, nodding in appreciation at the delicious aroma that filled the air.

“How’s it coming along?” He peered over Ezran’s shoulder at the bubbling pot.

“Nearly done.” Ezran, lifted the lid on another pot, stirring the spaghetti.

“Cool.” Callum grabbed two bowls and the cutlery. “This whole isolation thing has had some positives, you know?”

Eran glanced at him. “Oh yeah?”

“You discovered you’re a good cook.”

Ezran laughed. “You’re not getting out of cooking by flattery, you know.”

Callum snorted. “It was worth a try.”

Bolognaise ready, they loaded up their bowls and proceeded into the lounge.

Ezran grabbed the remote, flicking to Netflix. “Shaun of the Dead then?”

“Uh huh.” Callum put down his food and picked up his phone, his heart jumping at the flickering light alerting him to a notification.

Rayla - So are we watching Shaun of the Dead or what?  

Callum scrambled to reply, hoping she wasn’t annoyed at having been left waiting. Ugh, why hadn’t he taken his phone to the kitchen?!

Callum – sure. Now?

Rayla – good timing. My pizza just arrived.

Callum – Ah, it’s like we’re on holiday in Italy.

              We’re having spagh bol

Callum glanced up at Ezran as he scrolled through the options on screen.

“Eh, can you wait a minute?” He blushed.

Ezran frowned at him but obliged. “What’s up?”

“Em, Rayla might be joining us for a watch party.” Callum looked away as Ezran’s face lit up.

“Are you serious?” He beamed. “You want me to go?”

“No!” Callum replied quickly. “It’s not… anything like, date-y. It’s just because her Dads want to do a watch party with her, so she needs to get out of it.”

“That is the lamest excuse I ever heard.” Ezran rolled his eyes. “She could just lie to her Dads.”

“Yeah, well, maybe.” Callum didn’t want to get his hopes up. “Anyway, let me just get the party code.”

Rayla – pizza’s better

Callum – depends on the toppings.

              Pineapple?

Rayla – I’m not a monster, Callum

Callum – oof, that’s where you’re wrong

Rayla – that’s it.

              Party’s off

              Blocking you

Callum – haha

“So… are we watching this movie or are you two just going to text flirt all night long?” Ezran grinned.

“Shut up.” Callum tried to ignore Ezran’s snickering as he copied the party code and sent it to Rayla.

Rayla – the only reason I’m doing this party thing is to get the secrets of pastry folding from your little brother.

              You’re dead to me after that pineapple pizza thing.

Callum – likewise

He settled down to watch the movie, frowning as Ezran jumped up. “What are you doing?” He asked around a mouthful of spaghetti bolognaise.

“Getting my laptop.” Ezran grinned. “I want to be in on this chat.”

“Ez!” Callum called after him.

“What?” Ezran peeked his head around the door.

Callum sighed. “Don’t say anything to embarrass me, ok?”

Ezran grinned cheekily. “Would I do that?”

“YES!” Callum called after him.

Rayla: Oh, Dylan Moran is in this?! His stand up is hilarious.

Callum: Haven’t seen any.

Rayla: Definitely worth the watch.

Ezran: HI!

Rayla: Ah, they pastry chef, is it?

Ezran: It is, indeed, lawyer lady.

Rayla: LOL

Rayla: So, are you going to tell me how to do this pastry magic?

Ezran grinned, wickedly.

Ezran: Like I told Callum…

Callum’s eyes went wide. “Ez, no!!!”

Ezran: It’s hard to describe.

Ezran: It would probably be easier to show you.

Rayla: Well, that might be kinda hard what with the plague and you guys living in another city and that.

Ezran: Yeah, I guess.

Ezran: I could get Callum to film it?

Rayla: That could work.

Ezran: I’m planning on making some more on the weekend.

Rayla: Good timing! Me too.

Rayla: My Dad’s are coming up to the city, so I want to try surprise them.

Ezran: Well, if its that important, we could video chat and I could talk you through it.

Ezran: There’s a bit of knack to it.

Rayla: Hmm, that could work.

Ezran grinned at Callum. “Who's a good wingman, eh?”

Callum sighed. “I have to admit, that was smooth.”

They spent most of the rest of the movie chatting happily between the three of them, although Ezran began to drift off just over halfway through.

Callum stretched as the credits began to roll and the party shut off.

Rayla – ok, that was the funniest zombie movie ever.

Callum – well, it is a comedy.

Rayla – yeah, but it was actually funny.

              So many comedies are not funny these days.

              And that is absolutely how most people would react to a zombie apocalypse

              I can so see you lobbing records at the zombies in the garden

Callum – I think I’d be useful in a zombie apocalypse!

Rayla – How?

Callum bit his lip, trying to think of a witty comeback.

Rayla – I’ll take that as a ‘I would not be useful in any way in a zombie apocalypse.’

Callum – What would you do, sue the zombies?

Rayla – well, it’s better than nothing.

              I guess we’d just end up as the undead together, tracking down Kermit to exact our revenge.

Callum laughed. It wasn’t the most romantic of images, but there was a certain charm to it.

Rayla – well, I better call it a night.

              Thanks for letting me crash your zombie marathon.

Callum – no problem

              We’re watching the rest of the Cornetto trilogy over the next few nights... if you need another escape.

Rayla: You know, I might just take you up on that offer…

 

Chapter Text

Rayla jumped as something heavy landed on her legs. She looked out from under the covers to find Shadow batting at her toes.

She grabbed her phone, groaning at the time.

06:22

That cat was lucky he was cute.

Lying back down, she tried to ignore the playful feline pouncing at her feet. Maybe if she lay really still, he would get bored and wander off. Or fall asleep. Either was preferable.

She tried to feign sleep as he made his way up the bed, eventually coming to stop behind her head.

“Meow.”

She pulled the covers tight and tried to ignore him, but this only seemed to fuel him on.

He began pushing his head against her shoulder and meowing incessantly.

“Ugh, fine!” She glared over her shoulder at him. “I’m up! Happy?” Sighing, she swung her legs off the bed, pausing momentarily to stretch her shoulders and back. She slipped on her toasty sheepskin slippers and tried to make her way to the kitchen, Shadow dancing between her feet the entire way.  

Shadow fed and momentarily sated, she went about making herself a cup of coffee.

The sky outside her window was grey and dreary. Though not currently raining, she could see evidence of it from the wet pavement below and raindrops on her window.

Though the weather in Duren was generally better than back home, she found wet weather in the city far more depressing than the incessant rain of Xadia.

On a day like this back home, she’d curl up on the sofa in front of the wood burning stove. A cosy blanket on her legs, a good novel in her hands… maybe a glass of wine.

Maybe a cute guy cuddling up with her.

And image of her and Callum stretched out on her comfy sofa back home flashed in her mind.

She laughed at herself.

She was an idiot, but hey, there was nothing wrong with living a vibrant fantasy life.

Pulling out her phone, she scrolled through their messages as she waited for the kettle to boil.

She couldn’t be imagining things… he liked her too, right? People didn’t randomly message relative strangers unless they like liked them.

Did they?

She sighed, putting her phone away as the kettle clicked.

Man, she missed proper barista made coffee. The French press just wasn’t quite the same.

She leaned on the counter, inhaling the delicious coffee smell as she re-read their messages.

There was no way he’d be up now. Though it might be funny to wake him.

What to do? All her laundry was sorted, the apartment was clean, and she hadn’t been able to concentrate on books or tv in an age.

She paused at the google document Callum had sent her.

Ezran’s hamentashen recipe…?

It’s not like she had anything better to do. And she did have the ingredients.

And yeah, maybe it gave her a reason to message Callum later.

Ok, it was baking time.

 

---

 

Rayla frowned at the monstrosity that came out of the oven. Why did she think she’d be able to make something decent? Baking was decidedly not one of her talents.

Callum’s brother’s ones came out perfect though.

She snorted at the dismal treats, nibbling one. It at least tasted ok, the piping hot jam burning her tongue a little. She took a few snaps and sent them to Ethari, then decided to throw caution to the wind and send a picture to Callum.

jelly tart fail L”

She sipped another coffee, then glanced at the clock, wincing. She had been up for ages, but it was still tragically early for a Sunday.

He wouldn’t reply for hours.

If he replied at all.

She was pleasantly surprised to find him message back almost immediately.

Her Sunday was looking up.

 

---

 

I guess you’re kinda easy on the eyes...”

Rayla rubbed her temples. She needed to concentrate. She had this stupid teleconference with Kermit in 20 mins and all she could think about was this one line from Callum hours ago.

He hadn’t even said he thought she was easy on the eyes.

Just that she was.

But that did mean he thought it though, right?

“Ugh" She flicked her pen across the room, startling Shadow who had been snoozing on her bed. He glared at her, then hopped off the bed and stalked out of the room.

She was acting like a teenager with a crush. In fact, she didn’t remember ever being this distracted by a guy, even as an actual teenager. What was it about the dumb artist from Katolis?

Sure, he was cute with his big doe eyes and floppy hair in desperate need of a trim, but she worked with lots of handsome guys.

What on earth was it about him that had her so… captivated?

He just… seemed like a nice guy. Like someone she’d want to be friends with even if he didn’t… stir other feelings.

He was funny and dorky. He liked zombie movies and hiking.

In another universe, she would have liked to have been friends with him… at the very least.

She bit her lip, retrieving another pen and tapping it rapidly on her notebook.

Had he really meant it about the watch party? Or was he just giving her ideas for getting out of the watch party with her Dads?

Glancing at the clock, she googled “Shaun of the Dead”, skimming the plot.

It sounded funny.

She’d like to watch it with him.

Preferably, curled up on her insanely comfortable couch but she’d settle for a plane ride apart via the magic of the internet.

But he hadn’t really meant they should have a watch party… had he?

“Tell them you’re having a watch party with us.”

That didn’t mean, ‘have a watch party with us.’

Clearly.

And us?

So, him and his brother…

Because just him would be crazy. That would be way too much like a… date or something.

He was clearly sane (unlike her) and was just trying to be friendly. Or helpful.

She sighed, shaking her head.

Five minutes until her meeting with Kermit.

She needed to concentrate.

She glanced around the room, making sure there wasn’t any dirty laundry hanging around.

“Don’t teleconference and see how he takes it?”

She frowned… maybe she should take legal advice from him…

 

---

 

Rayla flopped onto her couch, delighted to be finished work for the day. Relaxing in her lounge wear, she took a swig from her beer, scrolling through Instagram.

She resisted the urge to check out Callum’s feed. She knew his handle from work, obviously. He probably had some actual nice photos from the weekend on there, but she was way too afraid of accidentally liking a post to take that risk.

Sighing, she turned on the tv, rolling her eyes as Shadow jumped up on the couch and once again went about making himself comfortable on her person.

Her meeting with Kermit had gone better than expected. As suggested by Callum, she had merely phoned him. The whole meeting had gone much quicker than her meeting with him on Friday. If she was lucky, he’d finally decide to drop this whole thing.

And then she’d have no reason to talk to Callum anymore.

Sometimes she wished she wasn’t so good at her job.

Electing not to dwell on such matters, she tried to turn her attention back to the television. Not a-typical for a Monday, there was little on.

Maybe she should check out Shaun of the Dead?

She glanced at her phone.

Had Callum really invited her to watch it with him?

She finished her beer, unlocking her phone.

She bit her lip.

He could only say no.

Or ignore her…

Rayla – So are we-

She glanced up at their message thread.

Man, some of the messages were beyond flirty.

Callum – maybe concentrate on perfecting those jelly tarts and you can come here and work for Barius at the Prom

Rayla – Oh I see what’s going on here.

That deliberate pause she had left to make him panic, just a little.

You’re trying to get out of buying me that jelly tart.

Well, I have your promise in writing.

That constitutes a legal contract

Callum – Oh well, in that case.

But the flirting was mostly on her part, right? He was just being friendly. He wasn’t the one initiating contact or writing coy messages.

Maybe she was building this all up in her head? She had been on her own for so long now, maybe she just really wanted him to like her.

Like she clearly liked him.

Because it was pointless to deny it now.

As dumb and immature as it sounded, she had a crush on him.

She was being ridiculous.

She finished her beer, annoying Shadow by pushing him off her lap and immediately going to the fridge to grab another.

She needed pizza and a stupid zombie movie and a damn clue.

 

 

Rayla frowned at her app. Her pizza was taking way longer than usual.

She really shouldn’t have had that third beer.

On an empty stomach.

The realisation didn’t stop her sipping her fourth though.

“Finally.” She breathed as her phone rang to let her know the delivery person had arrived.

By the time she got her pizza from the door and came back upstairs she was feeling decidedly tipsy.

She picked up her phone again. What did she have to lose?

Ok, dignity… but that would be Sober Rayla’s problem.

Rayla - So are we watching Shaun of the Dead or what?  

Sitting on her couch, crossed legged, she chewed on her pizza, her eyes resolutely on her phone.

Callum wasn’t responding.

Oh… she had made a massive mistake.

He had only been giving her a tip for getting out of her watch party. He hadn’t really been inviting her to watch with him.

She jumped up and grabbed another beer.

What an idiot she was. She had been building this whole… thing up in her head when he was just a nice, friendly guy.

Sighing, she flopped back into the sofa, no longer interested in her pizza.

How was she going to salvage this one?

Her pulse raced as her phone blinked at her.

A message.

She really wasn’t prepared to have it be from anyone but Callum.

Unlocking her phone, she sighed in relief as she read his reply.

Callum – sure. Now?

She breathed long and low. Time to switch into breezy mode.

Rayla – good timing. My pizza just arrived.

Callum – Ah, it’s like we’re on holiday in Italy.

              We’re having spagh bol

She smiled, shaking her head. That was a bit flirty on his part, right? She wasn’t imagining things…?

Rayla – pizza’s better

Callum – depends on the toppings.

              Pineapple?

Rayla – I’m not a monster, Callum

Pineapple pizza? Ugh, was he serious? Well, no one’s perfect.

Callum – oof, that’s where you’re wrong

Rayla – that’s it.

              Party’s off

              Blocking you

Callum – haha

Rayla – the only reason I’m doing this party thing is to get the secrets of pastry folding from your little brother.

              You’re dead to me after that pineapple pizza thing.

She couldn’t have him getting a big head.

Callum – likewise

 

---

 

Rayla really tried to wipe the goofy smile off her face as she washed up for bed.

As she brushed her teeth.

Even as she put on her pyjamas.

She tried to blame it on the… six beers she had over the course of the night.

On isolation.

On the fact she hadn’t been out with a guy in… forever.

Even before this whole pandemic.

But it was just getting beyond the point of self-delusion now, wasn’t it?

She liked Callum.

Like liked him.

A lot.  

“We’re watching the rest of the Cornetto trilogy over the next few nights... if you need another escape.”

Rayla sighed, re-reading their messages in bed.

That was a kind of date, right?

What on earth was she thinking?

She was an idiot.

Chapter Text

Callum munched his toast as he scrolled through his newsfeed. He certainly liked he could openly waste time working from home without having to hide it. Going back to sneakily checking out YouTube or texting wasn’t something he was looking forward to.

Not that Gren was a strict boss, quite the opposite in fact, but he didn’t want to be seen to be taking advantage.

His computer pinged, alerting him to a new email.

Glancing at his screen, he grinned to see an email from Rayla.

Sure, it was just going to be another thing to do with the case, but he could think of far worse ways to start his day.

Cramming the last of his toast into his mouth, he went to open the email when his phone buzzed loudly on the table, startling him.

He glanced at the screen, furrowing his brow in confusion to see a message from Rayla.

Briefly considering his options, he elected to read the message first.

 

Raylawell, I dodged a bullet last night.

              Ethari made Runaan watch Captain Corelli's Mandolin

 

Callum snorted.

 

Callum Not your style?

Rayla – oof, no thank you.

              Thanks for letting me watch Shaun with you guys.

              No thanks for making me stay up late eating pizza and drinking beer  

              It was not a fun start this morning.

Callum – I’m not quite sure I can be held responsible for that.

              And you seem to have managed, I’ve a big email from you already

Rayla – Work on work channels

              Personal stuff on personal channels

 

Callum’s stomach backflipped. Personal stuff… them messaging was personal stuff. Which, yeah, ok, that made sense. It would have been weird if she were drinking beer and watching movies with him in a legal capacity.

Still, there was something different about seeing it written down.

Confirmed.

They had a personal relationship.

Which he really did not need to go jumping the gun on, but progress was progress.

 

Callum -  Living a dual life, are you?

Rayla – Yes. I’m like Daredevil. Lawyer by day… crime fighter by night.

              Who also eats pizza and lies on her couch with her cat.

 

He grinned at the image that conjured up.

 

Callum – I thought you were a Bond villain… you know, with the cat…?

Rayla – I could have a redemption story.

              Doesn’t Daredevil have a sidekick called Froggy?!

              That could be you ;p

 

Callum blushed. She was definitely flirting with him, wasn’t she? He was decidedly not good at flirting.

 

Callum – I’m pretty sure it’s Foggy.

 

Ok, that was useless. What was he thinking?!

 

Rayla – meh, close enough

              Kermit = Kingpin?

Callum – it all makes so much sense now!

 

She was a dork.

He itched to make some kind of red leather Daredevil costume joke but that seemed way too forward, and he didn’t want to freak her out.

 

Rayla – Ok, I actually do have work stuff to talk to you about.

              Free for a chat?

Callum – sure

 

He pointlessly ran his fingers through his hair before donning his headset.

He answered her call as soon as it began ringing, his pulse quickening as an image of her filled the screen.

Today she was dressed in a black shirt, a simple silver chain around her neck. Her hair was pulled up into a half updo, loose waves framing her face.

If she was feeling any worse for wear this morning, it certainly didn’t show.

She looked as breathtaking as in their first meeting.

“Hi.” She grinned at him, a cheeky glint in her eye. “Froggy.”

Callum chuckled, shaking his head. “I am not calling you Daredevil.”

“Oh, you’re no fun.” She rolled her eyes, grinning wider.

“Not recording this one?” Callum was enjoying her casual tone.

“No, I don’t record my calls with you by default any more.” She paused, biting her lip. “They always end in disaster. It’s best not to have too much gif fodder, or I wouldn’t get any work done.”

 “Really?” Callum could not help but smile at her.

She looked a little flustered, shaking her head and looking down. “Anyway, the email-”

“I haven’t had a chance to read it.” Callum admitted.

“That’s fine.” She explained. “It’s basically a massive timeline/file breakdown. I need you to read it thoroughly,” She emphasised the word. “and respond. If you notice any inconsistencies with your files or dates, highlight it and make a note, ok?”

“Yep.” Callum frowned as he skimmed the document. She wasn’t kidding when she called it massive. “This will take a while.” He looked back at her.

“Good! It should take a while.” She rolled her eyes as she shook her head.

“So, are you going to stare at me the entire time again?” He hoped his blush wasn’t obvious in the camera. Maybe he wasn’t the worst at this flirting thing.

“I didn’t-” She started, then shook her head again, clearly resisting the urge to take the bait. “Just send through the document with any corrections, otherwise, let me know when you’re free for me to witness it.”

Callum snickered at her, nodding his head. “Yep, will do.”

“Ok, well, chat to you later.” She smirked.

That ‘chat to you later’ sounded far more positive than yesterday’s confusing ‘chat to you later’. The one that haunted him all day.

“Sounds good.” Callum tried to keep the conflict from his face. Sounds good? That was a normal thing to say, right? Normal people said that sort of thing. It didn’t mean he would spend the day looking forward to talking to her again.

Even though he would.

Was he being too forward? It was less forward than some red leather joke… ok, he was getting side-tracked.

She grinned at him then disappeared from the screen.

Callum leaned back in his chair and sighed long and low. This whole flirty thing with them was doing nothing for his attention span. Reading through and cross referencing this document was going to be torture.

 

 

After many breaks, false starts and strolls around the apartment, Callum finally managed to finish the document Rayla sent him.

Sighing, he opened a messenger window on his computer.

 

[Callum] Hey

[Rayla] Finished?

              Or lost your mind?

[Callum] A little from column A, a little form column B

[Rayla] haha

              Free for a signing call?

[Callum] Yep

 

His computer immediately began beeping for an incoming call. Callum quickly checked to make sure he didn’t have the remains of his lunch on his shirt, opting not to bother with headphones this late in the day. He hovered over the answer button and clicked.

“Afternoon” She had changed into a slightly more relaxed outfit, looking cosy in an oversized cable knit sweater, her hair thrown up into a high ponytail.

“Signed off for the day, have you?” He nodded at her change of clothes.

She glanced down at her sweater and shrugged. “What? I’m done with all my calls for the day.”

“What’s this if not a call?”

She chuckled. “My calls with normal, professional people.”

“Hey, I can be professional!” Callum pretended to be offended when he was really thrilled.   

“Hmm,” She rolled her eyes. “It took you over four hours to read a document. When you said it would take a while, I didn’t realise it would take you all day.”

Callum hissed. “Hey, you told me to read it properly. Reading legal documents is not my forte.” He shrugged. “Which is why I draw frogs for a living.”

She snickered at him. “Well, I’m glad to hear I’m having a positive influence on your life.”

Callum snorted. She had no idea.

When he didn’t respond, Rayla blushed a little, tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear. “Anyway, ready to get this over with?”

Callum arched an eyebrow as he picked up his digital pen. “That sounds ominous.”

Rayla laughed. “It shouldn’t. Hopefully hitting Kermit hard with this will do the trick. All the legalese freaked you out didn’t it? And you have a lawyer to hold your hand.”

Callum focused on finding the right spot to sign, doing his best not to imagine actually holding her hand.

What was he, ten years old?

Finding the right spot, Callum clicked his tablet and signed his name. “So… this will be it then?” He tried to keep his tone neutral, but he was pretty sure some of the disappointment showed in his voice.

Not that he was disappointed to have the case be over, but without it, he didn’t really have much call to chat to her.

She lived far away; they didn’t have work in common.

It was just serendipity that they met.

So to speak.

She shrugged, “If he has any sense, though he’s shown himself to be a bit lacking in that department.”

Callum nodded. “Well, I think I’m all signed.” He looked up at her. “So, I’ll just save the shared doc?”

“Yep” Rayla nodded, looking at her other screen.

Callum took the opportunity to memorise her features. She really was beautiful. If this letter worked this might be their last videochat. He knew this whole case couldn’t go on forever, but he hadn’t really prepared himself for it all to end so abruptly.

Would they still continue to chat as friends? Because they were friends now, weren’t they?

Maybe he should ask her if she wanted to watch another movie or something? She had indicated she was interested in watching the rest of the Cornetto Trilogy when they signed off last night, after all.

If it wasn’t for this isolation stuff, he might have spent the weekend talking himself into asking her out for that jelly tart, but it just seemed weird when they couldn’t even see each other in real life.

Hey, want to sit in our separate kitchens and drink coffee?

Oh yeah, and there was the added complication of her living in a totally different city.

“Ok,” Rayla looked back at him and he flushed, assuming she caught him staring. If she had, she didn’t comment on it. “Looks good. One last thing.”

Callum furrowed his brow as she picked up her phone.

She bit her lip, swiping furiously, then held her phone up as it played a very 8-bit sounding rendition of “congratulations”.

Callum laughed. She was adorable. “Is that your normal celebration for when you close a case?”

Rayla put her phone down, avoiding eye contact. “No.”

Callum’s breath caught in his throat. What was she saying? He wasn’t imagining things. They had a… thing, right?

He took a deep breath. It was potentially now or never. “So, eh-”

“Hey Callum-”

Callum nearly jumped out of his skin when Ezran burst through the door.

“Ez!” He turned around; his eyes wide.

“Oh sorry! Work call?” Ezran began to back up before his eyes flicked to the screen. “Hey Rayla!” He strolled into Callum’s bedroom, grinning.

“Hey Ezran.” She smiled at him. “How’s it going?”

“Good!” He leaned against the desk. “Did you enjoy the movie last night? Sorry, I fell asleep. Hopefully, Callum was decent company.” Ezran teased, ignoring the low sigh from Callum.

“He was ok.” Rayla shrugged, smirking at Callum.

“You on for watching Hot Fuzz tonight?” Ezran tried to keep his voice neutral, but Callum knew him well enough to detect the playful tone.

“Sure.” Rayla smiled back.

“Cool.” Ezran kicked Callum’s chair as gently as possible. “I just wanted to know what you wanted for dinner, Callum. I’ll leave you guys to it.” He smirked as he turned to leave.

Callum sighed, not really sure how he felt about that whole interaction. He looked at Rayla to find her grinning widely at him.

“What?” He felt a hot blush creeping over his face.

“See, another disaster.” She chuckled. “Anyway, I should get Opeli’s approval on this before close of business.” She began rearranging some of the items on her desk, her eyes downcast. “So, I guess I’ll chat to you later then?”

Callum struggled to keep the dumb smile from his face. “Eh yeah, sounds good.”

She glanced up at him, a shy smile on her face. “Bye.”

“Bye.”

Callum dropped his head to his desk when her screen went blank. Ok, that wasn’t a complete disaster (despite her assertion) but it could have gone better.

They were going to have another watch party later… but Ezran had invited her. And would also be there.

Did that make things more or less awkward?

He sighed, getting to his feet, and making his way to the kitchen.

Ezran was already there, clearly waiting for him. “You’re welcome.”

Callum snorted, leaning on the counter. “Am I?”

“What, didn’t you want another watch party with her?” Ezran grabbed a bag of chips and began munching.

“Maybe I was about to ask her myself.” Callum snatched a chip.

“Were you?”

Callum considered this. “Well, I was about to do something.”

“What?” Ezran frowned at him.

“Pfft, who knows?” Callum threw the chip into his mouth. “Probably royally mess up.” He pushed himself away from the counter. “Thanks for looking out for me. I should get back to work.”

“You never said what you want for dinner!” Ezran called after him.

Callum shrugged, leaning on the doorframe. “Whatever.” He could not concentrate on dinner plans right now.

“Well, it needs to be something the facilitates one handed eating.” Ezran mused.

“Em, what?” Callum wasn’t sure he liked where this was going.

Ezran turned up his nose at him. “So you can message her while eating?”

“Oh.” Callum huffed. “You are really over thinking this.”

 

 

---

 

 

Callum lounged on the sofa, sipping a beer and re-reading his message conversation with Rayla. Maybe it was good Ezran was going to be there for the watch party. It made stuff less awkward. She was still his lawyer, there was probably some weird rule that they couldn’t… what… be long distance courting?

Oof, he was sounding like his Dad.

“Nachos!” Ezran announced, making his way into the lounge.

Callum nodded in appreciation at the feast before him. Ezran was certainly taking to the isolation cooking challenge.

Though he clearly overestimated their ability to eat this mess one-handed.

Callum – We’re ready to roll when you are.

Rayla – Excellent.

              My popcorn just dinged.

Callum sent her the party code before taking a generous helping of nachos.

 

Rayla – Timothy Dalton is in this?!

Callum – Is that good or bad?

Rayla – Timothy Dalton is amazing

Callum – so good?

Ezran – we should watch Bond movies after this series.

Callum glanced at his brother.

“What?” Ezran smirked.

“You’re starting to get obvious.” Callum took a sip of his beer.

“No, I’m not.” Ezran grinned. “I’m very subtle.”

Ezran – ugh, looks like I have to go in 5. One of my friends is having a crisis.

Callum groaned. “Ez!”

“What? It’s true. Ellis has been wigging out about this assignment all day. I promised I’d help her.” Ezran began spooning some nachos onto his plate. “I didn’t say anything because I knew you’d spend the rest of the day stressing and, like, cancel or something stupid.”

Callum sighed, but didn’t argue. There was little point.

Rayla – we could put it off for another day?

Ezran – that’s ok. I’ve seen it before.

            But you should watch The World’s End with us tomorrow.

            And don’t forget baking class on Saturday.

Rayla – Oh I am on for baking class. I made the mistake of telling my Dad I was going to make jelly tarts. I’m committed now.

Ezran – Great! Well, enjoy the movie!

Rayla – Enjoy studying… ;op

 

“Good luck” Ezran grinned as he exited the living room.

Callum hissed through his teeth, then took a long drink of his beer.

He could do this. Just act normal. This was the closest he was going to get to a date with her. Any time soon anyway.

 

Callum lounged back on the couch, grinning at his phone as the credits rolled.

 

Rayla - Ok, I love that they killed all those people for super petty reasons.

If I were to kill a bunch of people, it would be for the pettiest of reasons.

Callum - Such as…?

Rayla - People who walk really slowly and won’t move to the side.

              People who decided they don’t want their steak halfway around the supermarket and then just leave it on a random shelf

              People who litter

              People who don’t read legal documents before signing them.

Callum - Well, I’m glad I’m not any of those people

Rayla - Aren’t you? :op

Callum - Well, I have been accused of ‘strolling’ but surely that’s a grey area

              And you freaked me into reading everything I sign now.

Rayla - Do all the past documents you signed without reading haunt you?

Callum - Yes. The thought of them keeps me up at night.

Rayla - LOL

Callum - So, you grew up in the countryside?

Rayla - Good memory

Callum snorted. Yeah, he paid pretty close attention to everything she said.

Callum - Was it like the little village in the movie?

Rayla - The little village looks like a metropolis compared to where I grew up.

Callum - Really?

Rayla - Yep.

Callum: - How did you decide to become a lawyer then?

Rayla - Do you think the countryside is some kind of lawless wilderness or something?

Callum - Well, Hot Fuzz seemed to imply it is

Rayla - Fair point.

              One of my Dads is a lawyer.

              I dunno. I just kind of fell into it, I guess.

              Had a knack for details.

              How’d you get into drawing frogs?

              And other things?           

              I assume you don’t just draw frogs.

Callum - Similar, I guess.

              Just drew a lot as a kid… kept at it.

Rayla - Look at us

              Two child prodigies.

Callum - What’s a cornetto anyway? The ice-cream?

Rayla - Hold on, you’ve never had a cornetto?!

Callum - Well, if it’s the ice-cream, then I’ve had a Drumstick.

Rayla - Wash your mouth out with soap!

              Drumsticks are way inferior to cornettos.

Callum - Bold claim

Rayla - Well, I guess I could pay you back, after you get me that jelly tart.

              If we’re ever in Xadia, I’ll treat you to a cornetto

Callum – You realise I have that in writing now.

Rayla – Oh I am well aware.   

 

 

Callum stared at his phone. He promised himself he’d wait until after lunch to message her. Assuming she hadn’t message him first.

Embarrassingly, he’d fallen asleep messaging her last night.

Or rather, she sent a message and he missed it because he was passed out on the couch.

He woke up freezing at 0352

Why hadn’t Ezran made him go to bed? What kind of little brother was he?

He glanced at the time.

12:03

Definitely time for a break.

He picked up his phone, navigating to their recent conversation.

Ok.

What to message her about?

Just a standard “how’s your day going?”

Or should he find a link or something she’d like and send her that? Pretend he just came across it and wanted to share? That was probably the way to go.

Way more of a conversation starter.

He was navigating to YouTube when his phone buzzed loudly in his hands, startling him, and causing him to drop his device.

Sighing, he got on his hands and knees and crawled under his desk to retrieve it.

Turning it over, he grinned happily to see a message from Rayla.

Forgetting where he was, he moved to sit up, banging his head on his desk.

“Damn it.” Callum rolled his eyes at his own stupidity. Talk about getting distracted. He slid out from under his desk, unlocking his phone as he did so.

Opening his message, he smiled even wider. It was a link to Barius’ Café Instagram page. A perfectly baked jelly tart sat on a chipped blue plate next to a steaming mug of black coffee. The beach and ocean looked wonderful in the background, the sun shining brightly on the waves.

Rayla – They’re taunting me

Callum – You’re following Barius’ Instagram? He’ll be grumpy to hear that.

Rayla – Lol.

              Why?

Callum – He hates social media. Complains about it endlessly.

Rayla – And yet he has an Instagram… I suppose you have to these days.

              Do you know him well?

Callum – My Dad does.

Me and Ezra, not particularly. He finds us memorable, shall we say.

Rayla – What did you do?!

Callum – I did nothing! I’m innocent

Rayla – That seems to be something you say often…

Callum – I resent the implications of that comment

              Bait performed his favourite trick when we were there once.

              It did not go down well.

Rayla – OMG, you brought your unrestrained frog to the café?!!

Callum gave up on correcting her as to who Bait’s true owner was. At this stage (and after her comment about being detail orientated) he knew she was just teasing him.

He had to admit, he liked her teasing.

Callum – Ezran has endless faith in Bait’s ability to follow the basic rules of a civilised society.

Rayla – Not a bad quality in a future vet.

              Well, I gotta go.

              Meetings all afternoon.

              Still on for The World’s End tonight?

Callum – Sure, though I think Ez might be MIA again, if that’s ok

Rayla – I’ll just remove the teddy bear that represents him from the couch.

Callum – ehhh

Rayla – don’t judge me.

              You have your brother to talk to

              It’s just me and my cat here.

              It’s a good thing my Dad’s are coming up for a visit this weekend or I might completely lose it.

Callum – well, have a fun meeting.

Rayla – that is impossible

              Chat to you later.

 

 

Callum reclined on the sofa, not paying much attention to the movie.

He was far more interested in messaging back and forth with Rayla.

Rayla – Ahh, I know where I know Shaun from.

              He’s Scotty in new Star Trek

              I thought he was actually Scottish

Callum – You’re a Trekkie?!

He grinned. He had not pegged her for a Trekkie.

Rayla – All the cool people are Trekkies, Callum

Callum – We have very different definitions of what a ‘cool person’ is

Rayla – Forgive me for not subscribing to the definition put forth by the guy who regularly walks around with frogs on his face.

Callum – Which is clearly why I prefer Star Wars.

              I wanted to call Bait Yoda

Rayla – Trek > Wars

Callum – Incorrect

Rayla – First the pineapple pizza thing and now you drop this bomb?

              This isn’t going to work out

Callum’s heart raced as he read her message. That was getting beyond flirty and actually talking about what was going on.

Like adults.

Callum – This?

Rayla – Me being your lawyer.

              Obviously.

Callum grinned. She was such a tease. She knew exactly what she was doing and how to push his buttons.

And how he liked having his buttons pushed.

Rayla - I’m going to go help Kermit sue you

He snorted, rolling his eyes.

Callum – That leaves me little choice but to forward that gif to your boss.

Rayla – Ruthless

              I like it

              ogkothopt

              Ok, I need to call it a night. I just fell asleep and dropped my phone on my face

Callum – I would have like to have seen that.

Rayla – I bet…

              Night

Callum -  Night

Callum sighed, glancing at the television to be taken by surprise to see the party ended and a blank screen before him. Wow, he had been distracted.

Electing to tidy up tomorrow, he trudged to the bathroom and prepared for bed.

He lay in bed, re-reading their messages until his own phone slapped him on the face.

 

 

Callum had decided that ten o’clock was his cut off for messaging Rayla, so he considered himself incredibly disciplined when he made it to eight minutes past.

Callum – So… joining us for movie night tonight?

              Ez is all finished with his assignment.

Rayla – I wish.

              Promised my Dad’s I’d have a watch party with them tonight.

              Ethari has been dying to watch The Notebook for ages and he wants to chat about it tomorrow

              You could only save me for so long

Callum – haha, well, I tried my best.

Rayla – at least I will be tipsy

              Opeli has organised zoom drinks with the team today.

              I didn’t think drinks with lawyers could get any more boring until I had remote drinks

Callum – ouch

Rayla – yep

 

Callum sighed. It was going to be weird not having a watch party with her tonight. His night would seem really long. He'd become so accustomed to spending his evenings with her (so to speak). Maybe it was a good thing? He needed to prepare himself for this case ending and the possibility that this... thing would end too.

He was going to need to watch an action movie tonight. Something stupid and very distracting.

 

 

 

Callum glanced at his phone as it lit up with a notification. It was nearing sign off time on a Friday afternoon, though truth be told, he had mentally checked out hours ago.

He grinned to find a message from Rayla.

Rayla I’m actually sitting here wishing my cat would attack me so I can get out of these drinks

Callum – wow, it must be bad.

Rayla – I was going to play a drinking game with myself where I took a shot every time someone mentioned all the extra hours they’re supposedly doing but I’d be long dead if I had.

Callum snorted.

Callum Please try to stave off alcohol poisoning until after you’ve closed my case.

Rayla – So that’s how it is?

              You only want me for my mind.

              You’re a strange one, Callum Prince.

Callum winced. How to respond to that? She was getting flirtier with each conversation.

And he remained as bad at flirting as ever.

Callum – I’m just really looking forward to my cornetto

Rayla – haha

              Jelly tart first, thank you very much

Callum – speaking of… you still on for this baking session tomorrow?

 

He drummed his fingers on the desk waiting on her response.

She had been replying instantly before, that must mean she didn’t want to do the baking thing.

Of course she wouldn’t. It was just a dumb idea, though he was grateful to Ezran for trying.

 

Rayla – sorry, someone was talking to me

              Yeah, I’m totally on for baking tomorrow.

              Though, when suits you guys?

              My Dads should be up around midday.

              Is that too early?

Callum – I’ll bribe Ez to get up

Rayla – seriously, what is it with you and bribes?

Callum – lol

              What do you mean?

Rayla – you’re always talking about bribing people

              You sound like a politician

Callum – I can’t say I’ve noticed

Rayla – I have

              Anyway, I should talk to these bores for five minutes before I sigh off to get bored by Ethari’s movie.

              Chat to you tomorrow, I guess

Callum – have a good evening.

Rayla – that is highly unlikely.

 

 

Callum noticed a new message as he brushed his teeth. He unlocked his phone, snorting on his toothpaste as he read Rayla’s message.

Rayla – what an afternoon/evening!

              I am once again grateful you rescue me from Captain whatshisface Mandolin

Callum – Didn’t enjoy the notebook?

Rayla – No! It was super sappy but also made me cry.

              I am not happy.

Callum – aw

Rayla – I was just a cliché.

              Sad, lonely single gal, cuddle her cat and crying into her shiraz.

Callum chuckled, rinsing his mouth as he thought of a comeback.

Had she intentionally mentioned the single thing? After the whole "what makes you think I'm single?" debacle, he still occasionally wondered if she was just friendly and he was getting the wrong impression. 

Dropping it like that though? That was some kind of message, right?

Callum – You should start blasting “All by myself’ Bridget Jones style

Rayla – lol  

           Don’t tempt me.

          Thouh she was the creativ one and Darcy was lawyer in that scenario.

 

Callum frowned, what did that mean? That was a rom com. Was she comparing their situation to a romantic movie?

His mouth went dry.

He was sorely tempted to press a little further, ask some probing questions, but from her typos it looked like she was not lying about being a bit tipsy.

It wouldn’t be decent to take advantage of that.

 

Rayla – ok, I should call it a night. I’m way too bottles in and I will asleep on the soffa at this stage.

Callum – Haha, I know that feeling

               ok, well, goodnight.

              See you tomorrow

Rayla – can’t wait 😊

Callum stared at her reply.

Neither could he.

Chapter Text

Rayla groaned as her alarm sounded. Her mouth was dry, and her head ached just enough to instantly remind her of the one too many beers she had last night. She briefly considered snoozing her alarm and getting a few extra minutes, but Shadow, now attuned to her alarm, began to complain for his breakfast.

Grumbling to herself, she swung her legs to the floor and sighed. When would she learn, no drinking on a school night?

Not excessively anyway.

It was Callum’s fault really, for making her nervous.

Dutch courage was rarely the best of ideas.

Shadow pushed himself against her leg, mewing softly in an effort to encourage her to get up.

She rolled her eyes, snorting as she got to her feet. “Come on, you leech.”

Cat fed and happy for now, she put on a pot of coffee and unlocked her phone, trying to quell the little surge of disappointment not to have a message from Callum.

In fairness, it was early still.

He definitely seemed like the sort to sleep in. In fact, she couldn’t remember ever seeing him online before nine.

Not that she checked. Not obsessively, at least.

It was just the sort of thing she noticed about people.

She poured herself a cup of coffee and strolled back into her bedroom, sitting crossed legged in her chair. She would check her emails for anything pressing, then shower and prepare herself for the day.

Her only unread item of importance was from Opeli, a response to the cease and desist letter she had prepared for sending to Kermit. She clicked on the reply, sipping her too hot coffee.

“No issues. Forward onto client and report back before submitting to claimant.”

Opeli’s reply was brief and to the point.

As usual.

Rayla sighed. Well, that was probably it.

Even if Kermit elected to hire his own lawyer, they’d likely tell him he was wasting his time. He clearly didn’t have a leg to stand on and no judge in the land would award him damages based on his so called ‘evidence’.

She and Callum would definitely stay in contact though, wouldn’t they?

Even if she was reading more into things than was there, she genuinely enjoyed chatting to him. She didn’t want it to stop.

Her phone buzzed and she grinned, picking it up expectantly, her smile dropping when she saw it was a only message from Runaan.

Runaan – You are in trouble

Rayla raised an eyebrow. What now?

Runaan – Ethari made me watch Captain Corelli’s Mandolin

              Do you have any idea what that’s about?

Rayla snorted. Man, he could be dramatic.

Rayla – No, but from the title I’m not inclined to find out.

Runaan – You owe me, young lady.

She chuckled, rolling her eyes.

Rayla – I wouldn’t even have been there! My presence wouldn’t have made a difference.

Runaan – I would have liked to have known you were suffering along with me.

              And could commiserate in real time via text.

Rayla – Sorry. I’ll commiserate on the next awful Ethari choice.

Runaan – I have that in writing now.

Well, it was obvious where she got that affinity now.

Runaan – What were you doing anyway? Ethari said you had a date or something?

 She blushed, wondering how best to explain. Runaan had some very firm opinions on socialising with people from work. If only she were that good at compartmentalising her life.

Though, she used to be.

Before Callum.

Rayla – Na, just having a watch party with someone from work.

              And his brother.

See. Totally not a date.

Runaan – Excellent.

              Well, I best let you get back to it.

Rayla – Thanks. Hope you’re feeling better.

Runaan – I am, despite that abomination of a movie last night.

              See you on the weekend but I imagine we’ll speak to you before then.

Rayla – Can’t wait. I’m going to make hamentashen. 😊

Runaan – Really? Impressive. Ethari will no doubt be delighted.

She finished her coffee quickly, then jumped in the shower, relishing the cleansing effects of the piping hot water. Feeling infinitely more human, Rayla threw her hair up in a half pony, and glanced at herself in the mirror.

She definitely looked pale and washed out. She grabbed some BB cream and concealer, managing to make herself look somewhat more human and composed.

Looking herself over one last time, she made her way into her bedroom and dressed, ready to face another day.

Taking a sip of her second coffee, she composed a formal email to Callum, attaching the large document.

She then sat back in her chair, her phone in hand. She had waited long enough.

It was time to message him.  

 

 

---

 

 

Rayla tapped her pen against her temple. Callum was sure taking his sweet time reading that document.

She picked up her phone, navigating to her messages with Callum. He really confused her sometimes. She couldn’t tell if he was awkward or… not interested.

And she really shouldn’t be encouraging him.

Or herself.

Runaan would have some choice words for her right now if he knew what she was up to with all these flirty texts.

She was more anxious about disappointing him than what would happen if Opeli found out.

Which was really dumb because Opeli would potentially fire her.

And Callum.

Or rather, she would insist on getting HR involved, which would probably result in them both getting fired.

Definitely reprimanded anyway but considering Rayla’s position in the company she would be lucky to get out of the whole thing with her role intact.

Which would definitely be a surprise for Callum because she would absolutely put money on him not having read the code of conduct nor the harassment and fraternisation sections of his employment contract.

Maybe once all this stuff with Kermit was over she could approach Opeli and disclose everything? Lay all her cards on the table.

Which would be excruciatingly embarrassing. What would she even say?

“I’d like to keep flirting with this guy in a different city who I’m pretty sure likes me but we haven’t had a proper conversation about it because we both have the emotional maturity of seventeen-year olds.”

And oh yeah, that actually would require her to have an awkward and honest conversation with Callum, because Opeli would insist on his boss having a conversation with him about the exact same thing.

Awkward and honest conversations were decidedly not her thing. Honest ones especially.

Maybe she’d be lucky, and some other far-fetched long-term plans would come to fruition saving them both from the most painful of workplace conversations.

Or maybe her winning lottery numbers would come up and she could just retire and live on an island some place...

Maybe Callum could join her…

She 100% needed this case to be over and the messy business of their work relationship to be severed.

Then she could concentrate on... everything else.

And if she had done her job correctly, that letter would more than likely be the end of it.

If Callum ever got done reading it. How many hours had he been at it? At least she was reasonably certain he was actually reading it.

They needed something to mark this momentous occasion.

In isolation.

An entire plane ride away.

Surely there must be some dumb meme she could use to tease him.

She sighed, getting up and stretching. There was nothing else pressing for her to do today. Normally she would stay in her stiff work clothes until she logged off but she had that signing call with Callum later.

He must think her super strait laced for always being dressed so formally. And there didn’t seem to be a way to casually drop “my boss insists on it” into the conversation. 

She unbuttoned her shirt and dropped it in the laundry basket, then pulled on a soft cable knit sweater. Yanking her hair free of her half ponytail, she immediately re-did it in a high pony.

She glanced in the mirror. She looked far more relaxed, though still reasonably work appropriate if Opeli called out of the blue.

She glanced back at her computer.

Still no word from Callum?

He definitely had taken her advice about reading contracts seriously.

Well, nothing else to do but waste time on the net tracking down the appropriate meme to tease him with.

She was far too distracted to do any actual work.

 

 

 

---

 

 

 

Rayla grinned as she fed Shadow, workday finally over. She was going to have another viewing party with Callum.

Sure, his brother had technically invited her, but she wasn’t going to be picky. She was reasonably certain Ezran was trying to play match maker, which was good right? Callum would have told his brother if he wasn’t interested in her.

And it would be weird if Ezran continued to try and… push them together if Callum had said he didn’t want to… what… distance chaperone date her?

Oh man, she was an idiot.

At least Ezran would be there so she wouldn’t do anything stupid like get overly flirty with Callum.

Because that was something she needed to reign right in.

Until after the case was over.

At the very least.

 

 

 

---

 

 

Rayla sighed into her now cold coffee. She was re-reading her conversation with Callum from last night.

Truth be told, she was very proud of herself. Even without his younger brother there as a flirt-buffer, their message conversation had been reasonable. No outrageous flirting.

Nothing in appropriate, at all.

Not really.

Just two people getting to know each other.

And then he abruptly stopped messaging her, which she assumed meant he fell asleep.

Though, in that case, she did think he would have messaged her already.

It was nearing midday, her self imposed cut-off.

She took a sip from her cup, scowling as the cold, stale coffee touched her tongue.

Sighing, she got to her feet to make a fresh cup.

Kettle boiling, she scrolled through Instagram as she waited.

An image of some perfect jelly tarts framed by a stunning seaside backdrop made her smile.

She forgot she had done some “research" and found the cafe Callum had gone to that day ‘he’ sent her the selfie.

She scrolled through Barius’ feed, a little part of her hoping she might spy a glimpse of Callum in one of the pictures.

She still utterly refused to look at his Instagram.

An accidental like now would be utterly humiliating.

She was trying to play this all cool.

Navigating back to the most recent account image, she decided this was the perfect icebreaker for today.

She’d gone approximately twelve hours between communicating with Callum in some capacity.

That seemed far too long.

 

---

Rayla snorted as she sipped her beer. Callum, the giant dork, was making fun of her for being a Trekkie?! This would not stand!

Rayla – All the cool people are Trekkies, Callum

Callum – We have very different definitions of what a ‘cool person’ is

She rolled her eyes, chuckling.

Rayla – Forgive me for not subscribing to the definition put forth by the guy who regularly walks around with frogs on his face.

Callum – Which is clearly why I prefer Star Wars.

              I wanted to call Bait Yoda

Rayla – Trek > Wars

Callum – Incorrect

Rayla – First the pineapple pizza thing and now you drop this bomb?

              This isn’t going to work out

She cringed. What was she thinking? That was getting too flirty again! She had been so proud of her performance yesterday that she had allowed herself a few extra beers over the course of the night, which was clearly the worst idea she ever had.

Callum was going to call her out and she was going to have to admit she had a crush on him. And that they would get into trouble for all… this.

Or she could play dumb.

Callum – This?

Or play coy.

Rayla – Me being your lawyer.

              Obviously.

She took a deep breath. Why the hell couldn’t she restrain herself for five minutes around him?!

And she wasn’t even around him. She couldn’t even see him.

She blamed alcohol and isolation.

Clearly, a bad combo.

              I’m going to go help Kermit sue you

Callum – That leaves me little choice but to forward that gif to your boss.

She raised her eyebrows. That wouldn’t help him at all. Should she just come out and tell him? Perhaps this was sort of an opening.

“Ok, you do that and we’re both in trouble.”

But maybe he’d be mad at her? He was probably dumb and innocent, but she dealt with this sort of thing on the regular. She knew workplace… relationships were frowned upon (especially in her department) and strictly managed.

No, she just needed to get through the case without being too straight up and having awkward conversations.

Right now, she needed to escape. She could not trust herself not to put her foot in her mouth.

Rayla – Ruthless

              I like it

              ogkothopt

              Ok, I need to call it a night. I just fell asleep and dropped my phone on my face

Well, that made her sound like an idiot but at least she had an out.

Callum – I would have like to have seen that.

Rayla – I bet…

              Night

What the hell was wrong with her?! She couldn’t have just said ‘good night’? Those were the flirtiest ellipses that ever existed!

Callum -  Night

Rayla threw her phone at the end of the couch, glaring at it.

She had gone insane.

It was like her brain was no longer connected to her body. She thought one thing and then did another.

It was definitely the fault of alcohol and isolation.

 

---

 

Rayla checked her camera wasn’t displaying in the meeting before yawning and stretching. Opeli’s ideas of team building were just the worst. Sure, she got to ‘finish’ early today and have Zoom drinks with her team, but man, they were all so boring.

They were boring in person… in Zoom? So much more boring.

She surreptitiously scrolled through her messages with Callum.

It was probably a good thing she was going to have a night off from watching movies with him. She had already made it through a decent amount of wine in a vain effort to make this meeting bearable and she clearly could not be trusted to imbibe alcohol and speak to him in any capacity.

She really hoped Runaan made good on his threat to message her endlessly about how bad Ethari’s choice in film was tonight. She was going to need the distraction.

Maybe she should just hide her phone entirely. Turn it off and lock it away.

Ugh, she was going bonkers.

Of course she could be trusted to have her phone!

Callum was just a normal guy and she was fully in control of her faculties.

In fact, she was perfectly capable of messaging him whenever she wanted and not being flirty or stupid.

She took a sip of her wine.

No time like the present…

Rayla I’m actually sitting here wishing my cat would attack me so I can get out of these drinks

Callum – wow, it must be bad.

She grinned when he messaged her back immediately.

Rayla – I was going to play a drinking game with myself where I took a shot every time someone mentioned all the extra hours they’re supposedly doing but I’d be long dead if I had.

She chuckled at herself. There was some definite truth in that.  

Callum Please try to stave off alcohol poisoning until after you’ve closed my case.

Rayla – So that’s how it is?

              You only want me for my mind.

Rayla’s eyes widened. What was she thinking? She was supposed to be keeping it normal! That was next level flirty. Three messages in and she had destroyed her resolve!

What the hell?!

She shook her head, snorting at her complete inability to refrain from flirting with him.

Rayla - You’re a strange one, Callum Prince.

She took a sip of her wine, frowning to find her glass empty. She glanced at the bottle. It was half full.

Hmm, that did not bode well for remaining professional.

Hell, neither of them had been professional since their second day of interaction.

Callum – I’m just really looking forward to my cornetto

Ok, so how to read that? The whole jelly tart/cornetto thing was some kind of crazy imaginary real-world future date in her mind.

Was he thinking the same?

Rayla – haha

              Jelly tart first, thank you very much

Callum – speaking of… you still on for this baking session tomorrow?

She smiled happily. The baking session. She was very much looking forward to that.

“Does that work for you, Rayla?”

She startled to hear her name. She had completely zoned out of the work meeting.

“Em, sorry, my eh, cat was meowing. What was that?” She blushed. She was normally so collected in meetings. Even informal ones like this.

Between the wine and Callum she had no idea what anyone was talking about.

“The celebratory dinner date? Did the 21st suit you?” Opeli didn’t comment on her lack of attention.

“Yep. 21st. Sounds good.” Rayla smiled nervously.

Celebratory dinner? What on earth was Opeli talking about? Oh well, she’d find out soon enough when the details got emailed out. 

“Excellent.” Opeli looked down and began scribbling on her notepad. 

Rayla cringed internally, forcing herself to engage in the conversation for a few minutes before the urge to message Callum back got the better of her.

Rayla – sorry, someone was talking to me

              Yeah, I’m totally on for baking tomorrow.

 

 

----

 

 

Rayla sighed as the credits rolled and Ethari and Runaan signed off the watch party.

How dare Ethari make her watch a movie like The Notebook when she was all alone. She sniffed, wiping her eyes.

Ugh, she was crying like a total idiot.

She hated crying at movies.

At least she had wine.

She glanced at her coffee table.

Oh dear… a lot of wine.

But that was fine. She didn’t have work tomorrow.

Oh, but she had that baking… thingie with Callum.

It was not a date. It was a thingie.

Ok, she needed to go to bed. It was an early baking thingie and she needed to look good and act normal.

She stood up, tripping over Shadow who had been sleeping soundly and unnoticed on her lap.

“Oh nooooo! Sorry!” She crawled towards Shadow but he ran away from her and hid under the couch. “I’m so sorry, baby. I’ll buy you salmon to make up for it.”

He seemed disinclined to forgive her, so she elected to leave him and get ready for bed.

They would be friends again in the morning.

Her toothbrush and toothpaste were very uncooperative but after a small struggle she managed to clean her teeth and wash her face.

She lay in bed, the room spinning ever so slightly.

Maybe she should message Callum to make sure they were still on for tomorrow? Maybe something had come up and she would be getting up early for nothing?

She grabbed her phone from the bedside table, a little happier when Shadow jumped up on the bed.

Friends already.

Rayla – what an afternoon/evening!

              I am once again grateful you rescue me from Captain whatshisface Mandolin

Callum – Didn’t enjoy the notebook?

Rayla – No! It was super sappy but also made me cry.

              I am not happy.

Callum – aw

Oh, he was too cute. She frowned. Why did he have to live in stupid Katolis? And work for her stupid company?

And be so stupid and coy and confusing?

Rayla – I was just a cliché.

              Sad, lonely single gal, cuddle her cat and crying into her shiraz.

Well, that was subtle. Absolutely, she knew what she was doing. She needed to slip that in there because she had been too cryptic before.

Maybe that was why he was being reserved? Maybe he really didn’t know she was single.

Desperately single.

Callum – You should start blasting “All by myself’ Bridget Jones style

Rayla – lol

              Like Bridget Jones?        

Don’t tempt me.

Thouh she was the creativ one and Darcy was lawyer in that scenario.

She grinned at herself. Another zinger!

Why was she beating herself up so much for all those messages earlier? She could totally do this after a few glasses of wine.

Or bottles.

Semantics.

Still. Early morning tomorrow. She should sign off.

But she shouldn’t mention she was already in bed because that was, like, too sexy.

She needed to keep things classy.

Like she was.

Super classy.

Rayla – ok, I should call it a night. I’m way too bottles in and I will asleep on the soffa at this stage.

 Classy.

Callum – Haha, I know that feeling

ok, well, goodnight.

              See you tomorrow

Rayla – can’t wait 😊

 

 

 

---

 

 

 

Rayla pulled her pillow over her head as her alarm blared ridiculously loud. Her head ached and her mouth was parched. It was a Saturday, what the hell was her alarm going off at 0730 for?!

Oh yeah, baking day.

She sat up, turning off her alarm, then grabbed her water bottle and downed most of it.

She unlocked her phone, to find a message from Ethari to tell her they would be leaving soon. It was a long drive from Xadia to Duren.

She navigated to her message conversation with Callum. It would make sense to message him to ensure he and Ezran will still on for baking.

She frowned at her screen.

She had no memory of sending those messages.

What the hell?

Oh dear… Oh no.   

Chapter Text

Callum woke uncharacteristically early for a Saturday. Before his alarm even.

It was the day of his baking date with Rayla.

And he was going to allow himself to call it a date.

Date had multiple meanings after all, not all of them necessarily romantic.

Though he was really starting to think he should indulge himself.

This was as close to a date as they were going to get any time soon.

And yeah, Ez would be there, but beggars couldn’t be choosers.

He checked his phone while still lying in bed. No messages from Rayla.

Which was to be expected. She had probably passed out pretty heavily if her typo riddled messages were anything to go by.  

He tapped his fingers on the back of his phone. How to play this?

Should he give her a pass and ignore her drunk, flirty messages or was it his turn to tease?

It was really not his territory…

Callum – So… how’s your head this morning?

He jumped as his alarm went off.

Hmm, maybe it was a bit early to be messaging her?

Oh well, she had woken him up once before.

All’s fair in love and war, as they say.

He sighed, getting out of bed, and pulling on sweatpants and a t-shirt. The buzzing of his phone alerted him to a message and his heart leapt as he scrambled to where he had left his phone on his bedside table.

The smile fell from his face when he realised it wasn’t Rayla messaging him, but Claudia.

Claudia – Hey Cal! How’s iso going?

              Wanna catch up for a coffee, now we’ve been let out of our cages!

              I forget what ya look like ;p

Callum sighed. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to catch up with Claudia, but other people hadn’t really occupied his thoughts since this whole… thing with Rayla had begun.

It would be fun to catch up with his old friend, and considering Rayla’s Dads were going to be up for the weekend, she would probably be too busy to message him.

The distraction would be welcome really.

Callum – Sounds good. I’m busy this morning but maybe in the afternoon if that suits?

Claudia – Sure does!

              How about 2 at Atomic? I’m dying for decent waffles.

Callum – Sounds good. See you then.

Callum navigated to his message conversation with Rayla, frowning to see she hadn’t read his message. She seemed like a morning person. He really hoped she didn’t oversleep after her big night.

Nothing he could do about that now. He checked his phone one more time, then elected to go inspect the pantry. The last thing he needed was to find they were out of flour or something.  

He flicked through the cookbook Ez had left on the counter, mentally running through their supplies. Eggs, butter, sugar, flour, salt? They should be fine.

Ingredients taken care of; it was definitely time for caffeine.

He looked around the kitchen as his coffee bubbled on the stove. It was relatively clean.

He didn’t want it to look suspiciously clean.

He certainly didn’t want it to look like he had manically cleaned and sanitised it on a Friday night while repeatedly checking his phone for messages from her…

It was a bachelor pad, after all.

“Morning.” Ezran yawned as he shuffled into the kitchen.

“Morning.” Callum smiled at him. “Coffee?”

“Sure.” Ezran hopped up on the counter, happily accepting a cup. “Ready for the baking party?” He smiled a little manically.

Callum laughed at him, shaking his head. “Please don’t embarrass me. I’m struggling enough as is.”

“You’re going to do great, Callum.” Ezran’s face softened.

Callum shook his head, snorting. “Great… at what? Baking? Being a camera man?”

Ezran took a sip of his coffee. “So, I take it you’re still dancing around the whole thing?”

Exhaling long and low, Callum tried to string his thoughts together. It was far too early in the morning for this kind of introspection. “Yeah, I guess. I mean… I think she is maybe interested but even without the whole isolation thing, she’s in Duren. I don’t think it’s really going anywhere.”

Shrugging, Ezran jumped off the counter and put his coffee down. “Well, you’ll never know unless you say something.”

“Yeah, maybe.” Callum looked out the window, noting for the first time the sunny clear day. “Or maybe I’m reading things all wrong and I freak her out.” He drank the last of his coffee. “As lame as it sounds, I really like being friends with her. Maybe once all this craziness is over and there’s a chance we could actually see each other in real life I’ll say something.”

“That’s sweet, Callum.” Ezran rested a hand on his shoulder.

“It’s not lame?” He chuckled.

Ezran snorted. “Oh no, it’s super lame, but it’s also pretty sweet.” He paused before continuing. “Why don’t you, ya know, do the sexting thing?”

Callum choked on his coffee. “Oh yeah, and how do you suggest I go about proposing that?”

Ez frowned, clearly trying to think. “Well, you’ve already spoken to her about dick pics?”

“Ok, I’m not having this conversation with you.” Callum shook his head. “We definitely have everything for this baking thing?”

“Yeah, I checked last night. The butter and eggs have been out all night getting to room temp.” Ezran smirked, punching Callum lightly in the arm. “And I’m just trying to help.”

Callum wiped down the counter. “Well, talking about sexting is not helpful half an hour before we’re due to have a video chat.”

“Fair point.” Ezran snorted, opening the pantry, and pulling out the flour.

“What can I help you with?” Callum looked around, trying to figure out what needed doing.

“I’ve got baking sorted. And you already cleaned like a man on a mission.” Ezran began measuring out cups of flour. “Is your tablet charged?”

Callum nodded. “Yep. Well, if there’s nothing for me to do, I’m going to have a wash up.”

Callum was just about to step into the shower when his phone buzzed on the vanity. His heart skipped a beat to see a message notification. He grinned, finding it was from Rayla.

Rayla – Kill me

              Wine hangover.

              My head hurts.

Callum – Think you’ll be able to bake?

Rayla – No choice. Promised Dads jelly tarts

Callum – Well, we’re pretty much ready here.

Rayla – I need coffee and shower before I contemplate anything.

Callum squeezed his eyes shut, desperately try not to picture that.

 

 

~~~

 

 

Callum took a deep breath as his tablet began beeping. He had no idea why he felt so nervous about this. He had spoken to her daily since they ‘met’, they had had multiple other videochats, why was this one so different?

It was though. Even with Ezran there, it was the closest he was going to get to hanging out with her any time soon. And it was their first non-work related videochat. He didn’t want to mess up and say something stupid.

The dumb copyright case was pretty much over. This baking party might be the last chance he had to cement a friendship with her before they had no reason to interact again.

“Are you going to pick up?” Ezran looked up from his phone, confused.

“Yeah.” Callum pressed the ‘answer’ button and the screen changed.

Rayla immediately broke into a smile, her face a little sheepish. “Finally! I thought you were being attacked by your frog or something.”

Callum rolled his eyes, trying to keep the goofy smile off his face.

“Bait is under lock and key today, thank you!” Ezran snickered.

“Lucky you.” Rayla looked down. “Shadow does not appreciate not being around the action, so he’s along for the ride.”

“Oh, that’s your cat, isn’t it?” Ezran perked up even more. “Can I see him?”

Rayla chuckled. “Sure.” She disappeared from the screen for a moment, reappearing with her large grey long haired cat. “Say hi to Ezran and Callum, Shadow.” She waved a paw at the screen as Shadow paid them completely no mind and elected to stare out the window instead.

Callum sighed. Even tired and hungover, she was beautiful. Her hair was in a high ponytail today and she seemed to be wearing another band t-shirt, though he wasn’t familiar with the group.  

“Ez is fine.” Ezran waved back at the cat. “He’s so cute! Persian cross?”

“Nebelung.” Rayla replied, letting Shadow jump to the ground.

Really?!” Ezran’s excitement seemed to grow. “I’ve never seen one. Where did you get a Nebelung?!”

Rayla chuckled. “My Dad Runaan got a kitten for Ethari as an engagement present so we’ve always had them. I was a bit lonely when I moved here first, and they got me Shadow my first birthday living away.”

“Aw, that’s sweet.” Ezran glanced at Callum, seeming to realise he was excluded from the conversation. “Well, then we better make them some awesome jelly tarts. Ready to roll?”

Rayla raised her eyebrows. “As I’ll ever be.” She washed her hands, then moved her tablet to what seemed to be her windowsill. She grabbed an apron and turned to face them as she pulled it over her head and tied it at the back. The apron was of an old-fashioned design, dainty cherries on a white background, with red lace trimming. “Ok, so butter and sugar first?”

Callum made a mental note to remember this moment. She looked utterly adorable in her little apron.

“Yep.” Ezran moved to grab the bowl when his phone beeped. He pulled it from his pocket and quickly read a message. “Eh, Callum, can you cream the butter and sugar? I need to respond to this text.”

Callum eyed Ezran wearily but obliged. “Ok, I have no idea what I’m doing.” He grabbed the cookbook and glanced at the instructions. “What does ‘cream the butter and sugar’ mean?”

“It means mix them, dummy.” Rayla smirked at him.

Callum tried to appear relaxed. “Well, why not just say that then? Why complicate things?”

“Have you never baked before?” Rayla held her electric mixer in hand.

“Not really and I hadn’t intending on starting today either.” He grabbed their mixer and looked at Rayla for guidance. “And from the state of your first attempt at jelly tarts I’m not quite sure you should be mocking me.”

Rayla’s mouth fell open in feigned surprise, a smile evident in her eyes. “I’m sorry, I can’t hear you over the noise of my mixer.” She put her mixer in her bowl and turned it on before Callum could retort.

He snorted, shaking his head as he mimicked her actions.

“Sorry. Another Ellis emergency.” Ezran mumbled. “Hey, not bad.” He observed Callum’s mixing. “How about you keep going? I can keep a better eye on you both if I’m not baking myself.”

Callum looked sceptical but didn’t argue. Baking and chatting with Rayla was better than being occasional camera man. “You’re going to do the folding bit though, right?”

Ezran shrugged. “I can guide both of you. Ok, that looks good.” He looked up at the tablet. “How’s yours coming along?” He looked at Rayla.

“Good, I think.” She held up the bowl.

“Yep.” Ezran looked proud. “Ok, lets continue.”

Under Ezran’s watchful eye, they added eggs and vanilla before beating once again. When the time came to add flour, Callum unceremoniously dumped it all in the bowl and started the mixer while Ezran once again responded to someone on his phone.

“Callum, no!”

He glanced up at Rayla, confused, just before he was engulfed in a cloud of flour.

Callum turned the mixer off and stood staring at the bowl in shock for a second as Rayla and then Ezran erupted into peels of laughter. He glanced down at his flour covered t-shirt and began to laugh himself. He had managed to cover most of his torso and, he assumed, his head in flour. The bench looked like a soft snow had fallen.

Even Ezran’s hair looked a little grey.

He glanced at Rayla, smiling fondly as she laughed mercilessly on screen.

“You know, one of you could have warned me.” He sighed, laughing, as he began to dust the flour from his shirt.

“In my defence, I tried!” Rayla wiped her eyes.

“Please tell me there’s going to be a gif of this?” Ezran grinned at the tablet, as he began wiping down the counter.

Rayla flushed, a shy smile on her face, as she turned her attention back to her baking.

Ezran chuckled as he turned to Callum. “Ok, start the mixer on low and then build up speed. Beat the dough until it forms breadcrumbs and-” Ezran frowned and pulled his phone out of his pocket. He bit his lip. “Eh, do you think you can follow the recipe for a few minutes? I really need to get this.”

“What? No! Ez!” Callum glanced up from his mixing bowl. His eyes darted to the tablet, finding Rayla engrossed in her own mixing. He hoped the noise of the mixer covered his voice. “Ez, seriously, you’re being… obvious.” He hissed.

Ezran looked up from his phone. “Seriously Callum! Major crisis here. You know my friend Ellis?”

No!?” Callum’s eyes darted up from the bowl.

“So apparently she and her friend Aanya had a movie night last night. Well, they had a few drinks and one thing led to another. Now, she doesn’t know what to do! They’ve been friends for years but-”

“Ugh, go.” Callum rolled his eyes as he shook his head. “But hurry back. I have no idea what I’m doing, and this is important to Rayla.”  

Ezran answered his phone. “One second.” He looked pleadingly at Callum. “I promise, I’ll be back asap.”

Callum frowned at his mixing bowl. Was the mixture bread crumb-y?

“How you going there?”

He looked up to find Rayla finished mixing. “Eh, ok. I think?” He lifted his bowl. “Does this look like breadcrumbs to you?”

“I guess?” She shrugged. “I never know what they mean by that.”

“Glad I’m not the only one.” Callum grinned.

“I’m going to start kneading now.” Rayla didn’t look up as she began to work her dough.

“Eh, ok. Whatever that means.” He began to squish and shape the breadcrumbs.

“Where’s Gordan Ramsey?” Rayla glanced up.

Callum sighed. “Tending to some melodrama. He promised he’d be back soon.”

Rayla chuckled. “I guess I could have just called you when it came to the actual folding bit. I think I managed everything else ok.”

“That still wouldn’t have saved me from this.” Callum glared at his bowl. “So what, I just… squeeze it until it becomes a ball?”

“Aren’t you supposed to be artistic?” Rayla teased.

“This is a whole new kind of art.” Callum shook his head, confidence rising as the mixture began to come together. “Huh, looks like it’s actually working.”

Rayla chuckled. “Ditto.”

“Now what?” Callum looked up at the tablet. “I could go find Ez?”

Rayla frowned, apparently looking at her phone. “Well, the recipe says to chill the dough. I didn’t bother the last time but maybe that’s where I messed up?” She shrugged, looking at Callum.

“Well, it looks like Ez is still play agony aunt so I suppose it wouldn’t hurt.” Callum looked over his own cookbook.

He heard Rayla open some drawers and other kitchen type noises, as she disappeared from view.

Following the instructions before him, he grabbed some clingwrap and secured his dough, then dumped it in the fridge.

He looked back at the tablet, finding it simply showing Rayla’s kitchen. She was clearly still sorting her dough.

What to do? He had no idea how long Ezran was going to be. Maybe they actually could have that coffee and sit in their separate kitchens…?

 “Well, I don’t know about you, but I need more caffeine.” Rayla smiled lopsidedly as she appeared back on screen.

“Eh, yeah, definitely.” Callum smiled to himself.

“So, any plans for the rest of the weekend?” She asked, her kettle boiling as she leaned against her counter.

“I’m meeting a friend for coffee this afternoon but that’s it so far.” Callum spooned coffee grounds into his stovetop espresso maker. “You guys?”

“Dad catch up today. We’re cooking a roast. Then out for brunch tomorrow.” She pushed herself away from the counter as her kettle boiled.

“A roast? That’s domestic.” Callum was impressed. He poured his own coffee, grabbing milk from the fridge.

“Ethari will probably do most of it. He’s trying to ‘train’ me.” She stirred the liquid in her French press, then turned to grab a cup. “We usually go out but I’m not keen on heading anywhere with all the empty tables and social distancing rules.”

“Yeah, it’s not really cosy or relaxing.” Callum took a seat at the breakfast bar.

“Exactly.” Rayla hopped up on her counter and blew on her steaming coffee.

Callum snickered, squinting at the screen. “Is that a Sailor Moon mug?”

Rayla looked at her mug and shrugged. “Yeah, you got a problem with Sailor Moon?” She asked, a crooked smile on her face.

Callum snorted. “Not at all. Just wouldn’t have thought you were into anime.”

Rayla chuckled. “Am I supposed to wear a Sailor scout costume so people know?”

Callum blushed, an image of just such an outfit coming to mind. “Maybe next casual Friday?”

“Only if you dress as Darth Vader.” She arched an eyebrow.

“You don’t think I’d jump at the chance to randomly dress like Darth Vader?”

“Hmm, good point.” She grinned wickedly. “Princess Leia then.”

Callum chuckled.

“In the gold bikini.” She smirked.

“I’m not sure Ezran would appreciate that.” Callum snorted his coffee.

“I would.” She struggled to keep the smile from her face, sipping from her own cup.

Callum beamed back at her.  This was definitely out right flirting. There was no way he was confusing her signals.

“Ugh, sorry about that.” Ezran rushed into the kitchen, stopping abruptly when he found Callum seated and chatting. He made an apologetic face and began to back out but it seemed Rayla had heard him.

“Crisis averted?” She asked, picking at something on her counter.

“Eh, yeah. For now.” Ezran stood behind the tablet, grimacing at Callum. “Sorry.” He signed.

Callum snorted, amused to see Ezran using non-verbal communication. He subtly signed “it ok” back as he spoke. “We’ve got the dough chilling.”

“Oh really?” Ezran made his way to the fridge and peered inside. “Wow, good job. How’s yours looking Rayla?”

She disappeared from the screen for a moment, returning with a clingwrapped ball of pastry. She held it up for the camera and shrugged. “I have no idea. It’s a ball?”

Ezran grinned. “Well, that’s the most we can hope for right now. Is there any more coffee going?” He looked at Callum who inclined his head in the direction of the stove.

“How far is the drive for your Dads?” Callum asked Rayla.

She wrinkled her nose in thought. “About five hours. Give or take. Probably not much traffic, for once.”

“So are they staying over?” Ezran joined Callum at the breakfast bar.

“Yep. Them and their cat, so Shadow will have a buddy.” Rayla grinned.

“Oh, do they get on?” Ezran seemed concerned.

“Usually. Sidhe is huge and imposing, and Shadow knows his place. Gotta play nice with your kickass aunt.”

Callum snorted. “That sounds familiar.”

“Aw, they’re related!” Ezran once again melted at the mention of animals.

“You really love animals.” Rayla remarked.

Ezran grinned. “Sometimes more than people. Ok, coffee finished here.” He put his cup down. “How about you, Rayla?”

“Same.” She glanced at her phone. “And my Dads are not too far away. Guess it’s D-Day.”

Ezran guided them both through rolling out their dough and cutting out the appropriately sized circles.

“My time to shine.” He grinned at Rayla, stepping up to the counter. “Ok, so… you put a little spoonful of the filling in the centre and then… fold up the side… like this…”

Callum fulfilled his duty as camera man, filming Ezran’s technique.

Rayla frowned on screen, then attempted to duplicate his actions. “Eh, ok. Better?”

“That looks really good, Rayla.” Ezran smiled at her.

She laughed. “Thanks.” Another tart folded. “Ok, this one looks a bit better.”

“Definitely an improvement.” Callum sniggered.

“Oh, so you can do better?” Rayla teased, as she attempted to fold her third tart

“Eh.”

“That’s a good point, Rayla.” Ezran grinned at Callum. “Put your money where your mouth is, Callum.”

Callum rolled his eyes but handed over the tablet and stepped up to the counter. He tried to follow Ezran’s simple instructions, finding the execution much more complicated than he anticipated.

First tart complete, he tried a second and third, eventually folding all of the tarts on the tray.

“Ok, lets compare!” Ezran stepped back. “Hold ‘em high, Callum!”

Callum rolled his eyes, laughing, as he lifted up the baking tray of crudely folded jelly tarts.

“Eh, not bad… for a first try.” Ezran critiqued. “How about you Rayla?” He held the tablet at arm’s length, so that he and Callum could observe her efforts.

“Tada!” She lifted her tray, snickering.

“Wow, they look really good!” Ezran genuinely sounded impressed. “Much better than your first attempt.”

“Oh, Callum showed you them?” She put her tray down, blushing a little.

“I wasn’t aware it was confidential information.” He teased back.

Ezran pulled his phone from his pocket once more, though Callum could see there were no notifications on it. “Well, looks like I have another crisis to advert. I guess I can trust you both to put the jelly tarts in the oven.” He winked subtly at Callum. “I hope they turn out ok, Rayla. Send a pic of the finished product to Callum.”

“Will do.” She grinned on the tablet. “Thanks again for getting up so early on a Saturday to help me. I really appreciate it.”

Ezran shrugged. “No problem. Every day is a Saturday at the moment. Enjoy your jelly tarts.” He grinned at Callum once more and snuck out of the kitchen.

“Well, I guess this is it.” Rayla sniggered. “No going back.” She lifted up her baking tray and walked towards where he assumed her oven must be.

On his end, Callum followed suit, sliding the baking tray into the piping hot oven, as he noted the time.

Rayla appear back on screen, her arms behind her back as she undid her apron. “Thanks again for organising this all.” She averted her eyes as she pulled the apron over her head.

“No problem.” Callum sighed happily. “I thought I was only supposed to be cameraman, but I guess I gained some new skills.”

“First learning how to read contracts and legal documents, now baking jelly tarts.” Rayla smirked. “Aren’t you lucky you got sued?”

Callum ignored the butterflies in his stomach. “I am.”

Rayla laughed softly, biting her lip. Before she could respond, her phone started ringing. She picked it up and glanced at the screen. “Ah, Dads are here.” She looked at him apologetically. “I should go let them in.” She pushed a strand of hair behind her ear. “Em, thanks for today. I had fun, despite a pounding headache.”

“Me too.” Callum smiled back. “Minus the headache. Em, I guess… chat to you tomorrow or something?”

Rayla tried unsuccessfully to hide her smile. “Chat to you tomorrow.” She gave a little wave, then disappeared from screen.

Callum groaned as he grabbed the tablet and put it face down on the counter, a deep fear that she might somehow be able to see him, then he dropped his face into his hands.

This was torture. What was he doing? Rayla lived in Duren! They were only now allowed to go out for some groceries or a coffee, never mind entertaining some kind of long distance… relationship.

“Oh no, what did you do?” Ezran looked at him from the doorway, a worried look on his face.

“I didn’t do anything.” Callum stood up and made his way to a cupboard. He grabbed a glass and poured himself some water. “That’s the problem.”

“Just say something, Callum!” Ezran pulled at his hair. “You like her, she clearly likes you! What’s the problem?”

Callum downed his water, sighing. “We’re both idiots?”

Ezran rolled his eyes as he made his way to the oven to check on Callum’s attempt at jelly tarts. “No arguments here.”

 

 

~~~

 

 

 

Callum strolled into Atomic and glanced around for Claudia. Between her distinctive purple tipped dark hair and the lack of tables, she wasn’t particularly hard to spot.

“Hey.” He smiled, slipping into the chair opposite her.

“Call!” She beamed getting to her feet and hugging him in his seat. “Long time, no see.”

He chuckled. “Aren’t we supposed to be social distancing?”

She jumped back, wincing, and laughing. “Oh yeah! I’m really bad at it.”

“I can tell.” He smiled as she took her seat once again. “So, how have you been? I imagine weeks locked up was torture to you.”

“Yes!” She replied, her eyes wide. “I read heaps, watched everything on Netflix, and even took up crochet. I’m ready to strangle my housemate, so I’m glad to see you.”

“Well, if I can help you avoid murder…”

“That’s the spirit!” She slapped him on the arm. “How have you and Ez managed?”

“Fine.” Callum glanced at the menu, already knowing what he was going to order. “Ez has been cooking and baking heaps, which kept him busy. He’s actually a decent cook.”

“That’s handy! You’ll have to have me and Soren around for a dinner party.” Claudia raised her eyebrows at the  waitress.

“Hey guys, ready to order?” The pretty plump girl asked, notebook in hand.

“I’ll have the Nutella waffles and a frappe, please?” Claudia handed over her menu.

“Avo on toast for me, thanks.” Callum offered her his menu as well. “And an orange juice.”

“No problem, guys.” She didn’t bother writing anything down as she turned away.

“So, what have you been doing to keep busy?” Claudia leaned back in her chair. “I haven’t heard from you much recently.”

Callum felt his face burn and hoped it wasn’t too obvious. He and Claudia had been friends since they were children and they usually told each other everything, but for some reason, he didn’t want to tell her about the whole Rayla… thing.

He wasn’t even sure what to say?

I’ve been messaging and chatting with that hot, scary lawyer.”

Maybe she would be able to give him a female perspective on it though? She might be able to decipher some of those cryptic messages. Although, after the morning baking date, he was pretty sure he wasn’t being cocky about it all.

On the other hand, Claudia was a notorious gossip and she would definitely tell Soren.

He would absolutely let it slip to everyone.

And considering they all worked for the same company, it wouldn’t take long for their entire work groups to find out.

He was struggling enough with Ezran and his constant need for updates and supposed ‘help’. He definitely didn’t need random co-workers snickering behind his back.

“Similar, I guess. Minus the crochet thing.” Callum glanced up as the waitress brought their meals and drinks.

“How’s being sued going?” Claudia asked around a mouthful of waffle.

Callum swallowed his toast before answering. “Fine, I guess. Looks like it might be wrapping up. Rayla sent off some massive letter the other day. She thinks that will be the end of it.”

Claudia’s eyes widened and she chewed quickly so she could speak. “Soooo… give me the goss on her! What’s she like? Steve said she’s a total bitch.”

Callum felt his stomach clench. “She’s not a bitch. She’s nice. Really nice.”

“She got Steve fired!” Claudia mumbled; her mouth full.

“He was harassing the summer interns!” Callum replied, unimpressed.

“How are you supposed to date in that sort of environment?” Claudia took a sip of her frappe. “Seriously, if the company is that angsty about employee dating what are you supposed to do? You have to tip toe around things until you know if the other person is interested.” She explained very slowly, as if Callum was dense.

He frowned at her. The company was angsty about employees dating? “Yeah, well, he was their supervisor. It’s gross if a guy in his thirties is creeping on the teenage work experience kids who report to him.”

Claudia shrugged. “Some chicks are into that.”

Callum snorted, taking a sip of his juice. “Well, those chicks clearly weren’t.”

Claudia made a goofy face. “Ok, enough of that. Tell me more. What awesome meal is Ezran going to cook for me and Soren. It feels like AGES since we all hung out. Let’s organise something soon!”

 

~~~

 

 

 

 

“Ok, well it was so good to catch up in person.” Claudia hugged him again, all care lost to social distancing. “Talk to Ez and we’ll definitely do a thing!”

“Sounds good.” Callum smiled back at her. “It was good catching up.”

“Absolutely!” Claudia winked. “We should do it more now we’ve been allowed out. It’s great hanging in the office but honestly, I hope we never go back there. Working from home is where it’s at!”

“I get that.” Callum chuckled. “Well, I better get back. Gordon Ramsey is making chicken parmigiana tonight.”

“Yum!” Claudia pouted. “I’m probably going to have toast or something equally exciting.”

“I’ll be sure to send you a pic.” Callum waved as he began to make his way back to his apartment.

“Don’t you dare!” Claudia mock glared at him as she walked in the opposite direction.

Callum’s smiled dropped as he walked the short distance home. What did Claudia mean about the company being angsty about workplace relationships? Was that why Rayla seemed so… confusing at times. Flirty but then would pull back?

He sighed, if that truly was the case, was this whole thing doomed before it even started?

His phone buzzed in his pocket and he pulled it out to find a picture message from Rayla. It was a selfie of her, Shadow and what he assumed where her Dads, their cat and a plate of jelly tarts.

Rayla - Thanks again to you and Ezran for all your help with the jelly tarts. They were a hit.

Callum sighed, his eyes taking in her pretty, smiling face.

Callum – No problem.

He really was in trouble.

Chapter Text

Rayla pulled her pillow over her head as her alarm blared ridiculously loud. Her head ached and her mouth was parched. It was a Saturday, what the hell was her alarm going off at 0710 for?!

Oh yeah, baking day.

She sat up, turning off her alarm, then grabbed her water bottle and downed most of it.

She unlocked her phone, to find a message from Ethari to tell her they would be leaving soon. It was a long drive from Xadia to Duren.

She navigated to her message conversation with Callum. It would make sense to message him to ensure he and Ezran will still on for baking.

She frowned at her screen.

She had no memory of sending those messages.

What the hell?

Oh dear… Oh no.   

She grimaced in embarrassment. Could she have been any more obvious?! What the hell was that single comment?

That was the least subtle thing ever written.

She groaned, face in her hands as she tried to think of how to salvage this mess. Drawing a blank, she elected to ignore it in the face of showering and getting caffeinated.

Everything was easier after caffeine.

She frowned at the counter as she waited for the kettle to boil. How had she been so stupid and flirty with him? She was supposed to be playing it cool. At the very least until they sorted this case out.  

Her phone buzzed on the counter and she glanced at the message notification. She was careful not to open the app and send a read receipt.

Callum – So… how’s your head this morning?

She smiled fondly at her phone. Was he being nice or was he trying to let her down easy? She had come on pretty strong last night. She turned her phone upside down in a vain attempt to distance herself from her embarrassment.

She opened a drawer and grabbed her paracetamol. Second task this morning; get rid if headache.

Coffee made, she padded into her bathroom and turned on the shower.

She really should message Callum. He might start to worry she had slept in, considering her ridiculous messages last night.

She sighed. Hopefully, he’d be nice and just… ignore her drunken ramblings.

Rayla – Kill me

              Wine hangover.

              My head hurts.

Callum – Think you’ll be able to bake?

She smiled at his response. He was cute. If the situation were reversed, she would definitely be teasing him right now.

Rayla – No choice. Promised Dads jelly tarts

Callum – Well, we’re pretty much ready here.

Rayla – I need coffee and shower before I contemplate anything.

 

 

~~~

 

 

 

Rayla smiled happily as she picked up her phone. “You guys are here?”

“We are.” Ethari’s soft voice came across her speaker. “We’re parked outside the garage.”

She glanced at her security feed. “Yep, I see you. I’ll buzz you in.”

“Thanks darling. See you in a few minutes.”

Rayla sighed, happy for the distraction and the out. She once again failed at not flirting with Callum. It just seemed impossible to have any conversation with him without descending almost immediately to flirting. What the hell was wrong with her?

Putting her coffee on the counter, she made her way to the door, intending on being ready and waiting when Runaan, Ethari and Sidhe arrived.

It had been a fun morning though. More fun than she had imagined really. And certainly more fun than she anticipated it would be when she woke up with a dire wine hangover.

She bit her lip, thinking back on her coffee conversation with Callum.

“Aren’t you lucky you got sued?”

“I am.”

He was being honest, right? That seemed to be his thing. He was genuine and nice. Not like her and her inability to be straight forward.

She was being stupid. Even without the weird issues at work, he lived in a totally different city. They have no idea if they even really had proper chemistry. Sure, he was cute across a laptop but what if he smelled weird or had bad breath?

What if they just didn’t click?

What if the isolation had messed with her brain and she was building this all up in her head? What if they eventually met in some random future and there was just… nothing.  

The lift dinged, distracting her from her thoughts.

She grinned as the doors opened and Ethari and Runaan emerged on the floor.

“Hi!” She beamed, rushing to meet them.

Ethari unceremoniously handed a cage to Runaan and embraced her.

“Good to see you, Rayla.” He sighed. “Its been far too long.”

“It has.” She stepped back, happily accepting a hug from Runaan as Sidhe protested from her carrier. “How was the drive up?”

Runaan gestured for them to proceed into the apartment. “Uneventful. The roads were very clear.”

 “How was Sidhe?” Rayla stood back to let them in.

“Fantastic.” Ethari smiled as he bent down to let Sidhe free.

Rayla grinned as Shadow came to investigate, then immediately scampered off to hide under to sofa. Sidhe strutted her way into the lounge, sniffing around momentarily before making herself comfortable on the sofa.   

“Something smells wonderful.” Ethari made his way into the kitchen.

“Oh, the hamantaschen!” Rayla rushed to the oven, relaxing to find them not quite golden.

Ethari bent down next to her, peering in the oven. “Nice work.” He grinned at her. “What on earth has isolation done to you?”

 

 

~~~

 

 

 

 

“So, how’s work? You enjoying working from home?”

Rayla sighed, peeling potatoes next to Ethari. She glanced at Runaan, reclined on the sofa sipping his wine and watching some architectural show on television.

“Its... ok.” She shrugged, pointedly avoiding Ethari’s eyes.

“Only ok?” Ethari paused peeling to look at her. “I thought you were enjoying that frog case?”

Rayla blushed a little, her thoughts drifting to Callum. “Yeah, that case is fun.” She exhaled. “Its not my usual case work though. The other stuff... corp law and that? It’s starting to feel a little... soulless.”

Ethari smiled at her. “Maybe you need a change of pace?”

Rayla’s eyes once again darted to Runaan. “I was... looking around before the whole isolation thing, but I think most companies have put hiring on hold until it’s all over.”

“Really?” Ethari seemed happy. “Anything serious?”

She shrugged again, her eyes on her hands as she continued working on the vegetables. “Well, I was hoping so. I had a few interviews but like I said, I think everything is on hold at the moment.”

“Well hopefully, the whole situation finishes soon, and you find something you like.” Ethari commiserated.

“Yeah, hopefully.” Rayla bit her lip. “Can you not tell Runaan until something more concrete happens?”

Ethari rolled his eyes and shook his head, a wry smile on his lips.” Keeping secrets from your Dad?”

“I just don’t want to disappoint him.” Rayla sighed, staring at her half-peeled potato. “I know he's happy I made senior already. He would probably try and talk me out of it.”

Ethari bumped her with his hip, speaking softly. “Rayla, he wants you to be happy.”

“I know. I just... I haven’t really been entertaining it, if that makes sense? You’re the first person I’ve actually spoken to about it.”

Ethari sighed, some of the merriment leaving his voice. “You should confide in people more, Rayla. Your friends.”

Rayla snorted. “Duren is not the easiest place to make friends.”

Ethari put a hand on her shoulder. “Well, maybe if you opened up a little more?”

“What join a book club?” She snorted.

“Oh, are you going to make fun of my book club again?” Ethari sighed, a cheeky smile on his face.

I don’t think sitting around discussing Austen is really for me.” Rayla grinned.

“Book club?” Runaan called out from the sofa. “They do not discuss the book. They just drink wine and cackle.”

Ethari grinned and called back. “We invited you to join us.” He winked at Rayla. “We had zoom book club last night. He was not impressed.”

“No, I was not.” Runaan got up and made his way to the kitchen, a small smile on his face. “But at least I didn’t have to physically remove a bunch of drunk ladies from my house like when we last hosted.”

 

 

~~~

 

 

 

Rayla placed the plate of jelly tarts on the coffee table, smiling happily at Ethari and Runaan as they reclined on the sofa, both trapped by a cat on each of their laps.

“They look wonderful, Rayla.” Runaan said, looking more than impressed.

“Certainly, an improvement on the snap you sent me last week.” Ethari teased.

“Thanks.” She shrugged. “I had a little help this time around.”

“Oh yes, one of your workmates?” Runaan shifted Sidhe around so he could get a better look at the pastries 

“Eh, yep.” Rayla felt her cheeks burn as Ethari narrowed his eyes at her. “Tea?”

“Yes please.” Runaan didn’t seem to pick up on Rayla’s discomfort.

Rayla returned, three steaming cups in hand.

“So, who was it who helped you with the hamantaschen?” Ethari accepted his cup, squinting at her.

“Eh, just a guy from work.” Rayla offered Runaan his tea.

He started a little, frowning slightly at her.   

“And his brother.” She continued, settling into the armchair.

Runaan shrugged, sipping his tea.

“Actually.” Rayla blushed, remembering her promise to Callum. “We should get a selfie.”

“A selfie?” Runaan raised an eyebrow.

“That’s a wonderful idea, Rayla.” Ethari elbowed his husband in the ribs. “We’ve got the ‘three’ generations here, after all.”

Runaan rolled his eyes, but threw his arm around Ethari’s shoulder, moving closer and making room for Rayla.

She set her phone up on a timer on the coffee table, taking care to check the angle, then settled next to Runaan. Sidhe and Shadow made themselves comfortable. Just before the timer went off, Rayla darted forward and grabbed the plate of hamantaschen, grinning at her phone.

She leaned forward and grabbed the phone, smiling at the photo. She looked reasonable in it. Still a little pale but it would do.

She collapsed back into the armchair, navigating to her message conversation with Callum.

Rayla - Thanks again to you and Ezran for all your help with the jelly tarts. They were a hit.

She smiled, happy to have a reason to message him again.

Callum – No problem.

“I’m waiting….?” Ethari teased.

“Huh?” Rayla glanced up from her phone.

“Well, you took that photo for us, right?” Ethari grinned knowingly.

“Eh, yeah, of course.” Rayla avoided eye contact as she sent him the photo.

 

 

~~~

 

 

 

 

Rayla gasped arching off the bed, at the exquisite feel of his lips on her neck. She ran her fingers through his hair, bucking her hips upwards to grind desperately against him.

He chuckled darkly against her throat, his hips thrusting slowly against hers.

“Fuck!" she gasped, as he sucked harshly on her skin.

There would be a mark from that later.

He trailed kisses down her chest and stomach, his actions slow and teasing.

She screwed her eyes shut as he nipped her hip bone, just strong enough to illicit a strangled cry from her lips.

“Rayla.”

She moaned softly at his husky tone.

“Rayla, look at me.”

She obeyed immediately, her eyes on his teasing forest green ones as he grinned wickedly from between her thighs.

*BEEP BEEP BEEP*

Rayla startled awake, confused as to where she was.

Her phone alarm blared piercingly in her ear.

She looked around the room for Callum before reality came crashing down upon her.

It had all been a dream.

Groaning, she grabbed her phone, turning off her alarm with a disgruntled sigh.

Frustrated, she threw her phone on the other side of the bed, then whimpered in exasperation.

That had been an insanely vivid dream.

Too vivid.

Her breath was coming in pants and she was warm and damp in her underwear.

There was no way she could ignore that.

It felt a little pervy, but she was too wound up to care. Tentatively, she slipped her hand under the waste band of her pyjamas and down her stomach, closing her eyes and trying to imagine it wasn’t her own hand.

“Rayla, was that your alarm?” Runaan's voice was loud through the door.

Rayla glared at him through the wood. “Yeah.” She tried to keep her answers short in the hope he would give her five minutes.

Hell, she was so wound up she probably only needed two.

“Good timing. Ethari just made coffee.” Runaan somehow sounded closer than before.

She rolled her eyes. “Ok, I’ll be out in a minute.”

Or two.

“Is Rayla awake?”

She sighed heavily as she made out Ethari’s voice from the kitchen. 

“Yes, love.” Runaan called from outside the door.

“Wonderful! I just finished pouring her a coffee.” Ethari’s voice grew louder as he approached.  

Fuck!” She swore under her breath. “Great, I’m coming now.”

Or not, if they didn’t give her two minutes.

She jumped as her door opened, flushing crimson as she pulled her hand from her underwear. “Wha?!”

Ethari beamed as he strolled into her room, a steaming mug in his hand. “Good morning.” He offered it to her. “How did you sleep?”

“Em, fine.” Rayla flushed, her eyes resolutely on the cup as she took it from him.

“It’s a lovely morning.” Runaan leaned against the doorway, Shadow in his arms. “We thought we could go for a walk before brunch.”

“Sure, sounds nice.” Rayla took a sip of her coffee, hoping they would leave her alone.

“Ok, well, we’ve already showered if you want to go ahead. I made the reservation for eleven and the walk I looked up will take approximately an hour and twenty minutes, we should probably be going soon.”

Rayla chuckled. She had forgotten how detailed Runaan’s plans could be. “Ok, I’ll just finish my coffee first.”

“Give her a few minutes to wake up, my love.” Ethari chuckled at his husband.

Runaan shrugged, “Fine. I shall feed the cats.”

Rayla rolled her eyes, chuckling. Excellent. She just needed a few minutes alone and then she would jump in the shower.

“So,” Ethari sat next to her in bed. “What do you recommend from this brunch place?”

 

 

~~~

 

 

Rayla closed the door to her en suite, resting her forehead against it and sighing. Ethari had stayed chatting through her entire coffee, only leaving once Runaan had ushered him out.

And then he had immediately turned around and hurried her into the shower.

Oh well, alone time in the shower it was.

She turned the water on, testing the temperature before she began to strip off her pyjamas.

She sighed as the piping hot water caressed her skin. It was lovely having her Dads visit but it also reminded her of being a teenager and having zero personal space.

She closed her eyes, trying to let her mind wander back to her dream earlier as she lightly ran her hands over her stomach.

“Rayla?”

She bit her lip harshly, struggling to keep her temper under wraps. “Yeah?” Despite her best efforts, her voice came out short.

“Where do you keep the kitty litter?” Ethari’s muffled voice called across the door.

“In the laundry.” She bit back, shaking her head.

“Thanks, sweetheart.”

She sighed again as his footsteps retreated.

“Rayla?” This time Runaan knocked on the door.

What?!” She banged her head against the shower screen. Yep, definitely remembering why she was really happy to have her own place.

“How much food do you give Shadow? I gave him a cup full, but we usually give Shide a bit more than that.”

“Yeah, that’s fine. He’s fine.” She glared at the door.

“Ok.”

She attempted to resume her activities when there was a knock on the door again.

“Rayla, I used all the kitty litter. We should get more when were out, ok?” Ethari called out.

Rayla gritted her teeth. “Ok, fine. I’ll remember.”

“What are you doing?” Runaan asked. “Let Rayla shower. We’re running late now. I’ll see if I can find an alternative route for our walk.”

“I’m just telling Rayla we need more kitty litter.” Ethari said.

“Oh really? I brought some actually. It’s in the car.” Runaann replied.

“Good thinking.” Ethari sounded happy.

“What the fuck?” Rayla muttered under her breath. “Ok, I’ll just be another minute.” She called out to them.

“You should hurry, Rayla. We really are running late.” Runaan sounded unimpressed.

Rayla sighed, turning off the shower. She knew from experience she would get no peace from him when he was like this. And all the talk of kitty litter had managed to completely kill the mood anyway. “Ok, I’m done.” She sighed heavily as she stepped out of the shower.

“Ok. We will give you some privacy to get dressed.” Runaan’s voice sounded a little more quiet.

“Thanks.” Rayla rolled her eyes as she dried herself off.

She selected her favourite Led Zeppelin t-shirt and a maxi skirt and made her way to the living room, to find Runaan frowning at his watch.

He looked up, sighing. “Finally.”

 

 

~~~

 

 

 

Rayla smiled at the waiter as she placed her order.

Her Dads had managed to get on her nerves, and she was still… angsty… but this was nice. She had suggested this place because it was so beautiful and relaxing. Their table looked out over a canal, the early summer day bright and clear. Waterfowl splashed and frolicked before them, the advanced trees casting the entire area in a light green glow.

She grinned at Ethari and Runaan as they all relaxed, orders placed.

“This really is a beautiful place.” Runaan gazed over the water.

“Yeah, I like it here.” Rayla relaxed in her chair. It was her favourite café in Duren.

Her phone buzzed loudly on the table.

She glanced at it, her fingers itching to check what it was. She assumed it was a message from Callum. Most of her notifications were from Callum of late.

“Sorry?” She glanced at Ethari, not a clue what he asked her.

“I just asked if you come here often?” Ethari grinned at her, his eyes darting to her phone.

“Oh no, not really. It’s kind of a special place, you know? It would feel a little weird coming here on my own.”

“No friends you’d come here with? Someone special?” Ethari raised his eyebrows, his gaze on her phone momentarily.

Rayla blushed, rolling her eyes. “No.”

“You can check, if you like?” Ethari teased.

“It won’t be anything important.” She pretended she wasn’t concerned by the contents of her notification.

“Indulge me.” Ethari smirked.

Rayla bit her lip. She did desperately want to check her phone. “Fine.” She sighed in an exaggerated manner as she picked up her phone. Her stomach dropped. “See?” She held her phone up to Ethari and Runaan. “Just Pet Barn telling me they’ve 20% off kitty litter.”

“Well, that’s good timing, at least.” Runaan remarked.

 

 

 

~~~

 

 

 

Rayla reclined in the chair, sipping the delicious wine her Dads had brought from home. She adored spicy Xadian wine and some of the small, local vineyards where her absolutely favourites.

Her phone buzzed next to her and she glanced at Runaan and Ethari as she picked up her phone. They looked relaxed on the couch, enjoying Runaan’s choice of movie (thankfully) while both cats lounged across them.

She tried to contain her smile, finding the message was from Callum.

She opened her phone to find a picture message from him.

“More jelly tarts at the Prom today.”

Ezran grinned happily in between Callum and an older bearded man, who Rayla assumed must be their Dad.

RaylaDidn’t bring your frog?

Callum – He was hiding in Ez’s magic backpack. Barius was not in a great mood today.

Rayla – That frog has a more hectic social life than I do.

Callum – Ditto

Rayla – So is he going to be tagging along when I get my long-awaited jelly tart?

Rayla frowned as Callum seemed to pause in his messaging.

“Not that interested in Primal Fear, Rayla?” Ethari winked at her.

Rayla rolled her eyes, struggling to suppress her grin, pointedly ignoring him.

Callum – Not if I can help it.

Chapter Text

Monday 09:07

 

From: Rayla Ghaelach

To: Callum Prince

CC: Gren Oakenfield, Opeli McGill

Dear Callum,

I trust this finds you well.

I am delighted to inform you that Arthur Kasef has retracted his claim of copyright infringement against you.

The case is now considered resolved.

No further action is required on your part.

Kind regards,

Rayla.

 

From: Gren Oakenfield

To: Rayla Ghaelach

CC: Opeli McGill, Callum Prince

Hi Rayla,

Excellent!

Thanks for all your help with this case.

I’m sure Callum will be delighted to put it behind him.

Cheers,

Gren.

 

Callum frowned at his computer.

Well, that was that. He was mildly annoyed that he hadn’t had a chance to reply to Rayla before Gren did. His boss was quick off the mark for a Monday morning.

Callum took a sip of his coffee and grabbed his phone.

Well, that was the end of their professional relationship. No more need for emails. It was kind of strange to think of it like that.

If not for Ezran’s dumb frog, maybe things would have gone differently.

Would they have started messaging each other? It all started with that gif.

Maybe, if Ez had been just a little better at keeping Bait under lock and key, today would have been a funny, bittersweet day. His lawsuit would be over, but he’d never see Rayla again.

And he’d never have got to know her. Never have got into Star Wars versus Star Trek debates or contemplated the fact he might have to go the rest of his life without pineapple on pizza (if she had her way). He’d never have learnt what the Xadian meaning of hump day was, or that Cornettos were (apparently) superior to Drumsticks.

It was hard to believe he only ‘met’ her two weeks ago.

They just… clicked. It felt like he’d known her for ages. Despite his nerves and anxiety, when he was chatting to her or messaging her, it just felt right. Natural.

He didn’t want that to go away.

Callum: So Kermit gave up?

He stared at his phone for a few seconds, not unsurprised to find she hadn’t read his message. She was probably busy.

Resuming drinking his coffee, he ignored his weekend build-up of e-mails in favour of searching through HR policies and guidelines.

There didn’t seem to be a specific policy on employee relationships, which meant he had no choice but to actually read through all the other ones to see if there was any reference to dating co-workers.

He briefly considered messaging Claudia about it, but he wasn’t quite that desperate. Not yet anyway.

There was no way he could have that conversation with Claudia without her prying endlessly as to why he was interested. Or rather, who he was interested in.

Claudia might be a bit wacky, but she was clever. She would quickly put two and two together, realising that the only new girl to come into his life of late was Rayla, and then all bets were off.

And it was hard enough dealing with Ezran, he did not need to add another spectator to the shambles that had become his dealings with Rayla.

 

 

10:22

Callum frowned at his phone.

As yet, no response from Rayla.

This day was absolutely dragging. He had lots of work to keep him busy, but he just couldn’t concentrate on anything.

Anything, bar his phone.

Reading painfully boring HR documents was not helping in the slightest either. Every minute seemed to drag and looking at the clock was becoming a lesson in frustration.

Was it too early to make another coffee? He’d be a jittery mess by the end of the day if he kept drinking at that rate.

Maybe some orange juice would keep him going.

 

 

11:48

Callum’s stomach grumbled, but he didn’t feel like eating. He had been steadfastly avoiding looking at his phone all morning.

Still no word from Rayla.

He frowned, thinking back upon the documents he had read. There was a lot of discussion of ethical behaviour and harassment but nothing explicit about prohibiting relationships.

Not completely.

There was some stuff about disclosure and abuse of power, but it was all pretty wishy washy, and he couldn’t really tell if it was definitely against the rules or merely frowned upon.

It sure would help to have a lawyer or someone explain it to him.

Sighing, he grabbed his phone and scrolled to their message conversation. His stomach dropped a little to see she had now read his message but hadn’t responded.

Maybe she was just really busy?

Really, really busy.

Their conversation over the weekend had been friendly. Exchanging selfies seemed to be a natural progression into something more… more what? What name could he even put on this? Friends? Committed flirting?

Pseduo-almost long-distance pre-dating?

And now the case was over, was… it over? Whatever he thought they had?

Maybe he had been deluding himself?

Running a hand through his hair, he decided hungry or not, he needed a break.

 

 

14:11

Callum tried desperately to complete his project, but he was uninspired. His mind kept drifting to Rayla.

His pen too.

Numerous layers were hidden in this project, half finished sketches of her from the past few weeks.

He frowned at his current layer, a sketch of her in that cute little apron from Saturday.

That was definitely against the ethical behaviour guideline.

Replaying their interactions and re-reading their messages in a vain effort to, once again, try and figure out just what the hell was going on between them had not proven fruitful.

For the umpteenth time, he cursed isolation. And the fact they lived in different cities.

Sure, he wasn’t particularly adept at dating and… all that but it had to be easier than this.

He just wanted to meet her, see her in person. He needed to know if she was as captivating in real life as she was in this weird half-dream world she now occupied.  

He sighed heavily as he glanced at the various half completed drawings of her, then saved his file to his personal account and opened a “definitely work and no Rayla sketches” file.

Though it would certainly be best not to name it that.

 

 

17:23

Callum snorted as the frog on his screen made a distinctive ‘meowing’ sound.

The title was bang on, “The "meowing" frog!!! Lol”

Lol indeed. Well, sensible chuckle more like.

Rayla would love this. A frog/cat hybrid. It definitely seemed like her thing.

Regardless, it would elicit some teasing from her, something he very much enjoyed.

He frowned, glancing at his phone. Still no word from her though.

Not wanting to seem like a desperate weirdo, he closed the tab, electing not to share it with her.

This long silence was probably a message and there was no need to further humiliate himself.

Pushing his chair away from his desk, he got to his feet and made his way to the kitchen. He had got precious little work done today. A few drafts completed and a surprisingly nice video-chat with Gren, but that was all he had to show for the day.

Gren had been his usual chipper self. Apparently, on Friday, the whole team was going to finish early and have pizza and beers now that restrictions had eased once again.

That was something to look forward to, at least. Messaging his workmates just wasn’t the same as interacting with them, shooting the breeze at their desks, or going for a stroll to one of the local cafes for coffee.

Working from home was nice, but he was excited to catch up with everyone.

Entering the kitchen, Callum began pulling out mince from the fridge and preparing dinner. While Ezran had been bitten by the culinary bug during isolation, he decidedly had not and rarely strayed from his tried and trusted staples.

Spaghetti and meatballs, it was.

“Hey,” Ezran peered around his bedroom door before making his way into the kitchen. “Finished early?”

“Yeah.” Callum glanced up, his hands working the meat into appropriately sized balls. “Couldn’t get into it today.”

“Speak to Rayla?” Ezran hopped up on the counter.

“Eh, not today.” Callum wasn’t really in the mood to talk about it. Everything seemed to be going so well at the baking thing. Ez had teased him mercilessly after but he thought it was at least worth it.

He wasn’t so sure now.

“Oh?” Ezran seemed as confused as he was.

“The weirdo dropped the case. I guess she’s busy tying all that up.” Callum kept his eyes on the bowl in front of him. He hoped Ez picked up on the fact he didn’t want to talk about it right now.

“That makes sense.” Ezran hopped off the counter. “Need a hand?”

“Na, I’m good.” Callum smiled up at him, grateful he had at least picked up on his reluctant energy. He was feeling a little better for the company at least. “Find something good to watch on Netflix?”

“That I can do.”

 

 

~~~

 

 

Rayla chewed on her fingernail as she stared at Callum’s message.

Again.

What a day.

She had been pretty happy to see Kermit backing down. Her direct work relationship with Callum was now severed, which meant she could begin to think about... everything that could potentially come after.

Before she could even begin to consider that though, Opeli had dropped a bomb.

She was resigning.

She had recommended Rayla take her position as superintendent until a replacement was found. Which meant Rayla was now in charge of not, only the department, but also organising their end of quarter celebration on the 21st.

Saturday.

It was their turn to travel which meant Rayla had to oversee the flight and accommodation bookings for her team.

And oh yeah, it was in Katolis.

She thought she did a reasonably good job of pretending she knew all of this in her zoom meeting with Opeli and their manager. Clearly this was what she had missed during their zoom drinks on Friday.

Professionally, things had never been better but personally? Everything had just got infinitely more complicated.

She’d been debating what to say all day. Opeli's resignation had surprised everyone but to then immediately get lumped with de facto superintendent was beyond daunting.

Being expected to organise the entire end of quarter celebration was really not what she needed on top of that.

In addition to her regular duties, she now had superintendent responsibilities, a trip to manage and, a furious internal debate about whether or not she should mention the trip to Callum.

If she said something, they’d have to meet, wouldn’t they? This might be their only chance for who knew how long.

And that was weirdly terrifying.

It would have been nerve wracking before all this super stuff but Opeli leaving was just an added complication.

Professionally, it was amazing. She got a nice mark on her CV for standing into the super role and she was now able to use Opeli as a reference if anything ever happened with those interviews she had been on.

But… Opeli was by the book. To a fault. If she found out Rayla was in a relationship with a guy two levels below her, a guy who used to be her client…? Rayla blushed just imagining the conversation.

Which, once again, was getting way ahead of herself. Maybe she wouldn’t even have any chemistry with Callum. Maybe he wasn’t as cute in person as he was across the screen. Maybe he chewed with his mouth open or smelled like frogs or something?

Maybe she was reaching a bit…

The most sensible thing to do would be to be an adult about this. Catch up for a coffee and see if there were real life sparks or if they were both a bit stressed out as a result of isolation. 

Stressed out and desperate for any sort of connection.

She would just go from there.

Rayla – Hey, sorry for the delay. Hectic day here

              Happy to be free?

She bit her lip, waiting for a response. Maybe it would just be easier to throw it all out there rather than beating around the bush.

              So… you hanging around Katolis next weekend?

Callum – Yeah?

Rayla – Any plans for Saturday morning?

She gritted her teeth, butterflies in her stomach.

Callum – Not yet

Rayla – You want to make good on that promised jelly tart?

Callum – huh?

 

 

~~~

 

 

Callum lounged on the sofa, dirty plate on the coffee table next to Ezran’s. He was paying zero attention to the show Ezran had selected. Some zombie series. He couldn’t get into it.

He took a sip of his beer, frowning to find it finished.

“You want a drink?” He got to his feet, grabbing their dirty plates.

“I’m good.” Ezran glanced at him briefly. “Want me to pause?”

“Na.” Callum sighed, making his way to the kitchen counter. He deposited the plates in the dishwasher and grabbed a beer from the fridge, before making his way to the lounge. With an exaggerated sigh, he slumped back into his chair.

He glanced at his phone, choking a little on his beer to see a blinking notification light.

Nervously, he picked up the device.

His heart skipped a beat. It was a message from Rayla.

Rayla Hey, sorry for the delay. Hectic day here

              Happy to be free?

              So… you hanging around Katolis next weekend?

Callum frowned as he read the messages. Around Katolis?

Callum – Yeah?

Rayla – Any plans for Saturday morning?

Callum – Not yet

Rayla – You want to make good on that promised jelly tart?

Callum – huh?

Callum re-read her messages. Where was this going? Maybe she wanted to do another baking date thing.

Rayla – We have our quarterly team building dinner/conference this weekend.

              In Katolis

Callum continued to stare at his phone. She was coming to Katolis? This weekend? And she wanted to hang out?

He took a large swig of his beer.

Callum – Seriously?

Rayla – Yeah?

Callum – You’re coming all the way to Katolis for a team building dinner?

Rayla – Are you trying to get out of the jelly tart thing?

Callum snorted. As if.

Callum – No! It’s just really random

Rayla – We usually do a big dinner at the end of every quarter and each office travels once a year. It’s our turn this quarter.

Callum – Wow. We’re getting a pizza party.

Rayla – Aw, that’s cute. It’s like you’re a high school softball team.

Callum – So jelly tarts then?

Rayla – If you’re free?

Callum snorted. He’d cancel breakfast with The Queen of Del Bar for this.

Callum – Yeah, I’m free.

Rayla – More importantly though…

Callum – What?

Rayla – Is Bait free?

Chapter Text

Tuesday – 11:26

Rayla sat cross legged on her chair, grinning at her phone. She had mountains of work to attend to, but it was just way too hard to ignore her messages right now.

Callum – Looks like good weather for Saturday. You sure you want to go to Barius place for jelly tarts? It’s a bit of a drive.

Rayla – You said those are the best jelly tarts in Katolis!

She was grinning like an idiot, one hand unconsciously pulling at the hem of her shirt.

Callum – And I stand by that! It’s about a 40 min drive there but it’s worth it.

Rayla – How long does the walk take?

Callum – About an hour or so. There’s a short cut on the way back so we usually budget two hours for the whole thing.

              Not including travel time.

              Does that fit with your conference stuff?

Rayla bit her lip. They were actually going to meet up! It seemed so surreal.

She was being utterly ridiculous for being this excited about catching up with a guy for a stroll and a coffee.

Isolation had definitely broken her in some manner.

She had never felt like this before.

Rayla – 4 hours for it all? That should work. Pre-drinks are at 16:30, which I have to attend now I’m stand in super.

Callum – How’s that going?

She sighed. He was sweet.

Rayla – Fine, I guess. Timing sucks with having to actually organise this trip. And play Mom to everyone.

           And I have to give a presentation the morning after as well.

Callum – But at least you get jelly tarts.

She blushed, rolling her eyes.

Yeah, jelly tarts.

That was what she was losing sleep over. Baked goods.

Rayla – True.

Her computer pinged, alerting her to the meeting she was due in. She sighed, straightening her legs and repositioning into a more professional posture.

Rayla - Oof, gtg. Video conference with old and new boss.

Callum – Ah, good luck with that.

Rayla - *sigh* Thanks. I need it. It’s going to be long and boring.

Putting her phone (screen down) on her desk, she took a second to fix her hair before answering. She was tempted to hide her phone in her drawer or something.

She really didn’t want to feel the urge to check it during this conference. The prospect of finally meeting Callum in person was distracting enough, she didn’t need any random notification making her heart race.

She needed to pay attention.

In the end, she elected to leave it in place. She had to work on her will power. If she couldn’t even trust herself to put off reading one of his messages for an hour, that did not bode well for Saturday morning.

Taking a deep breath, she answered the call.

She really hoped Opeli and Nathan assumed her goofy smile was due to how excited she was to be filling in for the superintendent role.

 

Tuesday – 19:22

Rayla sighed, slumping into her sofa. It was well past her usual knock off time and she still had emails to send and briefs to read. Second day of stand-in super and she was not enjoying it.

Not in the least.

No wonder Opeli was always so short.

She was dying for a glass of wine or a beer, but she had promised herself she was not allowed to drink and message Callum.

Not after that disastrous Friday.

And especially not now she was filling the super role.

She had a plan and she was sticking to it.

They would catch up for a walk and that jelly tart and see if there was anything there. Assuming there were actual sparks, they would just have to have a conversation like rational adults.

It was a simple plan. Easy to stick to but something she did not trust her tipsy self to follow.

That had already proven disastrous many times over.

Her phone buzzed in her pocket and she dislodged a snoozing Shadow to retrieve it.

Callum – Looks like great weather predicted for Sat

He had attached a picture of the weather forecast for Medb’s Promontory.

Rayla smiled fondly, scrolling through the media from their conversations and gazing at the pictures he had sent her from his hike.

This was a dangerously beautiful place to have a first date… type thing.

 

 

 

~~~

 

 

Wednesday 17:22

Callum peered out of his bedroom door, hearing a commotion in the hallway. Ezran had said he was going to have friends over, but Callum hadn’t realised it would be this early.

“Hey Callum!” Ezran waved him out. “You remember me talking about my friends Aanya and Ellis.” He gestured to the young women behind him, a strangely stern looking blonde and a contrastingly bubbly brunette.

Callum waved at them. “Hey”

“You joining us for Chinese and She-Ra?” The dark-haired girl asked, grinning widely at him.

“Eh,” Callum glanced back at his desk. “Sure. I just need to finish up a few things.”

Callum hurried back into his room and leaned over his laptop, ensuring he had saved his work. Truthfully, he hadn’t really done much formal work today. He’d completed his assignments in record time, and devoted most of the afternoon to personal drawing, a definite perk of working from home.

He blushed, as he saved his work in progress. He had intended on working on some older pieces, but his pen had continually drifted to drawing images of Rayla.

A rough sketch of her sitting crossed legged in her chair from that first casual Friday.

Another of her cradling her cat from the baking Saturday.

One from his imagination of her in a Sailor Moon outfit…

They all definitely went in his secret buried folder.

Straightening up, he grabbed his phone and made his way to the living room. It was nice to have company and certainly a welcome distraction.

Rayla seemed super busy with all of this superintendent work.

He found himself really missing her…  

It was hard resisting the temptation to message her whenever he thought about her or saw something on the net that reminded him of her, but resist, he did.

He didn’t want to distract her. To add to her already hectic days.

Still, it was difficult to think about her this much and not be able to speak to her (in some manner).

Chinese and She-Ra would hopefully go a long way to keeping him busy and focused on something other than Rayla.

 

Wednesday 20:13

Callum glanced down at his phone, happy to finally have a message from Rayla.

He had messaged her much earlier in the day, nothing exciting, just a ‘how’s it going type thing’, trying not to get his hopes up to hear back.

Unlike on Monday, he wasn’t quite as worried when she failed to respond.

They had their Saturday catch up planned after all.

The distraction of having company had gone some way to keeping him occupied.

Rayla – Ugh, this super job sucks. I’m still working.

Callum winced.

Callum – Really? Do you get paid for that?

He frowned, genuinely concerned for her. It was way after finishing time and she was still working?

Rayla – Hell yeah. Legal here. We are all over contracts.

Still annoying. I wasn’t exactly looking to do the super position but I couldn’t really say no when they asked.

Callum – Are you going to apply for it formally?

Rayla – I guess I’d be stupid not to.

Callum chewed his thumbnail. Rayla was pretty easy to talk to about most things, but he sensed she tended to close off about more personal matters. It was hard to tell if that was just how she was, or if it was due to the fact they were still navigating this… thing.

Callum – That doesn’t sound like a yes

Rayla – True.

              I suppose it’s making me really think about stuff.

              I kinda fell into all this. I never set out to become a real corporate lawyer.

Callum – Just a pretend one?

Rayla – LOL.

              No, dummy! Even charities and that need lawyers.

              I could be a lawyer for good.

              Or as good as a lawyer can be.

Callum grinned.

Callum – Ah, like a lawyer for Superman or the X-Men?

Rayla – Maybe Superman but have you seen the mansion the X-Men live in?

              And their plane?

              They can afford their own corporate style representation.

Callum – Haha, good point.

              I get it though.

              I was supposed to be doing this gig to fund pursuing ‘proper’ art.

              And here I am, being sued because my cartoon frogs look like some other dude’s cartoon frogs.        

Rayla – I’ve never seen any of your real art.

              What kind of stuff do you draw?

Even with her far removed, he felt himself blush furiously, his mind immediately jumping to those secret sketches hidden in the dark recesses of his tablet.

Callum – Mostly portraits, I guess.

              Haven’t finished anything in a while.

Rayla – Well, I expect a viewing of your portfolio on Saturday

He couldn’t tell if that was sarcasm or genuine interest. Regardless, he definitely needed to scrub his ‘recent documents’ from Photoshop before so much as allowing his tablet within 10 meters of her.

Callum – I’m sure I can manage that.

“Who ya messaging?”

Callum glanced up as the brunette, Ellis, called out to him. He was surprised to catch Ezran elbowing her.  

He hoped the low light hid his blush. “Eh, just a friend.”

“Ray-la?” She sing-songed.

Callum raised his eyebrows at Ezran.

“What?” The younger man shifted under his glare. “You know I was talking to Ellis while you were doing the baking thing.”

Callum sighed, hoping they would drop it.

“She’s really pretty.” The other girl, Aanya stated, matter of factly.

Callum wasn’t particularly sure he liked how she seemed to be scrutinising him. “Em,I guess.”

Ellis snorted.   

“Hold on. How do you know what she looks like?” He asked, thoroughly confused. “Is this why you wanted me to forward you her selfie?” He sighed, rolling his eyes at Ezran. “You said you wanted proof of jelly tart completion!”

“No!”

“Yes”

Ezran and Ellis responded at the same time.

“It was a weird situation!” Ezran tried to explain. “I needed to prove I wasn’t making it up.”

“And we can help!” Ellis grinned. “Brains trust.”

Callum groaned, dropping his face into his hands.

“From the sounds, you could do with all the help you can get.” Aanya spoke quietly, no hint of sarcasm.

Callum frowned, not having an answer for that.

 

Thursday 20:22

Rayla glared at her computer, rubbing her eyes.

Another late one.

At least time was flying until the weekend. It was certainly distracting her from the whole Callum thing. Whenever she thought about their jelly tart date, she started to get nervous.

In the cold light of day, a four-hour round trip seemed like a major commitment for a first catch up. Maybe she should have suggested something closer to her hotel. That way, if he turned out to be a total weirdo she could easily escape and spend the afternoon in her room beating herself up for making such a big deal out of a three weeklong message ‘relationship’.

And the whole superintendent role just made things even more complicated.

If dating a work mate she was one level above was frowned upon, a superintendent (even a stand in one) dating a lower level employee was very much forbidden.

Why was she even entertaining this?

  1. He lived in a different city
  2. Any relationship between them was strictly forbidden as it could be viewed as an abuse of power.

It wasn’t like she really even wanted the super job, but she couldn’t really not apply. That would look really bad to her manager.

And if Runaan found out he would do his super stern frowny face.

Especially if anything ever did happen with Callum. Runaan would automatically assume she didn’t apply for the senior role just so she could pursue a guy.

He would be beyond disappointed.

She needed a break.

Rayla – Pizza party tomorrow?

Callum – Yep. It’s going to be wild. Maybe even pinball or pool.

Rayla – I know you’re being sarcastic but that sounds infinitely more fun than my dinner.

Menu items I have to google and restricting myself to one glass of wine because I’ll be expected to chat to big wigs.

Yawn

Callum – So jelly tarts and coffee will be the highlight of the trip?

Rayla – Yep.

She blushed. She was supposed to be playing it cool.

 

 

~~~

 

Friday 11:03

Rayla grinned as she opened the door, letting Ethari, Runaan and Sidhe in.

“Hey guys.” She embraced them both. “Thanks so much for coming back so soon. I would have tried to get out of this trip if I wasn’t doing the superintendent thing. I usually forego the whole hotel stay when we do these conferences, but its a bit hard to do that if it’s in Katolis.”

“No problem, Rayla.” Ethari smiled, bending down to scoop up Shadow, who was preening at his ankles.

“We’re happy to come.” Runaan placed his hand on her shoulder. “I’m very proud you have been asked to step into the superintendent role.”

Rayla felt guilt gnawing at her gut. “It doesn’t mean I’m going to get the job.” She looked away.

“I’m aware of that.” Runaan spoke confidently. “But it bodes well for when you apply.”

Rayla sighed, not really having an answer for that. If this week had proven anything, it was that the career path of a traditional corporate lawyer was not that enticing. She elected to proceed into the kitchen instead of discussing the matter. “Tea? Coffee?” She hoped he took he clear discomfort with the issue to be nerves regarding the position, rather than apprehension she would actually get it.

“Tea for me.” Runaan called from his position on the floor, as he let Sidhe out of her carrier.

“Coffee, if you’re having one. Otherwise, tea is fine.” Ethari leaned against the counter. “So, what exactly will you be doing in Katolis?”

“I definitely need a coffee.” Rayla stated decisively, her week of long days and late nights having caught up on her. “We’ve got dinner with the Katolian crew Saturday evening, then a breakfast conference Sunday morning. Most people fly back in the evening.”

Ethari grinned. “I imagine there will be a few sore heads at the breakfast.”

“Usually,” Rayla chuckled.” They want most people back and ready to work Monday morning, so it’s the only way to manage it.”

“I’m sure Rayla knows to regulate herself.” Runaan added pointedly. “Especially as she will be attending as the superintendent.”

Rayla sighed, rolling her eyes. “Of course. Anyway, it’s not like I’m chummy with anyone in my team. I’ll probably end up in bed earlier than I normally would on a Saturday night.”

“But you’re back Monday?”

“Eh, yeah, I have a meeting in the Katolis office Monday morning.” She filled the kettle. “If you need to head back home Sunday night, Shadow will be fine by himself until I get back.”

“It’s not a problem. Working from home is working from home.” Runaan continued. “I’ll put our stuff in the guest room.”  

Rayla nodded as she began spooning coffee grounds into the French press. She glanced up, feeling Ethari’s eyes on her.  

So..?” Ethari smirked at her as he grabbed some mugs from the cupboard.

Rayla grinned, rolling her eyes. He could read her like a book. “I don’t actually have a meeting in our office on Monday.”

Ethari chuckled, grabbing the teapot and spooning in tea leaves.

“I have an interview.” She poured the jut boiled water into the press, glancing around for Runaan.

“Did you organise the whole conference around your interview?!” Ethari asked in disbelief.

“No!” Rayla laughed. “It’s always been due to be in Katolis.” She left the coffee to infuse. “I had an email from one of the companies I was talking to before... all this. They’re still interested and wanted to have a zoom catch up. I mentioned I was going to be in Katolis, and they said they wanted to meet in person.”

“Rayla, that’s fantastic news!” Ethari looked genuinely happy for her.

“Yeah, I’m pretty excited.” She couldn’t help but smile as well. “Katolis seems more my sort of place than Duren and it’s that bit closer to you guys too.”

“Rayla, don’t uproot your life to be closer to us.” Ethari touched her arm gently.

She smiled at him. “It’s not that. I just… I’ve never really felt at home here. I don’t really have any proper friends in Duren and everyone at work is either scared of me or boring or whatever.”

Ethari smiled softly. “Fresh start in a new city?”

Rayla shrugged. “It’s what I’m hoping. Katolis is way more outdoorsy a place. I guess I could join some clubs or something.”

“Oh dear, have you convinced her to join a book club?”

Rayla jumped, turning to find Runaan on the other side of the breakfast bar, a sarcastic smirk on his face.

Man, he was quiet. How long had he been there? Clearly not long enough to hear most of the conversation.

She looked nervously at Ethari

“I’m working on it, my heart.” Ethari winked at her. “Help me with these cups, will you?”

Rayla sighed, taking a moment to compose herself. If anything, the timing of this interview was beyond terrible because it might freak Callum out.

Oh hey, we met for jelly tarts once and now I’m moving to your city.’

That was a bit too Fatal Attraction for her liking.

Though in fairness, this was for her dream job.

A pipe dream, really.

The chances of her getting it were slim, at best.

 

 

~~~

 

 

Friday 16:10

Callum glanced around as he entered the bar. It was still weird being out and around other people. The place seemed strangely deserted compared to a usual Friday night, half of the tables having been removed.

Marcos caught his eye, waving him over to their group.

“Hey Callum!” He smiled warmly, as he looked around Gren.

“Hey guys.” Callum nodded as he joined them.

“Drink?” Gren raised a pitcher of beer and gestured to the empty glasses stacked on the table.

“Sure.” Callum held the glass to Gren.

“I was telling Marcos about your brush with legal.” Gren grinned, filling Callum’s glass.

“Oh yeah, haha.” Callum chuckled nervously, taking a sip of his beer. “Glad that’s all over.”

“Callum’s lawyer was Rayla.” Claudia appeared out of nowhere, a devious smirk on her face. “You have to deal with her during the Steve stuff, right Marcos?” She winked at Callum.

“Oh yeah,” Marcos made a face. “How was that?” He looked at Callum. “I imagine she sorted it all pretty quickly… she was, uh, efficient.”

Callum sighed, wondering why Claudia was bringing this up again. “It was fine. She was really nice. Helpful.” He took a sip from his beer, hoping the conversation would drop. What would Claudia say if she ever found out they were going for jelly tarts tomorrow?

Marcos nodded. “Well, I guess if you haven’t done anything wrong then legal are probably pretty normal.”

“I guess.” Claudia shrugged, taking a bite of her pizza. “What did you have to do anyway?”

Marcos thought for a moment. “Just make some statements about Steve and the girls. It wasn’t too bad, I guess. Just super awkward.” He glanced around, making sure Gren was out of earshot. “Rayla and the HR chick I was talking to were, well,” He raised his eyebrows knowingly at Callum and Claudia. “It makes it a bit embarrassing discussing this gross perv and the weird stuff he used to say in front of two hot chicks. At least one of them was on video conference, I guess.”

Callum nodded knowingly.

“Was Steve really that bad?” Claudia wrinkled her nose.

Marcos nodded. “He was pretty crude. We told him to stop but he seemed to think we were joking.”

Callum pretended to only be casually interested. “Ah, so it wasn’t the, uh, employee dating thing so much as the harassment stuff.”

Marcos shrugged. “Well, I think if it was a mutual thing you just get a talking to and have to make some disclosures or something, but yeah, the harassment was the big problem. Obviously.”

“Ah.” Callum nodded, his heart soaring. So, it wasn’t completely against policy to date co-workers.

“Well, yeah, obviously. You can’t stop people dating.” Claudia rolled her eyes.

“No, exactly.” Marcos sipped his beer. “But then the superintended thing obviously complicated things.

Callum felt some of the wind leave his sails. “Eh, what do you mean?”

“Oh, you know how it is, they don’t like supers and above dating employees because of abuse of power and that sort of thing.” Marcos grabbed a slice of pizza from the table next to them.

Callum frowned at his beer.

This evening was proving to be an emotional roller coaster.

 

 

~~~

Friday 17:52

“You didn’t have to drop me at the airport, you know?” Rayla smiled at Runaan as she got her small suitcase out of the back of the car.

“I know.” Runaan smiled at her. “I wanted to. Have a safe flight and a nice weekend. We’ll see you Monday.”

“Thanks.” She embraced him, that niggling twinge of guilt still eating away at her. Ethari was right, she should be more honest with him. She had become a lawyer because she had looked up to Runaan. Had wanted to be like him, but ultimately, that wasn’t who she was.

She didn’t really know who she was right now. What she wanted to do.

Weren’t people supposed to go through these sorts of self-questioning crises in their teens?

“Are you ok, Rayla?” Runaan asked, concern evident on his face.

She sighed, smiling. “Yeah, I’m good. It’s just been a long week.”

“Well, take time to relax.” Runaan smiled his small smile. “I know it’s a professional weekend, but it’s ok to take time for yourself.”

Rayla sniggered. “Really?”

Runaan pondered for a moment. “Alone. In your room.” He smiled ruefully. “I do know how to have fun, you know?”

Rayla rolled her eyes. “Yes, I’ve heard you sing Dirty Old Town after one too many whiskies.”

“We do not speak of that.” Runaan blushed slightly, hugging her one last time.

 

 

~~~

Saturday 09:38

Rayla glanced in the mirror, tempted to re-do her ponytail for the third time. She was dressed in a baggy teal muscle shirt, navy leggings and bright white trainers. Typical gear for a light hike.

Certainly not an outfit it would look like she spent hours agonising over… like she had all yesterday afternoon.

Electing to leave her hair, she took one last look at her face. She certainly didn’t want to look too made up, and so she had gone with BB cream, lip tint and mascara.

Her phone buzzed and she took a deep breath before picking it up.

Callum – I’m just leaving now. Probably 20 or so to get to your hotel.

Rayla chewed her nail, her stomach in knots.

Rayla – No problem.

              I’m going to need a coffee for the drive

              Want one?

Callum – Sure. Latte?

Rayla – Done

              See you in 20ish

She turned back to the mirror, sighing as she pulled her hair free of her ponytail once again.

 

 

~~~

 

 

Saturday 10:07

Callum took a calming breath as he pulled up in front of the hotel, his eyes frantically scanning for Rayla. He coasted to a stop in one of the parking bays, his attention on the various people mulling about.

“Good morning, sir and welcome to the Grand Hotel.”

Callum almost jumped out of his skin as his car door was opened and a painfully cheery young man greeted him.

“Eh hi.” He smiled awkwardly, remaining seated.

The valet looked a little confused, though he hid it well. “This way, if you would, sir?” He gestured to the empty space to his left.

“Huh?” Callum glanced in the direction the man, Terry (if his name tag was correct) indicated.

“So… I may take your vehicle?” Terry shifted uncomfortably.

“Oh, no that’s fine.” Callum attempted to explain.

“Do you have any luggage, sir?” Terry made his way to the back of the car, prompting Callum to jump out in order to continue the conversation.

“No. No luggage.” He tried to explain. “I’m not staying.”

Terry stopped what he was doing, indicating to the now obvious “Valet Check-in” sign to their left. “You’re not staying?” He tried to cover his sigh.

“Oh.” Callum blushed. “No, sorry. I didn’t see the sign. I’m just here to pick up an, uh, friend.”

Terry took a deep breath, a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes on his face. “If I could trouble you to move your car to the pickup area.” He pointed to the equally obvious “Pick Up/Set Down” sign, a few meters in front of them both.

“Yeah, sure. No problem.” Callum turned, his face bright red, and hurried back to the driver’s door.

“Causing trouble, are we?”

His head snapped up upon hearing a familiar accent.

Rayla was leaning against the bonnet of the car, a paper coffee cup in each hand.

He felt his breath leave his lungs. She was even more stunning in person.

It should be a crime for someone to look that amazing in simple active wear. The dark colours contrasted with her pale skin and paler hair, and she almost glowed standing casually before him.

She smirked, averting her eyes momentarily, a small chuckle leaving her throat.

“Eh, hi Rayla.” He smiled at her, heart racing.

It was really her.

In person.

About to get into his car.

She grinned, looking back at him, a slight blush on her cheeks. “Hi Callum.”

Chapter Text

Callum grinned over at her, striving to keep his full attention on the road.

“What?” Rayla seemed to be struggling to keep the smile from her face.

Callum laughed, eyes straight ahead. “Nothing… just… weird to see you in real life.”

“It’s weird seeing you without a frog on your face.” She smirked, taking a sip of her coffee.

“Good flight over?” Callum grimaced, realising he had missed the entrance to the freeway. He really needed to keep his mind on driving. Oh well, no need to alert Rayla. There was another entrance not far away.

“Yeah, great. They put supers in business class.” She raised her eyebrows. “I got to drink champagne and fully recline… while I worked on my presentation.” There was a sarcastic undertone to her voice.

“Ah, so no chance to catch any inflight movies then?” He glanced over at her, driving with one hand as he took a taste of his own coffee.

Rayla sighed, pushing some of the loose hair back from her face. “Nope. Work trip, remember?”

“So, are you playing hooky then?” Callum raised an eyebrow, his pulse quickening. What did that mean?

“Na,” Rayla looked out the window, pulling on the hem of her top. “I had to catch up with the Katolis super to sort out the conference stuff. He was only free earlier this morning. Everyone else is flying in now. They all have lives. Families, kids, partners. It’s just me and my cat and my… briefs.”

Callum snorted, glancing over at her. She had her face turned away from him, but he could see her smirking face reflected in the window. “Your briefs?”

 Rayla continued to look out the window, very clearly struggling not to laugh. “Yes, my very important legal briefs.”

Callum tried to appear calm, convinced his face was beetroot red. His mind was far too adept at putting Rayla and briefs together. And she was far too adept at baiting him.

He glanced back at the road and slammed on the breaks, noticing the red light at the last second.

“Sorry.” He cringed, blushing even brighter, as he glanced over at Rayla.

Driving with her was beyond distracting.

Rayla looked back at him, teeth gritted and eyes wide. “I’d like to get to this jelly tart in one piece, thanks.”

 

 

~~~

 

 

 

They pulled into the parking lot, having made the trip in one piece.

Rayla stretched in the passenger seat and Callum couldn’t help his eyes wandering. She arched her back and neck, sighing as she raised her toned arms above her head.

She really was breath-taking.  

Wanting to avoid being caught peeking, he got out of his seat and made his way to the rear of his beat-up Land Rover, opening one of the double doors and retrieving his backpack. It was a decent walk, over sometimes pressing terrain. He’d packed more than enough water, as well as some snacks.

Rayla made her way to the trail entrance, admiring the view.

Callum stood at the back of the car, fondly watching her take it all in. It really was an absolutely stunning place and he couldn’t believe he was getting to share it with Rayla.

He snorted to himself as she pulled her phone out of a weird side pocket in her leggings and took some pictures. How she managed to keep a phone in those skin-tight pants was beyond him. Not that he was complaining.

He let his eyes sweep over the scene, taking in the pristine, almost glaringly white sand and the impossibly turquoise water beyond it. He casually took note of the wild flowers blooming in the bushlands that bordered the rocky path that would take them to Barius’ café. This was really the perfect time to visit the Prom. The weather was bright and clear, but the oppressive heat of summer had yet to set in. It looked like something out of a travel blog, too stunning to believe was real.

And Rayla… admiring the view while outshining it easily, her platinum blonde hair blowing in the welcome breeze.

She glanced over her shoulder at him and Callum swallowed, feeling his stomach flipflop alarmingly. He’d never been this affected by a girl before.

“You coming, or what?” She teased.

Callum laughed, shaking his head, and closing the rear door. He double checked he had locked the car then made his way over to her.

“Ready?” He smiled at her.

“Are you?” She raised an eyebrow, smiling crookedly.

Before Callum could query her, she snickered and took off up the path.

“This place is amazing.” She slowed, allowing him to catch up.

“Yeah, it’s pretty great. We came here a lot as kids.” Callum sighed at the fond memories. It was hardly a secret spot, but this area had been a feature of his childhood. He remembered happy days walking with his mother, Harrow and Ezran. He’d never shared it with anyone before, but it somehow felt natural to bring Rayla here.

“For holidays and stuff?” Rayla looked between him and the rocky path.

“Yeah, kinda. I grew up on the peninsula.” He pointed to the land in the distance. “About an hour from here. We used to stay in this old shack whenever my parents had time. Or we’d come and do the walk on nice weekends. It’s halfway between my Dad’s and our place, so we often meet up here now.” Callum smiled, recalling the enjoyable times spent here.

“You, Ezran and your Dad?” Rayla looked at him out of the corner of her eye.

He could tell she was giving him and opening, but not pressing for information. “Yeah, uh, our Mom died when we were little. Ez was a baby really. It… kinda feels like our place, you know? She really loved it here.” He smiled fondly. “My mother.”

Rayla looked down, slowing her pace a little. “Yeah.” She sighed. “I’ve… got a similar place with my parents.” She bit her lip. “My… biological parents. My Mom and Dad built this crazy treehouse for me… Well, for us. I think my Dad just wanted an epic tree house and used me as an excuse…” She laughed softly as she trailed off. “The local kids play in it now, but yeah, I always go visit it when I go home.”  

“Your parents..?” Callum had been wondering but it seemed intrusive to ask.

Rayla looked out over the horizon. “They were doctors with Médecins Sans Frontières. Their plane went down on their way home from one of their missions. They made it a thing to volunteer once a year. I used to stay with Runaan and Ethari while they were away so… they adopted me.”

Callum stopped, frowning. “I’m sorry.”

She shrugged, shaking her head. “It’s ok. How many people can get to say they have four parents?” She seemed to be putting on a brave face, but he didn’t want to pry.

Callum paused, narrowing his eyes. “Yeah, you’re kinda raining on my parade.”

Rayla looked at him quizzically.

“Harrow isn’t my biological father.” Callum shrugged. “He died when I was little.”

Rayla snorted. “This went from Disney movie straight into Game of Thrones territory super quick.”

Callum chuckled, happy for her to lighten the mood. It felt weirdly natural to share these things with her, but he wanted today to be fun. “Right?”

Rayla wrinkled her nose. “You don’t have a sister you’re weirdly close to, do you?”

Callum laughed out right. “Em, you’re the blonde, crazy-eye coloured one here. Are you sure you don’t have an uncle you have an eye on?”   

Rayla snorted, hitting him playfully on the arm before taking off on the track.

“That’s not a no.” Callum called after her.

She looked over her shoulder at him, a coy look on her face.

Callum chuckled as he caught up to her.

“So how was your pizza party yesterday?” Rayla asked as they continued their hike, once again walking side by side.

“It was good.” Callum smiled at her. “Was nice catching up with my team again. You looking forward to your dinner tonight?”

Rayla made a face. “Na, not really. It’s all going to be talking shop. Everyone trying to one up each other.” She blew a lock of hair out of her face. “I’ll probably be stuck talking to the other supers and managers too, so work persona on all night.”

“You… don’t seem to enjoy being a lawyer.” Callum queried cautiously.

“I don’t, do I?” Rayla chuckled. She took a deep breath. “I guess I don’t really like being a corporate lawyer for a big company. It gets a bit soulless.”

“You said you got into it because one of your Dads is a lawyer?” Callum glanced up, seeing they were nearing the halfway point of the hike. He slipped his bag off his back and pulled out a bottle of water, offering it to Rayla.

“Yeah, Runaan used to be a corp lawyer like I am now. Now he mostly does remote consultancy stuff.” She happily accepted the water, stopping to open it.

“What does your other Dad do?” Callum retrieved a bottle for himself.

Rayla finished her sip. “He’s a sculptor. Metal work, mostly. Some wooden carvings.”

Callum choked on his water a little.

“What?” Rayla stopped, the water bottle inches from her lips.

“A sculptor?” Callum wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “So… an artist? One of your Dads is a lawyer and the other is an artist?”

Rayla narrowed her eyes at him, a small smile on her lips. “What exactly are you getting at?” She teased.

Callum chuckled, shaking his head, and taking a long gulp of his water. “Nothing. Just… clarifying.”

“Uh huh.” Rayla smirked at him, turning back to the path.   

They rounded a corner, the trail turning abruptly to their left. Before them, the cliff plunged down to the clear turquoise waters below. Rayla’s eyes followed the route, seeing how it hugged the promontory and into the next bay.

“Barius’ café is in that inlet.” Callum gestured to where she was looking. “It’s pretty sheltered in there.”

“It’s gorgeous here.” Rayla sighed, turning to look back at the path they’d taken. The view was familiar, a white sandy beach with a rocky path to the right. She grinned at Callum. “This was the scene of another frog attack.”

He chuckled, rolling his eyes. “Yeah, yeah. Well, I’m sorry Bait couldn’t make it today. The hectic social life of an attack frog.”  

“Me too. I wanted my own frog selfie.” Rayla turned her attention back to the view.

“Here.” Callum took out his phone. “Rumour is I can draw a decent frog.”

Rayla furrowed her brow. “You’re going to draw it on your phone?”

“No.” Callum began playing with his phone settings, hoping his red face wasn’t painfully obvious. “But it’s a lot easier with a reference pic.”

He looked up to find Rayla blushing too.

“So, what, you’re going to photoshop a frog on my face?” She snorted, seemingly a little shy.

Callum shrugged. “I could. Or I could, uh, do a drawing. For you. You know, as a thank you?”

Rayla sniggered, resolutely avoiding eye contact. “You don’t have to. I was just doing my job.”  

It might have started out like that, but that excuse became a little stretched when she sent him that gif. It pretty much stopped seeming convincing in anyway about the time they began regularly enjoying watch parties and having weird long-distance baking parties/pseudo-dates.

He took a deep breath. “I’d like to.”

“Okay.” She replied, her voice small, a genuine smile on her face.

Callum gestured for her to move around, eyeing the bay behind her. “Okay...” He viewed the scene through his phone. “Smile!” He grinned at her briefly, then looked back at his screen.

Rayla chuckled. “I feel like an idiot.”

Callum looked up briefly from his phone. “Imagine how good you’re going to look with a frog drawn on your face.”

Rayla laughed heartily, throwing her head back.

One last click, and Callum lowered his phone, flicking through the photos briefly.

“Good enough?” Rayla walked over, glancing at his phone.

Callum held it out for her to look over his snaps. “I can work with these.”

“What about a double frog selfie?” Rayla smirked.

“A what?” Callum asked, confusion marring his brow.

“Here.” She grabbed his phone and turned on selfie mode, then stood close to him and got them both in the frame.

Callum could see his blush on camera. And his ridiculously goofy grin. Rayla beamed broadly resting her head on his shoulder as she snapped a few pics.

“What do you think?” She brought the camera in closer, scrolling through the pictures.

Callum stood next to her, trying to focus on the pictures but painfully distracted by how close she was. The hair from her ponytail was tickling his ear. He could smell her shampoo… something like jasmine, sweet and subtle.

She glanced over at him when he found he couldn’t speak, blushing slightly when she seemed to register exactly how close they were standing. Unconsciously, Callum’s eyes darted to her pink lips, parted slightly. Her cheeks were a little rosy, whether from the exertion or… something else, he couldn’t tell. This close, he could see the faint freckles peppering her nose… her curiously dark and thick eyelashes.   

He wanted to kiss her so badly and from the fact she hadn’t moved away, he suspected the feeling was mutual. He could feel the blood rushing in his ears, and he hoped the slight tremble of his teeth wasn’t obvious.

He paused for a brief second, then elected to throw caution to the wind and move closer to her.

“Would you like us to take a picture?”

Callum started in surprise, looking back to the trail to find two middle-aged women on the track.

“Oh, sure.” Rayla stepped forward, handing the one who spoke the phone, then stood back next to Callum, her eyes downcast. She hesitated for a moment before putting an arm around his shoulders, a shy look on her face. Callum smiled at her, slipping his arm loosely around her waist. He tried to take deep calming breaths. Why was it so exhilarating to touch her like this? It was such a simple gesture, but his mouth was dry and his palms sweaty.

The second woman smirked knowingly at them as her friend took some pictures, then handed the phone back to Rayla.

She glanced at the screen, then up at the impromptu photographer.

“Thanks.” She said awkwardly, offering Callum his phone back. “Eh, I guess we should keep going.”

“Eh, yep.” He gestured to the path.

Rayla walked ahead of him and he hung back behind her. This section of the path was narrow and the drop off to the right quite steep, so they were forced to walk single file for a few minutes until the path opened up again.

Callum cringed in the silence.

Awkward silence?

Maybe not the most awkward silence of his life but certainly not what he would describe as comfortable.

He really hoped he wasn’t misreading the situation, though she wouldn’t have put her arm around him if she were super against the thought of kissing him.

Right?

That would have absolutely been the time to put in place a boundary. Step back and put a decent distance between them. Instead, she had put her arm around him and allowed him to pull her close.

Like he had been longing to do ever since she had got into his car this morning.

And those women, what they hell was wrong with them? Couldn’t they read the room?!

“You ok back there?” Rayla glanced over her shoulder at him.

“Yep.” Callum started. “Looking forward to resting in the shade though. This is the hottest day so far.”

“Agreed.” Rayla stopped and waited for him to catch up as the track swung around one last time.

They rounded the last corner and Barius’ Bay lay out before them. It wasn’t its official name but somehow their family had adopted that as its title after so many years of coming here.

From here, they could make out the ramshackle shack that was Barius’ café. The tables and chairs were back on the wrap around veranda, the place looking a little more like normal, though still slightly empty compared to a typical Saturday morning.

“Wow, this place is cute.”

Callum smiled at Rayla as her eyes lit up.

“Worth the hike?” Callum smirked.

“Maybe?” Rayla bumped him with her hip as she scooched past him and began making her way down the narrow track to the café. “I haven’t had that jelly tart yet.”

They strolled the short distance to the café, Rayla taking in the quaint surroundings. The queue inside was small and Barius himself was tending to the till.

“So just a jelly tart then?” Callum gestured to the cabinet, filled with various cakes and pastries.

Rayla wandered over, leaving Callum to queue while she perused the various baked goods.

“What’ll it be?” Barius typed something into the tablet in front of him, before glancing up at his next customer. “By yourself today, Callum?” The rotund man appeared surprised when he looked up to find Callum alone.

“It all looks so good.” Rayla slid next to Callum, her eyes still on the glass cabinet.

“Not today.” Calllum glanced at Rayla.

Barius raised his eyebrows in surprise, a knowing smile on his face. “So, what will it be then?” He asked, arm poised over the tablet.

“An ice latte and a jelly tart.” Callum pulled out his card, looking over at Rayla. “Rayla?”  

“Make that two.” Rayla smiled warmly at Barius.

“Two ice lattes and two jelly tarts.” Barius entered the order and gestured for Callum to tap his card. “Coming right up.”

They strolled over to a window, leaning against the counter before it.

“So, couldn’t say no to the jelly tart?” Callum asked, happy to be out of the sun.

Rayla shrugged. “I was sorely tempted by eclairs and macarons, but it seemed wrong to not try the best jelly tarts in Katolis.”

“Well, you’ll just have to come back and try the rest.” Callum suggested playfully.

“That would be one way to gain frequent flyer points.” She teased.

“Callum, orders up.” Barius called out gruffly.

“Inside or outside?” Callum asked upon returning from the counter, offering Rayla her drink.

She looked around briefly. “Hmm, outside?”

They settled in Callum’s favourite spot, a flattish granite outcrop underneath a large overhanging willow to provide shade. The sea lapped gently at the shore a few meters from where they sat.

Callum wedged his coffee into a familiar alcove in the rock, then opened the paper bag containing their jelly tarts. He offered one to Rayla, leaving his in the bag for now.

Rayla smiled in thanks, scrutinising the tart intently. “Well, Barius is definitely a master pastry folder.” She sat cross legged next to him, her own coffee between her legs.

“He is.” Callum grinned, watching intently as she raised the jelly tart to her mouth.

“What?” She blushed pink, beaming brightly.

“Nothing.” He felt his own cheeks colour. “Just… interested to see your reaction.”

She rolled her eyes, sniggering. “It’s hard to eat with someone watching you.”

Callum bit his lip, debating whether or not to proceed. “It’s not like it’s a banana.”

Rayla snorted, sending bits of pastry flying onto Callum’s lap. She clapped her hand over her mouth, her cheeks red.

“Classy.” Callum laughed, dramatically sweeping the flecks of pastry off his legs.

 “Shut up.” She grinned, raising the tart once again. Before she could take a bite, something flashed before her eyes. “What the-?” She glanced down at her jelly tart, finding something white and lumpy on it. “Wha?!” She wrinkled her nose in disgust.

“Is that?” Callum looked up, just as the seagull that have defecated on Rayla’s jelly tart shrieked loudly and flew off.

“Are you kidding me?!” Rayla erupted into peels of laughter, throwing the ruined tart far away and rubbing her hand on her leggings. “Gross! What the hell?!”

Callum struggled to keep his own composure. “Did that bird just… shit on your jelly tart?!”

“YES!” Rayla wiped her eye. “I blame you.”

“Me?!” Callum cried out indignantly. “Why?”

Rayla chuckled, adjusting her ponytail. “Animals are always doing weird things around you.”

 “Oh, so I can control animals now?” Callum asked, eyes wide.

“Not at all. They seem to attack you all the time.” Rayla nudged his thigh with her foot.

“In fairness,” He struggled not to laugh. “that seagull attacked you. Or rather your jelly tart.”

“That’s probably because I’m with you.” Rayla stuck out her tongue. “Guilty by association.”

“Here.” Callum offered her his tart.

“I can’t steal your jelly tart.” Rayla shifted, preparing to stand.

“Share?” Callum broke his tart in two and held it out to Rayla.

She rolled her eyes impishly, moving around to sit next to him. “Thanks.” She happily accepted her half, their fingers brushing briefly. She leaned back on the rock, nudging Callum with her shoulder playfully.

Rayla took a bite, her eyes widening. “Ok, you might be onto something with this.” She smiled in appreciation, taking a second bite of tart, struggling to keep the crumbs from falling onto her shirt.

“Verdict?” Callum mumbled around his own half.

“It might well be the best jelly tart in Katolis.” She chuckled, licking the crumbs from her fingers.

Callum flushed as his eyes were instinctively drawn to her mouth. His eyes darted to her bottom lip and the tiny smear of jelly near the corner. “Eh, you’ve got jelly.” He touched his own mouth to indicate where.

Rayla wiped her lip with her thumb, missing all but some of the bright red jelly. “Got it?”

“Not quite.” Callum hesitated for a second, then reached out gently and rubbed his thumb along the corner of her bottom lip. His heart raced in his chest, as he looked up from Rayla’s lips to her eyes. She was watching him keenly, her pupils dilated. Awkwardly, he pulled his hand back, dropping it to his thigh as he subtly tried to wipe his sweaty palm.

Callum swallowed, once again aware of how close they were. His heart was racing in his chest. Just like before, the urge to kiss her became almost overwhelming, but he wasn’t sure after the moment on the cliff. He didn’t want to be constantly pushing her.

His fingers itched to touch her in some way, to grasp her fingers or touch her knee.

The moment seemed to stretch on forever, then Rayla blushed and looked down, her hair partially obscuring her face.

She took a deep breath, then looked back up at him, a shy smile on her face. “Callum…”

“Yeah?” He asked a little breathlessly.

She bit her lip, wincing a little. “We should-”

They both started in fright, as a ringtone shrilly rang out.

Rayla groaned, rolling her eyes, and looking to the sky. “Ugh.” She shifted a little, retrieving her phone from her pocket and frowning at the screen. She looked apologetically at Callum. “I really have to get this.”

“Ok.” He smiled awkwardly at her.

Rayla sighed, jumping off the rock and walking towards the shoreline. “Hey Tristan, what’s up?”

Callum sighed, running a hand through his hair as he grabbed his ice latte and took a long drink. His mouth was ridiculously dry.

He irrationally hated whoever this Tristan guy was. What had Rayla been about to say? He didn’t think she was about to shoot him down. Not from her body language anyway.

He glanced over to where she was pacing on the beach. Whomever she was on the phone to, she didn’t seem particularly happy about it either. She was continually rolling her eyes and shaking her head. 

Callum chuckled. She was painfully adorable. And funny and engaging... damn near perfect, in fact.

Today had gone way better than he had expected or even dreamed it would. Even from their first interaction they seemed to have an easy give and take, but he had been concerned that wouldn’t translate into real life.

In a way, it was almost frustrating. After this ‘date’ he had no idea when he would ever see her again.

If he would ever see her again.

Maybe that’s what she’d been about to bring up? Let him down easy about the fact they just lived too far apart? They definitely had a... thing, there was no way he was imagining that, but maybe it was simply too hard to try and start something long distance?

Long distance relationships were hard, even for established couples.

Or so he heard.

It wasn’t like he’d ever been in anything serious.

“Hey”

He jumped, looking up at Rayla as she pocketed her phone once again, and leaned on the rock next to him, though with a far more respectable distance than before.

“Hey.” He smiled a little sheepishly at her.

“Sorry about that,” She sighed, once again rolling her eyes. “One of our star players went to the wrong hotel and was freaking out because they didn’t have a reservation.” Her voice dripped with sarcasm.

“Not unusual for this guy?” Callum chuckled at her obvious frustration.

“Nope.” She smirked. “Honestly, I’m impressed he made his flight.” She seemed to catch herself, her cheeks colouring. “Sorry, that’s not exactly professional of me.”

“Super Nintendo Rayla, always on the clock.” Callum replied, a little despondent.

She sighed, looking out at the horizon. “Well, this weekend anyway.” She looked back at him, a slightly sad smile on her face. “Speaking of, I really should be getting back to the city. Sorry.”

Callum felt his heart fall.

It was over.

He forced a smile onto his face, pushing himself off the rock. “No problem.” He held out a hand to help her up.

Rayla glanced at it, seeming to consider for a second, then let him help her to her feet.

“Worth the trip though?” Callum reluctantly let her hand go.

Rayla laughed softly, glancing down briefly before looking at him through her lashes. “Definitely.”

Callum sighed. She looked so beautiful, shy, and endearing, but the moment had passed…

“Shall we?” He gestured behind her. “The short cut is through the woods.”

“Sounds good.” Rayla sighed, turning to stroll down the path he indicated.

The awkwardness of their moment on the rock seemed to pass relatively quickly, and they spent the short, shaded walk chatting happily about book to movie adaptations.

The drive back to the city went swiftly, Rayla queuing songs from their favourite movie soundtracks.

Callum couldn’t help but notice that she seemed a little off compared to the morning though. She was continually pulling at her top, twisting the material between her fingers, and glancing out the window a lot more than on the ride down.

He managed to keep his wits about him as they made their way to the city. Pulling to a stop at a red light at the intersection near her hotel, he glanced over at her.

“Well, you’re nearly home.” Callum tried to sound light and breezy.

Rayla glanced over at him, a funny look on her face, before she looked back to the sidewalk. “So… uh…” She started suddenly, then slid down in her seat, apparently hiding behind the door.

“Eh, you ok there?” Callum looked at her worriedly.

“Yep.” She peered over the door, then looked across at him. “Just pretending I don’t see that.” She inclined her head in the direction of the traffic lights.

Callum looked around at what she was concerned with. On the path was a young couple kissing passionately, no mind to those around them.

He chuckled. “Really? What are you, twelve?”

“Shut up.” She grinned at him, sliding further into her seat. “I don’t care that they’re making out. I know them. They report to me now.”

“Okay?” Callum’s eyes flicked between Rayla, the amorous couple, and the traffic lights. “And that’s a problem?” He hoped he sounded subtle. It was time to get a lawyer to clarify the guideline for him.

“Ugh,” She peeked over the window as the light turned green and they proceeded through the intersection. “You really don’t read anything you sign, do you?” She glanced at him, once again pulling absent mindedly at her top. “It’s not technically a policy they can likely legally enforce or anything, but depending on your department, it’s pretty frowned upon.”

“So… like, HR and legal?” Callum kept his eyes straight ahead, trying to appear only mildly interested.

“Yep.” She leaned back in her seat, glancing at him briefly. “I’ll just have to pretend I didn’t see that back there. They’re both pretty good workers, I don’t want to have to transfer either of them.”

  “Ah, so you wouldn’t have to fire them?” Callum relaxed a little. That was good news.

Kinda.

“Well, it depends on what they might have got up to on official channels. Hopefully, it’s something new and they’ll disclose once they’re serious.” Rayla sighed as they pulled into the hotel let down area. “But uh, different rules for senior, supers and that.”

“Oh?” No longer occupied driving, Callum shifted to face her.

Rayla bit her bottom lip, a knowing look on her face. “It’s not a particularly career making move, shall we say?” She blushed a little and looked away. “Especially for a woman.”

“Ah.” Callum commiserated. “That sucks.”

Rayla looked over at him again.

“You know, because of sexism.” Callum felt his cheeks burning. At least she was letting him down easy. No awkward conversations. Their friendship could remain intact. Not exactly what he was hoping for, but certainly better than nothing.

Maybe sometime in the future…

Rayla chuckled, rolling her eyes. “Yeah, because of sexism.” She said flatly.

Before Callum could respond she opened her door.

“Well, I should go. I need to read over my presentation before I get ready. Em, thanks for my jelly tart. And, you know, the whole morning.” She paused, one leg out the door. “I had a really good time.”

“Yeah, me too.” Callum smiled at her. “Though, you only got half a jelly tart.”

“True.” She grinned. “Guess I’ll just had to come back for the other half.”

“I’d like that.” Callum sighed. This day had gone by too quickly.

Rayla looked down, a small smile on her face. “Well, I guess I’ll message you or something?” She stepped out of the car. “Thanks again.”

“Any time.” Callum meant it. He didn’t want his time with her to end, but really, he was beyond lucky they even got to meet.

Rayla took a deep breath as if to say something, then paused and closed the door. She tapped the bonnet twice, before turning and walking away.

Sighing, Callum pulled out his phone and checked his messages. He probably should grab some groceries while out. Best to check with Ez and see if he wanted anything.

He really should have got him a jelly tart. He wasn’t going to live that down. How could he have gone the entire way to Barius’ and not got him a jelly tart?

The overwhelming distraction that was Rayla… that’s how.

And now what? When would he see her again? Today had gone so well it seemed... anticlimactic to say a simple goodbye outside her hotel. He never asked her when exactly she was going back to Duren. Maybe they could find time for another quick catch up before she went home? Those few hours with her just didn’t seem enough.

He needed to see her again.

Sighing, he glanced at his phone.

Ezran – How’s it all going?

Callum rolled his eyes. How on earth to answer that one.

“Hey!”

He jumped in fright, dropping his phone as he looked over to the passenger door.

Rayla was standing by the open door, giggling at him.

“Eh, hey, did you forget something?” Callum asked, confused.

“Hmm… maybe.” She smirked. “Do you have any plans for tonight?”

Callum’s stomach did a somersault. “Tonight? No.”

“Want to be bored off your arse by a bunch of lawyers?” She asked, leaning against the car door.

“Uh... Sure.” He tried not to sound too excited. She was asking him to her dinner thing?

“Cool.” She pushed herself up right. “See you around 4.30? Lobby bar?”

 “It’s a da-” Callum caught himself. Was it a date? “It’s, uh, yep. 4.30.”

Rayla raised an eyebrow at him, a devious smirk on her face. “Ok, see you then.”

“Wait!” Callum called out as she turned to leave.

“Yeah?” Rayla turned back, looking confused.

“What’s the dress code? Do I need to wear a suit?” Callum mentally went through his wardrobe. It had been ages since he wore his suit. What if it needed dry cleaning?

Rayla considered his question briefly. “Na, slacks and a shirt should be fine.”

“Tie?” Callum was starting to get a little panicked.

Rayla chuckled. “I think you should be ok. As long as you don’t turn up in sweatpants and a shirt, I don’t think anyone will notice.”

Callum rolled his eyes, laughing softly. “Do you ever let anything go?”

“When it comes to you?” Rayla stood back up. “Never.”

Callum tried to keep the ridiculous smile off his face. He was going to see her again in a few hours. “Gee, thanks.”

“No problem.” Rayla winked, as she stood up straight, flushing suddenly. “Eh, see you later.” She slammed the door and walked a little stiffly toward the hotel entrance.

Callum watched her disappear inside, then sighed long and low, resting his head on the steering wheel. She was beyond confusing. Had she really been shooting him down about the potential of something happening between them? But then why invite him tonight? Was that just as a friend? But she was so flirty! She just delighted in teasing him, didn’t she?

He wasn’t really sure how much more of this he could take. Maybe tonight was the time to have a straight talk with her? A few beers, some Dutch courage… and an actual conversation.

Like adults.

He sighed, thinking over their many false starts and their history of clear avoidance of that particular subject.

He wasn’t sure he liked his odds.

Chapter Text

“So, the white shirt or the blue one?” Callum made his way back into the lounge room. He was dressed in navy slacks and a white shirt, his feet bare.

Ezran was sprawled on the couch, Bait cradled in his hands. He looked Callum up and down, pursing his lips in thought. “Hmm… the blue one, I think.” Ezran nodded decisively. “It goes a bit better with the navy. A bit sharper.”

Callum sighed, turning to go back to his room. His… date with Rayla was still a few hours away, but he needed to shower and iron his clothes before then.  Maybe eat something? He didn’t want to have drinks with her on an empty stomach.

That was a sure-fire way to say something stupid and embarrassing.

“So, really, nothing happened? Nothing at all.” Ezran jumped up, following him. He leaned against the door of Callum’s room, looking unimpressed.

Callum considered the question. It wasn’t like nothing happened, but also it wasn’t as if something happened either.

How to describe little gestures and gazes held just a fraction too long. Almost kisses and interrupted conversations.

“No, nothing happened.” He hung his shirt up again, folding his arms over his chest as the events of the morning ran through his mind.

“And are you like… her date to this dinner thing?” Ezran seemed equally as confused.

“I think it’s just an open invite?” Callum shrugged. “Maybe? It wasn’t clear.”

“Why don’t you just ask her?” Ezran offered, rolling his eyes.

“Yeah, sure. ‘Hey Rayla, is this a date?’. ‘No Callum, I thought I was clear about the no supers datin’ stuff’.” His attempt at her accent needed work. “ ‘Oh fine. This isn’t awkward at all. Let’s have a great night!’”

Ezran snorted. “Well, what’s the alternative, spend the whole night trying to figure it out? What if someone asks you?”

Callum winced. “I’ll gauge it when I’m there, I guess.”

Ezran snorted, pushing himself away from the door. “Oh yeah, because that worked so well this morning.”

“You know, that isn’t exactly supportive!” Callum called after him. He slipped his slacks off and threw on a t-shirt, then joined Ezran in the kitchen.

“You guys are acting like idiots.” Ezran opened the fridge, pulling out a carton of juice. “I’m not going to support this madness any longer. You like her. She likes you. It’s simple.”

“Except she’s a superintendent and isn’t really allowed to date lower level employees and she lives in a different city.” Callum glared at the floor, as if it was somehow responsible for the situation.

Ezran pondered this for a moment. “Maybe you need to get a promotion?”

 

 

~~~

 

 

“Well, good luck.” Ezran beamed at him from the driver seat. “Please try and not be an idiot. I don’t think I can take any more of this.”

“Haha.” Callum deadpanned, checking his hair in the visor mirror one last time. “I wish I had some notice. It’s been ages since I had a haircut.”

Ezran rolled his eyes. “Your hair is fine, Callum. And before you ask, yes, the blue shirt was the right choice. Shirt and pants look well ironed and no, there’s nothing in your teeth.”

Callum chuckled, sighing. “Thanks Ez. And thanks for the lift.”

“No problem.” Ezran grinned at him. “But I’m not waiting up, so, you know, find your own way home….” He raised his eyebrows. “Or don’t, I’m not judging.”

Callum shook his head, rolling his eyes. “I’ll see you later. I don’t think it will be a late one. They have some seminar first thing tomorrow.” He took a deep breath, then opened his door.

“You forgetting something?” Ezran grinned at him.

Callum looked at him quizzically, before Ezran nodded his head in the direction of the centre console.

“Shit.” Callum reached for his wallet, resting obviously in plain view.

“I took the liberty to stock it.” Ezran smiled a little manically.

Callum looked at him, confused. “With… money?”

“No, idiot.” Ezran picked up the wallet and threw it at him. “With chewing gum.”

“Oh.” Callum bent down to pick up the wallet from the car floor, having not managed to catch it. “Thanks.”

“And… protection.” Ezran poked Callum in the upper arm. “Can’t be too safe.”

“Ugh.” Callum blushed. “You’re ridiculous.”

“I’m an optimist.” Ezran beamed.

Callum sighed, shaking his head. “Okay, well, on that note,” He opened the door, preparing to exit the car.  “I’ll see you later. If you’re still up.”

“Hope not.” Ezran called after him.

Callum shook his head and began waking in the direction of the hotel entrance. He glanced around one last time and waved at Ezran.

Taking a deep breath, Callum strode toward to double doors of the impressive building. The doorman smiled at him, opening one door and gesturing for Callum to enter.

“Thanks.” Callum smiled briefly at the doorman; his eyes firmly fixed ahead.

The hotel was opulent, styled in a plush art deco manner, all dim lighting and soft velvet, though Callum paid it little attention, his eyes scanning the lobby for Rayla. To his right was the bar she presumably referred to earlier.

He spotted her instantly, her platinum blonde hair and pale skin a clear contrast to the dark textiles and muted tones of the hotel.

Callum was glad she hadn’t spotted him yet. He needed a moment to... adjust.

She was breathtaking.

Her hair was pulled into a loose up-do, a few sections left down to frame her face. Once again, she was wearing teal, a colour she seemed to favour, likely as it suited her so well. Her dress was lace, high-necked and short sleeved, the skirt short, revealing her long, toned legs. 

She was perched on a high stool by the bar, a beer in one hand, her phone in the other. She moved around to reveal a large cut out in the back of the dress, exposing a generous expanse of skin.

Callum sighed.

This was going to be awkward.

Definitely.

A handsome bartender was drying a glass across the bar from her, appearing to try and engage her in conversation.

Callum snorted when she smiled stiffly at him, taking a sip of her drink then turning her attention back to her phone.

Steeling himself, he approached her.

“Hi.” Callum tried to sound casual as he leaned against the bar next to her.

Her attention immediately left her phone, a relieved smile on her face. “Hey Callum.”

He didn’t miss her eyes darting to the barman briefly.

“Hope I didn’t keep you waiting.” He took the seat next to her, looking for the barman. He needed to calm his racing pulse. He had hoped his nerves were a function of meeting her for the first time this morning, but it appeared that was not the case.

She just seemed to have that effect on him.

“Na, just got here.” She indicated to her almost full drink. “Thirsty?”

“That’s okay.” Callum reached for his wallet. “I got it.”

“Don’t be a dummy. We’ve got a tab.” Rayla managed to get the barman’s attention, though Callum noticed he seemed far less excited to deal with her now. “What’ll it be?” Rayla glanced at Callum.

“Eh, same.” He indicated to her drink.

The barman walked off to retrieve Callum’s beer, with merely a nod of acknowledgement.

“Eh, you look... wow!” Callum tried to tow the lie between complimentary and creepy, but really, he didn’t even know how to articulate how stunning she looked.  

He had never seen a person in real life who looked as amazing as she consistently did.

Rayla chuckled softly, looking down for a moment. “You scrub up alright yourself,” She said, smiling shyly at him.

Callum felt his stomach twist at the look in her eyes. For all her teasing and apparent bravado, she could appear incredibly nervous and vulnerable at times.

“Your beer, sir.” The barman interrupted, placing Callum’s bottle in the small space between them.

“Uh, thanks.” Callum leaned back at the intrusion, smiling tightly at the barman.

“Stick it on our tab.” Rayla straightened, her cheeks a little pink.

“No problem.” The barman smirked at them then made his way to the till.

Rayla looked back at Callum, lifting her own beer in a salute. “Cheers.”

Callum clinked his bottle against hers. “Cheers.” He took a sip, glad to be able to wet his dry mouth. “So, where is everyone?” He glanced around. He wasn’t particularly keen on having to share Rayla with others, but he didn’t want to be surprised by a large group of her workmates either.

Rayla took a generous swig, rolling her eyes. “Around the other side.” She indicated with a look. “They’ve been there for a while actually. I just got here to set up the tab.”

Callum chuckled. “Ah, networking already, are they?”

Rayla snorted. “My guys have been ‘networking’ since they got to the airport in Duren, from what I can tell.” She sighed. “I think we’re going to have to chalk it all up to isolation madness and turn a blind eye to a few things.”

“Yeah?” Callum felt his pulse begin to race a little.

 Rayla shrugged, sipping her beer once again. “I guess it’s the first time some people have been able to cut loose in a few months. We were lucky restrictions eased in line with the end of quarter celebrations.”

Callum nodded, wondering if that applied to their… situation. “And what does that mean with your friends at the traffic lights?”

Rayla blushed, seeming to be clearly avoiding eye contact. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” She finished her beer in one last gulp, and slid off the chair, smoothing her dress as she got to her feet. “Ready?”

“I guess.” Callum lifted his own drink, surprised to find it nearly empty. That did not bode well for the rest of the night.

Rayla turned on heal and began to make her way from the bar, revealing her bare back to him.

Callum sorely wished he still had a drink, his eyes unconsciously running over the alluring lines of her    slim form.

He made to follow her and almost crashed into her when she stopped abruptly and turned to face him.

She raised her eyebrows when she seemed to register how close they were standing, but did not make a move to step back. Instead, she paused, and he watched her as she swallowed and seemed to ponder what she was going to say next.

“So… maybe don’t volunteer where you work, unless someone specifically asks… which they won’t.” She chuckled, seeming to try to appear playful and nonchalant.

Callum hesitated, narrowing his eyes. Part of him wanted to merely agree and not ask questions. It was certainly the easy option. Maybe wait a few hours, let them both relax and approach the subject later… but he wasn’t sure how much longer he could take the uncertainty. And maybe this was his best opening. He swallowed, looking her almost defiantly in the eyes. “Why?”

Rayla laughed softly, rolling her eyes, looking anywhere but him while she seemed to formulate a response. She bit her lip, smiling at him lopsidedly, her deep blush obvious even in the soft lighting. “You know why.”

Callum smiled, feeling his own face light up. “Do I?” He hesitated for a second, then reached out to grasp at her fingers.

Rayla laughed softly, looking down, her own fingers curling slightly around his.

“Oh hello, Callum, I wasn’t expecting to see you here.”

Callum started at the deep, confident voice of Viren. He was standing a little behind Rayla, a knowing grin on his face.

Rayla snapped to attention, stepping back almost comically fast to put a respectable distance between them. A confused look crossed over her face before she somewhat regained her composure.

“Oh, hey Viren.” Callum looked at him, a little confused. What was he doing here? Was this some kind of weird coincidence? What department did Viren even work in? He’d never paid much attention to that before, dimly aware that he had an office with an actual door some place on one of the upper floors.

“Putting in for a transfer, are we?” Viren stepped forward to shake Callum’s hand. “We are a bit short handed in our department.”

Callum laughed softly. “Not quite. Eh, do you know Rayla?” He gestured to her, a little concerned with how shaken she seemed. “She works in legal. She helped me out with a weirdo recently.”

“Oh, I already know Rayla.” Viren inclined his head, offering her his hand as well. “And your little legal problem.”

Claudia’s cryptic messages from weeks ago flashed in Callum’s head. Of course. Viren was the one who told Claudia legal was going to contact him. 

Rayla smiled a little stiffly, shaking Viren’s hand. “Nice to see you again, Viren. I believe the teams are mostly gathered on the other side of the bar.” She gestured behind her.

“Excellent. Well, I’ll… leave you to it.” Viren seemed to be struggling to suppress a snicker. “I’m sure I’ll see you both later.” Nodding at them, he strode away in the direction Rayla had indicated.

As soon as he was out of eyeshot, Rayla turned on Callum. “How do you know Viren?” She hissed; her brow furrowed.

Callum felt his stomach drop. She looked genuinely concerned. “I’ve known Viren since I was a kid. He’s really good friends with my Dad.”

Rayla seemed to be considering this, her lips a thin line.

“I, uh, don’t think he’d… assume anything.” Callum tried to reassure her. Surely Viren wouldn’t care. From what Callum knew about what he and Harrow got up to in their youth, he didn’t seem like a stickler for the rules.

“Good. Because there’s nothing to assume.” She said pointedly. 

“Obviously.” Callum smiled stiffly, hoping he was hiding how her words stung.

Rayla’s face soften a little, her eyes darting to the other side of the bar. She sighed, her hand grasping his wrist briefly as she began moving in the direction of the main group. “Come on.”

They made their way to the other side of the bar, Callum immediately feeling awkward as he approached the large group of people. He was not good at small talk.

“Hi Rayla.” A fair-haired man with an impressive moustache greeted them warmly as they approached.

“Hi Tristan.” She responded to him a little formally. “This is Callum. He’s from the Katolis marketing department. Graphic design.”

So they were abandoning the plan to lie about where he worked?

Tristan looked at Callum a little dimly. “Oh…” He narrowed his eyes for a moment then his face lit up. “The frog guy?”

Callum started in surprise, looking at Rayla for guidance.

She inclined her head at Tristan. “Yes, Callum is the client with the copyright issue.” Rayla spoke so differently Callum found himself a little lost for words. She turned to look at him. “Would you like a drink, Callum?”

“Eh, sure.” He responded. “Just a beer?”

She nodded then turned to her workmate. “Tristan?”

“All good, Rayla.” He raised his arm, a mostly full pint of amber beer in hand.

Rayla turned and made her way to the bar, leaving Callum alone.

“Hey guys,” Tristan leaned over to a couple standing behind him and Callum raised his eyebrows in shock when he realised it was the duo from the traffic lights. “This is the frog guy.”

They smiled warmly, stepping closer to him.

“Ah, we’ve been following your case. Anita, by the way.” The woman shook Callum’s hand. “Seemed like a fun one.”

“Well apart from having to deal with-" The man started but shut up upon receiving an elbow from the woman. “Eh, yeah. Fun case.”

“Not for me.” Callum joked, trying to figure out the dynamic.

“It must have been a complicated one if they put Rayla on it.” Tristan continued, sipping his beer. “She’s… thorough.”

“I guess.” Callum shrugged, his eyes wandering to the bar, relieved to see Rayla on her way back. “All I had to do was find my files.”  

“No, idiot.” The woman, Anita, snorted, slapping Tristan’s arm playfully. “They put Rayla on that case because it was straight forward. Opeli was freeing her up to step into the super role.”

Ooooh.” Tristan nodded though Callum doubted he understood.

This was the lost guy from earlier, Callum realised, remembering he hated him for interrupting Rayla as they sat too close together by the beach.

“Callum.” Rayla appeared by his side, offering him a beer.

“Thanks.” He took it from her, smiling.

The five of them stood in an awkward silence for a moment before Anita spoke up.

“So how far away is the restaurant?”

 

 

~~~

 

 

Callum observed the interactions between Rayla and her team.  She clearly made an effort to speak to everyone, though the conversation rarely flowed, and he could tell both Rayla and her teammates where on edge.

She definitely wasn’t joking when she mentioned having to have her work persona on all night and he felt a little privileged for being privy to the more relaxed side of her.

The playful Rayla of their usual encounters almost seemed like a different person.

At least there seemed to be a few other people from different departments at this function, so his presence wasn’t quite so strange. They all had rather tenuous reasons for being there, which everyone seemed to put down as “any excuse to go out now they could go out”.

One less thing to stress Rayla out, he thought.

She sighed, taking the final sip of her wine as another co-worker excused themselves to go to the bar.

Callum laughed at her; his own drink long finished.

“I warned you it would be boring.” She smirked.

Callum snorted. “It’s not so bad, though pizza and pinball probably was a bit more fun.”

“You don’t have to hang around me, you know?” She looked around the group. “There’s a free bar and lots of people.”

Callum smiled softly at her. “I want to hang around you.”

Rayla glanced at him then back to the group, her cheeks pink. “Do you want another drink?”

“Are you getting one?” He noticed compared to everyone else, she seemed to be holding back.

“I’ll wait until the restaurant. Someone has to be the adult here.” She shrugged, glancing at her phone. “Speaking of. We should probably get moving. Trying to get everyone to this place is going to be like herding cats.”

True to prediction, it seemed to take more organisation skills than Callum could have imagined getting everyone to finish up their drinks and start shuffling out of the hotel and in the direction of dinner.

Rayla hung back at the bar, settling the tab, while Callum waited patiently. His gut twisted a little when he noticed the barman attempting to flirt with her again, but, as before, Rayla seemed to pay him no mind.

She put her credit card away in her clutch and turned to join him at the door.

“You didn’t have to wait for me.” She smiled in appreciation.

Callum snorted. “I wanted to.”

She laughed quietly, hanging back a moment.

“What?” Callum could sense her hesitancy.

She glanced at the exit. “Seems cold…” Shrugging, she proceeded to the door. “I’ll be fine.”

Callum followed her onto the pavement, falling in step beside her. “I can wait if you want to go get a jacket or something.”

“It’s okay.” She smiled at him. “It’s only a few minutes’ walk…” She paused, her face a little concerned once again. “So, you know Viren from when you were a kid?”

“He went to high school with my Dad.” Callum explained. “Apparently, they got into a lot of trouble together.” He wondered if that was subtle enough.

Casually explain that Viren was a rule breaker and would likely not care about other rule breakers…

“Is that so?” From her rye smile, Callum could tell he wasn’t exactly being sly.  

“Yep.” He nodded sagely.

Rayla snorted at him, stopping abruptly.

“What?” Callum started.

Was this it? Maybe she was going to be frank and tell him he was dreaming. Lay her cards on the table. Explain how she’d tried to be subtle and let him down easy, but he was clearly too dense to get it…

“We’re here.” She nodded behind him.

“Ah.” Callum looked over his shoulder, registering the crowd of somewhat familiar people inside the cosy looking restaurant. He felt some of the tension leave his body. “After you?” He opened the door for her, gesturing for her to enter.

They mulled through the crowd while everyone ordered pre-dinner drinks. After a few minutes, Callum excused himself to go to the bathroom, finding Rayla chatting to Viren and an immaculately dressed woman when he came back.

He watched her from afar, noticing the differences in how she interacted with everyone here. She stood up so straight, smiling often but not the gorgeous wide grin he’d become accustomed to. Her posture was perfect, none of those little hip bumps or playful touches.

He could see now where she could have got the “Ice Queen” reputation from.

Even the managers she appeared to be speaking to seemed a little more relaxed and at ease than she did.

A waiter approached her group, speaking quietly, after which they began making their way to the crowd.

Rayla looked around, finding him quickly, a small but genuine smile lighting up her face.

They made their way toward each other, Callum struggling to contain his own smile.

“Dinner time.” She inclined her head in the direction of the long table set up for them.

Everyone else clamoured to sit beside each other and Callum couldn’t miss the tell-tale signs that Rayla was not anyone’s first choice of table neighbour, though she didn’t seem perturbed.

She made her way to the end of the long table, leaving the rambunctious crowd to sort themselves on the opposite end. Seeming to have settled on a chair, Callum stepped forward and pulled it out for her.

She chuckled as she obliged him. “Such a gentleman.”

“I know.” Callum replied dramatically, pushing the chair gently.

His fingers grazed the bare skin of her back as he did so, and he was surprised as Rayla jumped at the contact. She had been reaching for a glass of water and it slipped from her fingers, spilling on the table and crashing loudly into the silverware.

“Damn it.” Rayla grabbed her napkin as she righted the glass, dabbing at the wet tablecloth.  

“Taxi!” Someone called from the opposite end of the table.  

Callum, remaining standing, leaned over and helped Rayla clean up, their fingers brushing occasionally.

Perhaps not so accidentally.

Mess attended to; he took his seat next to her. “Clumsy.” He teased.

“Shut up.” Rayla kept her eyes straight ahead as she took a sip of water, an amused grin on her face.

 

 

The meal itself was not exactly exhilarating. He and Rayla were clearly seated at the ‘important’ side of the table along with the other managers and superintendents. In fact, he was actually glad to have Viren there. He sat next to Callum and regaled the older crowd with some stories from his and Harrow’s youth.

Some Callum knew. Some he would certainly be bringing up with his father the next time he saw him.

Through it all, he was painfully aware of Rayla sitting so close beside him.  

Her shoulder would press against his briefly, or their fingers would bump as they reached for their drinks.

At one point, her foot ran up his calf and Callum started obviously, enough that Viren stopped talking mid-story for a second.

Rayla glanced at him, then under the table. She flushed red, struggling to keep her composure. “Sorry.” She took a sip of wine. “I thought that was the table.”

Callum snorted, finishing off his own glass. “Its fine.”

“Shall we move this along?” Viren leaned back in his chair, taking a sip of coffee. “There’s an excellent jazz bar about ten minutes from here.”

Callum glanced at his own empty cup then looked to Rayla to gauge her reaction. Her coffee was finished but he noticed she had yet to finish her wine. In fact, it didn’t look like she had even really touched it.

The assembled diners appeared to latch onto Viren’s suggestion and people began getting to their feet.

“I might call it a night.” Rayla also stood up, addressing those closest to her. “I have the opening address at the conference tomorrow.”

“Oh Rayla, relax.” One of the other female managers looked at her a little pitifully.

“Relax?” Another laughed cruelly. “This is Opeli’s protégé. When did you ever see her relax?”

For her part, Rayla did not seem affected, pushing her chair back and picking up her clutch from the table. “Well, I’ll see you all bright and early tomorrow.” She smiled widely this time, seemingly amused by the idea.

The crowd began making their way onto the street as Rayla once again hung back to settle the bill. Callum waited out of sight, hoping no-one picked up he was clearly waiting for Rayla.

Finished, she looked around for him, her face falling a little when she seemed to struggle to find him.

Callum peered out from his hiding place, grinning at her. “Hey.”

She smiled at him, making her way to the door. “What are you doing, dummy?”

“Hiding from your boring friends.” He fell in step beside her, happy to see her relaxed once again.

“They’re not my friends.” She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. Once out on the street, she shivered noticeably, wrapping her arms around herself. “You should go on.” She nodded in the direction of the retreating crowd.

Callum snorted. He had zero interest in her work mates. “I’m good. Should probably have an early night too.” He hesitated for a moment. “I can walk you to your hotel…? It makes as much sense to call a cab from there as here.” He hoped she didn’t try to find an excuse for him not to, but she merely shrugged and began walking in the direction from which they came.

 She rubbed her arms against the cold night, inhaling through her gritted teeth.

Callum watched her for a moment, glancing back at the crowd. They had either found Viren’s jazz place or turned a corner because they were nowhere to be seen on the deserted streets. Hesitating briefly, he stepped a little closer to her and wrapped his arm around her shoulder. “Cold?”

He made sure not to touch her bare skin, keeping his hand above the sleeve of her dress.

Rayla started a little, but seemed to think the better of it, relaxing after a moment and ever so slightly resting her head against his shoulder. “A little.”

Callum racked his brain for something to say. “Did you, uh, have a good night?”

Rayla exhaled, her breath warm against his shoulder. “Better than I thought.” She glanced at him. “I told you it would be boring.”

“I was highly entertained.” Callum pulled her a little closer. “Though, I was disappointed not to have the most exciting legal story there.”

Rayla looked at him sceptically. “Huh?”

“Your good friend Tristan told me about some Omegaverse case?” He grinned.

Rayla laughed loudly, shaking her head. “That idiot. That is hardly a workplace appropriate conversation.”

“I don’t know.” Callum continued in a mock serious tone. “I was very interested in the ins and outs of the court battle.”

“Interesting in the ins and outs of omega stuff, are you?” Rayla glanced at him out of the corner of her eye, grinning broadly.

Callum laughed at her, realising that they had arrived back at her hotel.

Why did time with her race so much? The night was over... and maybe so was their time together. Once again, he had failed to get an answer on what was going on between them. Though he didn’t exactly blame either of them for that. It wasn’t like they had had much opportunity to speak in private.

Maybe she had time before flying back to Duren tomorrow? Perhaps they would have the opportunity for a coffee or something.

Even one at the airport...?

Rayla stepped away from him and through the doors, apparently happy to be out of the chill night. Callum followed close behind, his phone in hand.

“Huh.” He frowned at the screen.

“What?” Rayla stood back to look at him.

“Bit of a wait for a ride is all.” He showed her his screen, not wanting her to think he was playing games. “About forty minutes…” He paused, considering if it was too late to call Ezran.

“We could have a drink while you wait?” Rayla offered quickly.

“Ah, sure.” Callum tried to keep his face neutral. Any extra time with her was a bonus. “You sure you don’t need to work on your presentation or something?”

“It’s fine.” Rayla turned and began walking, though Callum watched her confused for a moment before he fell in step beside her. He glanced to his right, noting the mostly empty bar.

It was not the direction Rayla was walking.

Callum looked around, realising Rayla was walking towards the elevators. Were they going to have a drink in her room?

Rayla pressed the button for the lift, glancing at him briefly. She had a strangely neutral look on her face, but Callum could see the blush on her cheeks. They stepped inside the elevator without a word and Rayla pushed the button for her floor.

He glanced at her in the mirrored walls of the elevator, noting the barely perceptible smile on her lips.

Was she playing with him?

The doors opened and she gestured for him to exit first. He stood in the hallway, following immediately after her as she turned towards her room.

She opened the door and stepped inside, holding it for Callum.

He swallowed, stepping into her room.  

It was decorated in a similar art deco styling to the bar, deep navys and rose golds. To his left was a large king size bed, though Callum avoided looking there. There was a small lounge area, with a compact couch and a small coffee table.

“Have a seat.” Rayla gestured to the couch, as she bent down to take off her heels.

Callum sat stiffly on the couch, watching as Rayla made her way to the mini bar. She returned with a beer in each hand, offering one to him as she collapsed into the other end of the sofa.

“Wow, mini bar beers.” He grinned, uncapping his drink. “They do treat the legal team well.”

Rayla snorted, taking a generous drink. “We can’t all be lucky enough to get team pizza and pinball.”

Callum smiled at her, then paused and took a deep breath. “Eh, so, what time are you guys heading back to Duren tomorrow?” He wasn’t looking forward to discussing this. He... really didn’t want her to go. They’d only spent a day together and it had been nowhere near enough.

“The team's booked on a flight at two thirty.” She tucked her legs up under her rear, resting her head against the back of the couch.

Callum nodded. Two thirty? That was too early to realistically do anything together. “Do you need a... ride to the airport?” It would surely be better than nothing.

Rayla pulled at the label of her beer. “There’s a bus organised.”

“Ah,” Callum sighed. “Efficient.”

She shrugged, sitting up a little straighter and resting an arm on the back of the couch. “I’m actually here for another night though.”

“You are?” Callum felt his heart soar once again.

“I have a... meeting on Monday morning.” She continued playing with the label of her drink, gently unpeeling it from the green glass.

“Are you free tomorrow afternoon?” Callum swallowed; his mouth dry. “Do you want to catch up again?”

Rayla paused, looking down and playing with the hem of her dress. Taking a deep breath, she glanced up at him, her cheeks pink. “Okay.”

“Cool.” Callum tried desperately not to convey how ridiculously excited her response made him.

Rayla shifted a little on the couch, moving ever so slightly closer to him. “So, what do you want to do?”

Callum’s pulse raced. His eyes darted down, registering how close they were sitting now, Rayla’s knees just not touching his thigh. “Uh, we could grab something to eat?”

Rayla nodded, shrugging, a flirty little smile on her lips. “We could.”

Callum paused for a moment, his pulse racing, then grazed his fingers just along her arm. “Or we could get a drink?”

Rayla’s eyes darted to his fingers briefly and she moved once again, her knees now surely pressed against his leg. “It’s an option.” She spoke barely above a whisper, her eyes darting to his mouth so briefly he almost missed it.

“Or we could-”

His third option was cut off when Rayla abruptly closed the small distance between them, pressing her soft lips against his.

Callum inhaled sharply, his free hand slipping up her arm, gently caressing her shoulder.

He felt almost dizzy from the pure relief of finally kissing her. It was an all-new form of exhilaration. After what felt like forever wondering, hoping, fantasising, it was finally happening.

She was almost shy in her actions, despite being the one who took the initiative and made the first move. Her fingers shifted to grasp at his shirt, the barest hint of nails on skin. Easing herself against him, he felt her tongue against his bottom lip. Callum’s hand moved down across her shoulder to clutch at the back of her neck, his fingers teasing her hair just a little. He pulled her closer, deepening the kiss… thrilling as their breath mingled.

Kissing her was somehow exhilarating and intoxicating at the same time. He wanted to touch her, run his hands over her stunning body and yet this was beyond satisfying… holding her gently and feeling her mouth against his.

Rayla pulled back, pressing her forehead to his, her eyes closed.

Their breathing was coming in shallow pants.

She looked at him, her eyes searching his face and Callum desperately wanted to know what she was thinking.

They were not supposed to be doing this.

He pressed forward to kiss her again, but she leaned back suddenly, moving out of his reach.

He swallowed, assuming she had come to her senses, but she merely placed her beer on the coffee table behind her then turned back to him, smirking. Glancing at Callum’s own beer, she arched an eyebrow before she took it from him, placing it next to her own.

She looked back at him and this time Callum moved first. He surged forward, slipping a hand around her waist, his other on her bare thigh, just above the knee. Callum pulled her close against him, grinning broadly before he kissed her once again.

His pulse raced at the little whimper that escaped Rayla’s throat. She ran her hands through his hair as she pressed herself to his chest. Her breath hitched as he ghosted his hand over the exposed skin of her back.

Without breaking the kiss, she pushed at his shoulders, urging him back against the couch. In a swift move she rose up onto her knees, then settled with one leg on either side of his hips.

Callum groaned loudly as she settled in his lap, unable to resist the urge to buck against her. Rayla gasped too, her hands once again in his hair. She shivered noticeably as Callum caressed her back and he was once again thankful she had worn this dress. The feel of her skin against his almost overwhelming his senses.

Callum started as a phone rang out loudly and it took his hazy mind a moment to register that it was his phone. “Shit.” He hissed, his head falling on the sofa back for a moment. “That’s probably my taxi.”

Rayla nodded, slipping off his lap to sit next to him. She shifted slightly, pulling on her dress where it had ridden up.

“I should, uh, probably get this.” Callum lifted his hips to retrieve his phone from his pocket, blushing a little at the slight tenting.

Rayla chuckled, smoothing her hair. “Probably.”

Callum took a moment to catch his breath before picking up. “Hello?” He glanced at Rayla, though she was clearly avoiding eye contact as she played with some of the lace hem on her dress. “Yeah, ok. I’ll be right down.” He hung up, looking over at her.

Rayla finally looked back up at him, a cheeky grin on her face. “Oops.”

Callum couldn’t help but laugh. “Oops.”

“We really weren’t supposed to do that.” Rayla wrinkled her nose, still smiling widely.

“No.” Callum sighed happily. “I figured.” They weren’t supposed to do that, sure, but god he desperately wanted to do it again. He hesitated for a moment, then reached out and took her hand. Even the simple gesture of feeling her fingers against his sent electric shocks along his skin and he swallowed against the intense desire to push her back against the sofa and kiss her hard once more.

To feel her body beneath his, her breath against his ear… maybe her gasping his name… “Do you still want to catch up tomorrow?” He licked his suddenly dry lips.

What if she said no? What if she came to her senses and decided this wasn’t worth whatever the fallout might be?

“Yeah.” She snorted softly, as if it were obvious.

“Good.” Callum couldn’t keep the goofy grin off his face. He really didn’t want to leave now, but perhaps it was for the best. Tensions had been riding high all day and he didn’t want them to rush into something they might regret.

Or so he tried to tell himself anyway…

“Okay.” He took a deep breath, getting to his feet. “Em, do you want to let me know when you’re finished with your conference stuff and we can decide what to do then?”

Rayla chuckled, a coy look on her face. “Sure.” She got to her feet as well, looking a lot less immaculately put together than she had been earlier in the bar. Her hair was coming loose, and her lips were pink and swollen.

There was something intensely alluring about seeing her like this, dishevelled and breathless.

Callum smiled, his eyes taking in every inch of her pretty face. He desperately wanted to kiss her again, but he didn’t think he could stop if he did that. He nodded, unable to trust his voice, then turned and made his way to the door.  

Rayla followed close behind, her bare feet silent on the lush carpet.

“Tomorrow then?” He turned by the door and tried to keep his eyes on hers, though he couldn’t stop looking at her pink lips.

Rayla nodded, her own eyes not quite reaching his.

She sucked gently on her bottom lip and Callum could resist the urge no more. He cupped her face with one hand, the other on the small of her back, as he kissed her softly. Rayla’s hands rested on his chest, tugging almost imperceptibly on his shirt.

Sighing, Callum pulled back, his hand still on her face. “Good night.”

She leaned into his touch; her eyes soft. “Good night.”

Callum gazed at her one last time, sighing happily as he opened the door and stepped into the hallway.

Chapter Text

The bright lights of the corridor were like a slap in the face, so stark and contrasting to the soft glow of Rayla’s dimly lit room. Callum let out a happy sigh, resting his forehead on her door for a moment.

It had happened. They had actually kissed.

And almost more.

His heart was utterly racing in his chest and he had no idea how he was actually going to get any sleep tonight… but it had happened.

After weeks of wondering and wanting and dreaming that something might happen…

He took a deep breath, pushing himself away from the door and strolling in the direction of the lift.

Pressing the call button, he caught his reflection in the shiny steel surface of the elevator doors. He was grinning like a complete idiot and couldn’t stop.

Truth be told, he really did not want to go home but it did seem like the sensible thing to do. They had only known each other for a few weeks… they’d only met this morning. He had never moved this fast with anyone before.

But he’d never felt a connection with anyone like he did with Rayla. He couldn’t explain it, but it was like he’d know her forever. Things were easy with her.

Relaxed.

Well… sort of.

Knowing her was exhilarating.

And he certainly did not feel relaxed right now. Adrenaline was surging through his veins and he felt giddy and dumb.

The elevator dinged and he stepped inside, pushing the button for the ground floor, then slumping against the back wall.

They had kissed.

And more than that, she had kissed him first!

After his two false starts this morning, he was beyond happy she had taken the initiative.

And he was going to see her tomorrow. His mind raced at what that might involve, considering what had just happened.

There was no way he was going to get much sleep tonight.

He frowned as the elevator dinged once again, the doors opening suddenly just as they were about to close and the elevator presumably descend.

The door opened to reveal Rayla, standing bare foot in the hallway.

“Rayla?” He asked, thoroughly confused. “Did I forget something?” He instinctively patted his trousers for his phone and wallet

“Hmm… maybe.” Rayla stepped into the elevator, her eyes on his, almost defiantly. Without further discussion, she slipped her hands up his chest and around his neck.

Callum’s own hands came up instinctively to rest on her waist.

She paused briefly, her lips only just not touching his. Her breath tickled his face, warm and gentle… and then she was kissing him again.

Callum gripped her tightly, his fingers ghosting across her narrow back. He stumbled backwards, colliding with the back of the elevator, and they parted briefly in surprise.

Rayla laughed, brushing his too long hair back from his face before kissing him again.

The elevator dinged once more and they both looked around confused as the door opened, displaying them to the deserted lobby.

Rayla groaned in frustration, stepping away from him to press the button for her floor, leaving Callum in little doubt as to where this was going.

She looked from the button to Callum, raising her chin and eyebrows as if in a question.

He strode up to her, wrapping his arms around her waist and capturing her lips again. She giggled against his mouth, pulling him against her as the lift began to rise through the floors.

After only a brief few seconds, the familiar ding caught their attention. They both looked at the floor display, dimly registering they were not on Rayla’s level just in time for the doors to part.

The doors opened to reveal an elderly couple, apparently waiting patiently for their elevator and completely unprepared to find a couple in a compromising position.

Callum and Rayla jumped apart, moving to the side to let the couple enter.

The woman moved first, snickering obviously as she stepped through the doors. The man followed after, stepping awkwardly around Callum to press the button for his floor.

They all stood in an uncomfortable silence as the elevator rose through the floors. Callum glanced at Rayla in the mirrored walls, smiling at her when he saw she was struggling not to laugh. Her shoulders shook slightly, and she had her lips pressed tightly together. He reached for her hand, interlacing their fingers, and squeezing gently.

The elevator finally reached Rayla’s floor and she pulled him out the door, very obviously avoiding eye contact with the couple to their left. Once in the hallway, she dropped his hand, apparently scanning the long corridor for gawkers. Finding it empty, she proceeded down the hallway to her room.

Callum caught up with her quickly, reaching out for her fingers again. Rayla batted his hand away, snickering, as she stopped outside her room. She hovered her key card over the lock, pushing the heavy door and holding it open for him.

Callum quickly followed her inside, leaving the door to shut behind him.

Rayla wrapped her hands around his neck as he kissed her passionately. He rested his hands on the small of her back, his rough fingers gently caressing her soft skin. They stumbled a little, colliding with a narrow table by the door. Rayla gasped loudly as she arched against him and Callum took the opportunity to drop his lips to her neck, sucking and nipping along her delicate skin.

“Don’t leave a mark, dummy.” She whimpered, her fingers raking through his hair.

Callum chuckled but did listen, placing lighter kisses against her throat.

Rayla threw her head back, groaning loudly when it connected with a light fitting. “Ow.”

Callum pulled back to look at her, laughing openly.

“Are you mocking my pain?” She whispered against his mouth.

“Maybe.” He kissed her gently. “Maybe I’ll have to think of a way of taking your mind off it?” He tried to catch his breath a little, wondering if she could feel his heart hammering in his chest.

“Oh?” Rayla smirked. “What do you have in mind?”

Callum grinned back, not quite bold enough to articulate his thoughts. Instead, he slipped his hands under her rear and lifted her up so she could sit on the table.

Seeming to approve, Rayla wrapped her long legs around his waist, dragging him tight against her as she pulled his lips to her once more. She ground herself alongside him, both of them gasping loudly at the delicious friction.

Callum groaned, as Rayla ghosted her fingers along the waistband of his slacks. Seemingly encouraged, she cupped him a little more firmly, tracing the outline of his hardness with a light touch. Callum ran his own hands up her thighs, pausing for a moment, then pushing past the hem of her dress. He ran his thumb along the outside of her underwear, his heart pounding in his chest as she gasped his name.

They both jumped when Callum’s phone began ringing loudly again.

“Shit.” Callum sighed against her neck. “Fucking cab.”

Rayla slipped her hand into his pocket pulling out his phone. Her eyes on his, she answered the call.

“Hello?” She paused, grinning wickedly. “No, sorry. He’s not in any fit state to go anywhere right now.” She hung up, dropping his phone onto the table and arching an eyebrow at him. “What? It’s the truth.”

She cupped his crotch firmly, causing Callum to gasp out loud.

She worked on his belt and the fly of his pants, her actions a little more urgent than his. Her hand found its way inside his boxers and Callum dropped his head to her shoulder as she grasped him tightly. He panted against her neck for a moment, needing to catch his breath, as she stroked him decisively.

His lips once again found her neck as he resumed his attentions towards her, his own fingers slipping inside her panties. Rayla shuffled on her rear and he took this as a cue. Clumsily, due to their position, he tugged at her underwear. She obliged him, moving slightly to assist him as he slipped them down her legs and dropped them, forgotten, to the floor. Simultaneously, Rayla pushed his slacks and boxers down.

Callum briefly realised he have looked utterly ridiculous, shirt hanging loose, trousers and underwear halfway down his thighs but Rayla wrapped her legs around him once again and all coherent thought briefly left his mind as she pushed herself close to him, the delicious feeling of skin on skin enough to make him moan loudly.

“Shush.” She chastised in a breathy giggle.

Callum snorted, his mouth on hers once again. “You did that on purpose.”

He felt Rayla smile. “Yes. I did.” She arched against him again, crushing her mouth to his. “The bathroom…” She gasped, her chest heaving.

“What?” Callum asked, his mind struggling to process anything but the feeling of her against him.

 “Condoms.” She whispered against his ear. “In the bathroom.”

“Oh.” Callum paused as he tried to think. “Hold on.” He fumbled for his wallet; his fingers clumsy as he pulled out a silvery packet.

Rayla snickered. “Came prepared, did we?” She nuzzled his neck, sucking slightly.

Callum pulled back to look at her, grinning broadly. “Em, you brought condoms on a business trip.”

Rayla snickered heartily. “Maybe I’ve had my eye on Viren for a while?” She laughed even louder at the face Callum made.

“Are you trying to spoil the mood?” He grimaced.

“Am I succeeding?” She ground herself against him, grinning widely as Callum gritted his teeth and hissed.

“Fuck no.” He fumbled with the condom for a moment, then turned his attention back to her. 

He wrapped one hand around her waist and the other he used to tease her, wanting to be sure she was truly ready. He concentrated on her core, enjoying the little jerks and cries she clearly couldn’t contain.

“Callum, please.” She whispered into his ear.

He kissed her clumsily as he pushed himself against her entrance. Their breathing came in soft gasps as he pressed into her. Callum pushed further until he was full sheathed, shivering at the feel of her enveloping him. She was so warm and tight. It was more amazing than he ever could have imagined.

Could have dreamed.

He struggled to control his breathing, his hands shaking as he gripped her. Rayla purred against his neck, her legs tight around his waist and her hands gripping his back.

He gave her a second before gently rocking against her, utilising all of his mental strength to force himself to take it slowly. He was so on edge he didn’t think he would last long if he didn’t control himself. Callum nipped and kissed her neck as Rayla arched against him, wrapping her strong legs tighter around his waist.

“Callum.” She cried huskily, adjusting the angle of her own thrusting slightly. Her breath came in soft gasps and he felt her begin to shudder. He hoped she was close because he could not last much longer. The tension of the day had been almost overwhelming.

Those soft touches, almost kisses, penetrating gazes… he had felt like a bow pulled tight all day… desperate for release.

Without warning, she cried out softly against his ear and he felt her clamp down on him. He gasped into her hair as he quickly followed, surprised by the intensity of his own release. They thrust against each other for a few more seconds, slowly coming down.

She slumped against him, resting her head against his cheek. “Oops.” Her voice was small. Amused.

Satisfied. 

Callum chuckled, his fingers gently stroking up and down her back. “Oops.”

She sighed happily, leaning back slightly to look him in the eyes. “We definitely weren’t supposed to do that.”

Callum chuckled, leaning forward to kiss her. “No?”

“No.” She ran her fingers through his hair, smiling against his lips.

“Well,” He paused, resting his forehead against hers. “I’m pretty glad we did.”

Rayla smiled. “Yeah, me too.” She kissed him softly, both of them still a little breathless.

Callum pulled back, gazing at her. Her hair was a mess, her cheeks pink and rosy… she had never looked more beautiful to him. “Em, I should go… clean up.” He gestured to where they were still joined.

Rayla snorted, nodding. “Me too.”

He stepped back, pulling his clothes into place enough to make it to the bathroom. “I’ll see you in a minute.”

Rayla slid off the table, nodding, adjusting her dress as she did so.

Callum quickly tidied himself up, then turned to the sink. He washed his hands and face, glancing at the mirror and surprised to find he looked as dishevelled as Rayla.

He wanted to pinch himself to make sure he wasn’t dreaming. He had no idea how that had really happened, his mind still racing.

He dried his hands and made his way back to the bedroom, anxious to see Rayla again. To touch her. Be near her.

She was sitting on the end of the bed, wrapped in a fluffy robe. Her hair was down now, though it still looked adorably mused.

He smiled at her, making his way over and sitting next to her.

She grinned at him, shaking her head. “So…” She shifted a little closer to him.

“So…” He smiled back, reaching out for her hand. “Still want to catch up again tomorrow?”

“Na.” She teased. “I’ve got what I wanted out of you.”

“Have you?” Callum pulled her into his lap, feigning indignance, as he sighed against her neck.

“Yep.” She breathed, her hands once again in his hair.

 

 

 

~~~

 

 

 

 “Callum.”

“Huh?” He groaned sleepily. Where was he?

“Callum, wake up.”

Rayla?

He opened his eyes, confused for a moment.

This wasn’t his bed.

And why was Rayla in a bed with him?

The events of the past few hours came rushing back to him and he started awake.

“Hey.” He smiled lazily at her. “What, you up for round three?”

Rayla rolled her eyes, struggling to hide her smile. “You have to go.” She was dressed in a worn cotton t-shirt, sitting up by his shoulder.

“Wha?” He shook his head, still groggy. Even through the thick curtains, he could tell it was late. Or early. “What time is it?”

Rayla threw his shirt at his head. “After 5. People are going to start getting up soon and they cannot see you sneaking out.”

Callum pulled his shirt from his face, laughing. “You’re kicking me out?!”

“Yes!” She pushed his shoulder. “UP!”

Callum swung his legs over the side of the bed and pulled his shirt on. He looked around for the rest of his clothes only the be hit in the back by what appeared to be his pants and boxers. Turning around, he found Rayla standing in only that t-shirt and boyshorts, her hand on a hip.

He couldn’t help but smile at her, laughing along when she began to giggle at him.

“Hurry up, before I push you out the window.” She began scanning around, bending over, and standing back up with one of his shoes.

“I’m feeling very used right now.” He joked, pulling his slacks up and dimly realising he had no idea where his belt ended up.

“Are you?” She rolled her eyes, smirking, as she slung his belt across the bed.

Callum grabbed it, threading it through his pants, as he glanced at her. “Yeah, a little.” He snickered as he made himself presentable as quickly as possible, not bothering to tuck in his shirt.

“I’m sure you’ll live.” She unceremoniously began pushing him in the direction of the door. “Now, you need to go before people start making the most of the buffet breakfast.”

She stopped before the door and turned to grin at him. Before he could respond, she had opened the door and shoved him outside.

He stood dumbfounded in the hallway. “Shit” He mumbled, turning back, and knocking softly on her door.

She opened the door a tiny fraction, her eyes darting in both directions. “What?” She whispered, that cheeky grin firmly in place.

“We’re still catching up tomorrow, right?” Callum swallowed, a little nervous.

She snorted, rolling her eyes at him. “Of course, dummy.” She looked around one last time, darting forward to kiss him quickly on the lips. “Now bugger off.”

Callum jumped as the door once again slammed in his face.

Chapter Text

Callum tipped the taxi driver extra, hoping it would karmically make up for the poor abandoned driver from last night.

He really had felt bad about that. Not enough to take the cab, obviously, but bad all the same.  

He proceeded quickly into his apartment building, shivering against the pre-dawn cold. Cautiously, he opened his front door, glancing around.

Predictably, Ezran was in bed.

Which made sense given the early hour. Still, part of him thought he might come home to find his brother snoozing on the sofa, primed and ready for an interrogation.

That would probably come tomorrow…

Definitely come tomorrow.

Callum tip toed to his room, opening his door gingerly to avoid making any excessive noise. He quickly stripped off his clothes and slipped beneath the covers, still feeling chilly.

What he wouldn’t give to curl up next to Rayla for warmth.

He stared at the wall.

When she had told him it wasn’t a sleepover he had thought she was joking. He certainly hadn’t expected her to kick him out at stupid o’clock in the morning.

Still, he understood her point of view. Office gossip and weird dating rules did not make for a relaxing morning.

How had that all just happened?

He had been hoping to clear up if they had been on a date. Actually getting to kiss her had been like some kind of amazing bonus.

Everything after…?

It seemed like some kind of surreal dream.

What was he doing? He had never moved this quickly with someone before… but he’d never felt like this about anyone ever.

He felt… a connection to her like nothing he’d ever experience previously.

He had thought his attraction to her was intense before, but being in her physical presence was almost overwhelming.

A part of him couldn’t believe they had managed to go the entire day without kissing. Once that barrier had been crossed, everything that came after seemed inevitable.

He glanced at his clock. Just after half past four.

He really needed to sleep if he didn't want to be a zombie when they caught up tomorrow.

Though, if her colleagues’ plane wasn’t until after two then he was going to have some time to kill in the morning. They’d probably be leaving for the airport around midday though, right?

Why hadn’t he asked her that?

He needed to know how long it was going to be before he saw her again.

It had already been too long.

He sighed happily, laughing at himself in the grey, pre-dawn darkness of his room.

 

 

~~~

 

 

Callum startled awake at the loud bang from the kitchen. He groaned, checking the time on his phone.

0952

He frowned a little to find no messages from Rayla.

Maybe she had been super rushed trying to get to her conference on time. She was the opening speaker after all.

Frowning, Callum considered his next move. It wasn’t obscenely early for a Sunday, but he felt like he had only just gone to sleep. His heart and mind had been racing for hours, replaying the previous days events over and over. Analysing every word Rayla had said, each look…

He sighed, feeling fully awake. Jumping up, he made his way to his en suite bathroom.

 It was probably best to be showered and ready for whenever Rayla was available to catch up.

He stared at his phone as the water heated up.

Chewing his lip, he composed a text message.

Callum: Hope the conference goes ok.

              Let me know when suits to catch up later.

 

 

~~~

 

 

Callum threw on a t-shirt and jeans, then took a deep breath before exiting his bedroom.

He was definitely going to get interrogated.

Ezran was in the kitchen, sitting on the bench with a bowl of cereal. A pot of coffee was bubbling on the stove.

Callum snorted. Ezran rarely made the first coffee of the morning. That was clearly for his benefit.

“Morning.” Ezran mumbled around his full mouth. He snickered at Callum, raising his eyebrows. “Good night?”

Callum sighed, desperately fighting the grin tugging at his mouth. “Yeah, okay.”

Ezran snorted, rolling his eyes.

Callum glanced at him as he pretended to check the coffee.

“What time did you get in?” Ezran asked innocently.

“Uh, not sure.” Callum turned his back on his brother and busied himself in the fridge, feeling his face burn. “Not too late.”

“Liar.” Ezran put his cereal down and hopped off the bench. “It was past four!”

Callum snickered. “Why ask if you were keeping tabs?” He turned to face Ezran. “Dad.”

“So I guess it was a date then?” Ezran grinned.

“Uh, I guess.” Callum checked the coffee.

“What do you mean?” Ezran nodded as Callum offered him a cup.

“We didn’t get a chance to talk about it exactly.” Callum began pouring their coffee.

“I don’t need details.” Ezran wrinkled his nose.

Callum snorted, as he added milk. “I wasn’t going to give you details.” He held a cup out to his unimpressed looking brother.

“So, what now?” Ezran sipped his coffee.

“Eh, that didn’t come up either.” Callum frowned.

“Oh.” Ezran paused. “She’s going back to Duren today though, isn’t she?”

“No,” Callum felt butterflies. “She’s here for another night. We’re catching up later.”

“Ah, for a proper conversation, I’m sure.” Ezran replied sarcastically.

Callum blushed into his coffee. “I’m sure.”

His phone buzzed in his pocket and he felt his pulse race. Pulling the device free, he unlocked it with one hand, the other clutching his coffee tightly.

“Well, I don’t need to witness whatever sext-capade will be happening from here.” Ezran grabbed his own coffee. “Well done on finally giving up playing the idiot.” He clapped Callum on the shoulder as he made his way to the lounge.

“Thanks,” Callum replied sarcastically, not taking his eyes off his phone.

Rayla: DYING of boredom.

           Which is fine because everyone else is dying of a hangover.

          There’s a nice looking pub on the corner here, The Royal? Lunch? One-ish suit you?

Callum felt himself grinning like an idiot. Lunch in a public place seemed like a very logical choice. He would struggle with the urge to kiss her if they met in private, and they really should talk.

Callum: Sounds good.

Rayla: Ok. Need to head back in. See you one-ish

Callum signed happily. One. Ish.

Still two and a half hours away.

Give or take.

 

 

~~~

 

 

 

“Good luck.” Ezran grinned. “Again.”

“Can you stop?” Callum blushed, wishing he had opted to drive himself. But parking in this part of the city was a nightmare and he had no idea what on earth this catch up would entail, nor how long it would last.

“I suppose you don’t need luck any more.” Ez mused.

“Okay. Leaving.” Callum opened the door. “I’ll talk to you later.”

He entered the gastropub Rayla had mentioned. It was an old converted stables, now an upmarket eatery, with exposed brick and reclaimed wood.

Rayla was seated in a brown chesterfield sofa, the leather worn and faded with age. She was dressed in an oversized white tee-shirt, faded black skinny jeans and red Converse trainers, her hair once again in a messy bun.

She glanced up from the menu as he approached, smirking. “Hi.”

“Hi.” He sat down next to her. His first instinct was to lean forward and kiss her, but something about the way she was sitting made him reconsider.

She had one leg up on the sofa, her arm resting on her knee. Her position seemed guarded.  

“So…” She tapped the menu against her knee, blushing.

“So…” Callum felt equally lost for words.

Rayla bit her lip and began snickering and Callum relaxed a little, laughing nervously himself.

She tried to compose herself, sitting up a little straighter. “Em, so... about last night-”

“Are you ready to order now?”

They looked to the waiter, standing on the other side of the low table, looking unimpressed.

“Oh sorry.” Rayla glanced back at the menu. “Uh, can I get a pint of the house pale and sweet potato fries, thanks?”

They both looked at Callum.

“Uh same.” Callum glanced between Rayla and the waiter. “Oh, apart from the sweet potato fries.”

“Do you want any food?” The waiter looked up from his tablet.

“Uh no. I’m fine.” Callum answered without thinking. He hadn’t even looked at the menu but his stomach was too tied in knots to even consider food right now.

“Okay.” The waiter sighed and wandered off.

“I’m not sharing my fries with you.” Rayla teased.

“No?” Callum felt a surge of adrenaline as she smiled at him. “I kinda feel like you... owe me... just a little.”

“Do I?” Rayla chuckled. “Whatever for?” She asked with a raised eyebrow.

Callum shrugged, laughing as well. “The jelly tart. Obviously.”

Rayla ginned at him. “Surely that’s the Cornetto?”

“How was your conference?” Callum shuffled around a little closer to her, his eyes darting to her fingers. He desperately wanted to touch her again, even something as simple as holding her hand.

“Ugh, boring.” She groaned. “At least everyone was too hungover to pay attention to my presentation.”

“Did you change or was it a casual conference?” He gestured to her relaxed outfit.

Rayla rolled her eyes. “A casual conference? Are you kidding?! Of course, I changed, dummy.”

“Well, I don’t know. We don’t have conferences. I don’t know the rules.” His stomach once again flip-flopped as she teased him. He enjoyed hearing her call him ‘dummy’ way more than he really should.

“No?” She grinned, shuffling to sit crossed legged. “You all don’t get together and debate which is better crayons or colour pencils?”

“Colouring pencils, clearly.” Callum’s eyes darted to her throat, remembering how she gasped at his lips there.

Rayla laughed, shaking her head and Callum took the opportunity to grasp her fingers.

She started, looking to his face then immediately looking away. He felt her pull her hand back just a fraction.

“Callum...” She started, the teasing tone no longer in her voice. “Hold on.” She nodded behind him and Callum glanced over his shoulder to see the waiter arriving with their drinks.

Reluctantly, he let her hand go, reaching to take his pint from the waiter.

He took a long drink, suddenly aware of how dry his mouth was. Rayla’s body language had him on edge. Her tone even more so. Whatever she wanted to talk about, he had the feeling he wasn’t going to like hearing it.

She put her drink down and turned to face him, her legs tucked up under her body. 

It reminded him of last night, of them both sitting on the sofa, side by side.

Both clearly nervous and unsure.

“So...” He resisted the urge to touch her again.

She looked at him and smiled, though it was more a wince. “So... em, about what happened... no one saw you leaving the hotel, did they?”

Callum relaxed a little. She was just worried about being caught? “No. Well, only the reception guy. And he didn’t even look up.”

“Good.” Rayla smiled at him briefly. “It obviously wouldn’t look good for gossip to get around.”

Callum nodded. “Obviously.”

“And, its probably best we keep it to ourselves too.” Rayla pulled at a loose thread on her frayed jeans.

Callum sighed. Was she just worried he would go around crowing about what happened? “Of course.” He tried to sound reassuring.

Maybe she thought he made a habit of hooking up with girls? Like she was some kind of notch on his bed?

“I just... I’m not sure... with all the stuff going on with my position and you know, you live here...” She played with her t-shirt. “It’s probably best if, em, this weekend is like, a one-time thing, you know?”

Callum felt like he’d been punched in the gut. He took a moment, for once happy she was so obviously avoiding eye contact. “Yeah, no. I… I get that.”

Not really.

Not at all, in fact.

He liked her and he was pretty certain she liked him.

Sure, there were some complications but were they really insurmountable?

The distance was a problem but nothing they couldn’t work around. Restrictions were easing and people were travelling more. It would be hard not seeing her often, but he felt it was probably worth trying.

They had managed so far.

But he was also asking her to put her career on the line. If what she had said before was true, he’d be expecting her to risk a lot… for what? Someone she’d known less than a month?

“Thanks.” She breathed, finally looking back at him.

She smiled softly at him and Callum thought he could see she wasn’t exactly satisfied with this outcome either.

Which was something, he supposed. Maybe they could continue being friends and if circumstances changed in the future…

“Your fries.” The waiter said awkwardly as he put the bowl down on the table.

Rayla shook herself, smiling at the waiter, though he had already turned to leave. “Thank you.” She grabbed a fry, popping it into her mouth. “You know, I guess you can have one?” She grinned at him, the gesture not quite reaching her eyes.

“Eh, thanks.” Callum reached forward to grab a fry, more out of something to do than any real desire to eat.

“So…” Rayla grabbed another fry, dipping it in the sauce on the side. “You have any plans for the rest of the day?”

“Eh, no.” Callum munched. He had thought they were going to spend the afternoon together. Looks like he had a lot of free time for moping.

“Is that so…?” Rayla mused, delicately licking some of the coarse salt off her fingers.

“Yeah?” Callum queried.

Rayla shrugged, grinning at him wickedly. “Well, its still the weekend... want to catch a, uh, movie or something?”

Callum felt his heart leap in his chest. “Uh, sure.” He thought for a moment. “Though, there aren’t any cinemas in this part of town.”

“Huh...” Rayla seemed to be suppressing a grin. “I think the hotel had a decent selection of on demand movies.”

Realisation dawned on Callum, and he felt his face grow red. “Is that right?”

“We could check those out, I suppose.” She seemed unable to keep the grin from her face.

Callum chuckled. “I suppose.”

Rayla sighed, taking a sip of her beer. “You know, these fries aren’t the best.” She leaned back on the sofa, her posture a more relaxed. “… and I’m not even really that hungry.”

“No?” Callum grinned, his fingers snaking out to caress her thigh.

“No.” Rayla said decisively. She glanced at her phone, apparently checking the time. “If we go now, we could probably… watch two movies.” She smirked; the innuendo clear in her voice.

Callum nodded sagely. “Maybe even three?”

Rayla laughed out right and Callum sighed at the sound.

“Three? That’s ambitious.” She got to her feet; eyebrow raised.

 

 

~~~

 

 

Callum snickered as the elevator doors closed. The walk from the pub hadn’t been far but Rayla was still worried about people seeing them and continually batted his hands away.

As soon as they were in the relatively private space, he wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her against his chest. He gazed at her for a moment before moving to kiss her.

Rayla pulled back, giggling. “What if our friends from last night turn up again?” She slipped her arms around his neck, tugging gently on his hair.

“Well, they won’t be surprised.” Callum shrugged before capturing her lips.

It had been too long since he had kissed her.

Rayla chuckled but did not object as she ran her fingers through his hair.

The elevator dinged for her floor and she pulled back, panting, as she pressed her forehead against his. She smiled at him then stepped back and grabbed his hand as they made their way to her room.

She tossed the key card on the table by the door. Callum couldn’t help but note it was still in disarray, a notepad he hadn’t noticed for obvious reasons shoved at an awkward angle against some of Rayla’s personal affects.

 Callum turned to Rayla, his eyes sweeping over her. Even dressed so casually she took his breath away.

He strode up to her, running his hands up her sides as he sighed in contentment. This wasn’t exactly what he had in mind for their catch up but there was no way he was complaining.

He would have thought they got… it out of their system last night, but as soon as they were secure in her room, his lips were on hers. Hands roamed, tugging clothing, tossing it around the room.

They stumbled until the back of Rayla’s legs hit the bed and she landed on her rear on the pristine white covers. Callum glanced down at her, his breath catching as she stared back up at him.

She scooted back on the bed, pulling him to her by the end of his belt. Callum dutifully followed, relishing the feel of her skin against his once again.

He struggled with her tight jeans and she laughed when he eventually got them down her legs only to realise, they had forgotten to remove her trainers.

They were both naked, having explored each other once again, when he tried to slip away to the bathroom for protection. She had whispered something about the bedside table in his ear and he realised that she had planned all of this.

It hadn’t been some slip of her mind in the bar.

She had intended for this to happen, exactly as it was.

As she moved above him, her eyes closed, small whimpers escaping her throat, he wondered how he felt about that.

He wanted her so desperately but not just like this… skin against skin, touching each other in the most intimate manner.

He wanted to know her intimately.

To be with her.

In every way possible.

This weekend… it couldn’t be it… could it?

 

 

~~~

 

 

Callum stared at the ceiling of Rayla’s hotel room, his heart still racing.

What the hell was he doing?

This really wasn’t him. At all.

She had been clear that this wasn’t going anywhere. She was going to get on the plane tomorrow and that was it. She would go back to Duren and he would go back to hopelessly pining for her.

But he liked her too much to say no. To listen to his brain.

And sure, he was thinking with his pants but that wasn’t solely it.

When she had been moving above him all he could think about was how stunning she was. How he wanted to be with her.

Properly.

It had taken all his mental strength to hold his tongue, to keep himself back from begging her to reconsider.

As she climaxed, his name on her lips, he almost crumbled. Almost blurted out how he really felt…

But then his own release had crashed over him and all coherent thought had immediately left his mind.

He needed to start looking for another job. Immediately.

Preferably a job in Duren.

He groaned, squeezing his eyes shut.

He was going crazy. He’d know her for less than a month. He couldn’t change his entire life for the fleeting chance they might actually work out.

And she’d think he was insane if he just up and moved to Duren on the slight chance she also wanted to be with him.

What if the distance and work stuff was all an excuse?

Maybe she wasn’t interested in something long term?

He heard the toilet flush and tap run before the door to the bathroom opened.

Rayla practically skipped over to the bed, her white t-shirt just skimming her panty clad rear. She grinned at him as she landed next to his head.

Callum couldn’t help smiling back.

She really was gorgeous.

That smile was beyond infectious.

When she was apart from him it was easy to convince himself that this was all in his head, but there was something in her eyes that made him think she felt the same way too.

They had... a thing. Something special.

He’d never felt anything close to this before.

It just sucked that circumstances made it impossible to pursue.

Maybe she had the right idea? Enjoy this weekend together and not worry about anything outside this hotel room.

“Want to get room service?” She asked, leaning over to grab the menu from the bedside table.

Callum’s eyes drifted to her long legs. “I thought you weren’t hungry?” He teased, pushing himself up against the bedhead.

“Maybe I worked up an appetite?” Rayla said flirtatiously, eyes firmly on the menu as she shuffled a little closer to him. She leafed through the pages, subtly relaxing against his shoulder.

Callum pondered a moment, then wrapped an arm around her. She settled against his chest, opening the menu wider, ostensibly for him to read too.

He stared absent mindedly at the heavy paper, his eyes unfocused.

This was what he wanted with Rayla, this relaxed ease… enjoying nothing more than each other’s company.

He could only imagine how Soren would scoff at him. Claudia too.

How could he be unhappy about spending the weekend with someone as stunningly beautiful as Rayla…?

It wasn’t that he was unhappy about that. He just… wanted more.

The dumb stuff.

Hanging out together, doing nothing… watching movies, eating fast food... going for walks, for coffee...

But it would seem, the timing wasn’t right.

He hoped they could continue being friends, at least. That it wouldn’t be too weird after what happened this weekend.

And maybe, someday, if the timing was right…

“Is it wrong to eat a burger in bed?” Rayla mused.

Callum snorted, resisting the urge to kiss the crown of her head. “Surely hotels are the exact place to eat a burger in bed.”

He felt Rayla snort.

“Excellent point.” She looked back at him. “Anything tickle your fancy?”

You, he thought, groaning inwardly at his own cheesy mind.

Rayla’s expression changed as he hesitated.

“They have pizza?” He looked away from her, glancing at the menu.

“Yep.” She pointed at the obvious “Pizza" section.

“Hmm.” He mused, unimpressed. “No pineapple.”

“Good.” She poked him in the side. “I wouldn’t have you besmirch my hotel bill with your abomination of a pizza order.”

Callum pretended to ignore her. “Maybe I could get them to add it?”

“No!” She turned around, her fingers ghosting along his sides as she tickled him.

Callum made a grab for her hands. “Fine! FINE! I give up. Meat lovers it is.”

“Ah, my favourite pizza.” She winked devilishly, shuffling to the side of the bed. “Want to actually find a movie to watch?” She picked up the phone and held it between her head and shoulder as she tossed the remote control at him.

“Sure.” Callum missed it, grabbing it from the bed next to him.

He selected the “movies on demand” function and scrolled through the options. He glanced at Rayla as he hovered over one movie, his mind recalling a previous conversation.

“Thanks" Rayla said before putting down the phone. “Find anything worth-” She glanced at the TV as she turned to Callum. “No way!”

“What, no pineapple pizza and no Star Wars?” He grinned, satisfied with her reaction.

“Exactly.” She straddled his lap, smirking as he sighed. “My room, my rules.” She teased, leaning forward to kiss him.

Callum snickered, slipping his hands up her shirt and gripping her hips.

Rayla kissed him, her hands moving across his chest and down his arms before she made a grab for the remote control.

It took Callum a moment to realise what she was doing, by which time she had pulled the remote from his grasp.

“Those are dirty tactics!” He made a grab for the remote.

“Are they?” She teased, pouting as he managed to snatch it from her grip. “Anyway, you don’t want to watch a movie.” Grinning wickedly, she rolled her hips against his.

“Don’t I?” Callum gasped, his eyes falling closed as her hand trailed down his chest, nails lightly scratching the sensitive skin of his lower stomach.

“Nope.” Rayla sing-songed as her hand travelled lower.

 

 

~~~

 

 

Callum raised his head groggily as something moved against his chest. He glanced down, sighing contentedly as his eyes focused on Rayla snuggled up against him.

Her hair was flared messily out around her, and he could see the smudges of her mascara against her cheek.

He smiled happily. She was so beautiful.

He wanted nothing more than to stay in this moment. Relish it.

Savour what little time they had left together…

But his eyes drifted to the heavy curtains… and the strong sunlight streaming under them.

Shit.

“Rayla.” He shook her, gently at first and then a little more insistently.

Once again, she had insisted this wasn’t a sleep over. She had prep work she needed to do for her meeting.

She groaned, snuggling closer to him.

Callum reluctantly continued. “Rayla, I think we might have slept in.”

That got a reaction. She startled awake, looking around groggily before scrambling to the bedside table and grabbing her phone.

“Fuck!” She grimaced, jumping to her feet, and running to the bathroom.

Callum winced. He jumped up quickly himself, rummaging around the room for his clothes as he heard the shower run. He glanced at his own phone. It didn’t seem that late, but he had no idea how much work she needed to do before this meeting.

She certainly seemed stressed about it.

He ran a hand through his hair, wondering what to do.

He didn’t want to simply slip out while she was washing, but it seemed intrusive to barge into the bathroom as well.

Eventually, he elected to wait on the couch.

Rayla showered quickly and he turned as she exited the bathroom, a towel wrapped around her chest.

“Hey.” He got to his feet.

“I’m in a rush.” She glanced in his direction as she hurried to the wardrobe.

“Okay.” Callum hesitated for a moment. “Em, I guess… if you need a lift to the airport or anything…?”

Rayla looked at him briefly, her face falling a little. “I think they’ve arranged a car service.”

“Ah, okay.” He felt his stomach twist. “Well, I guess I’ll… em, I’ll message you?”

Rayla turned to look at him. “Okay.”

He didn’t particularly like her tone. It sounded… final.

“It was, uh, nice finally meeting you.” He elected to hold back.

Rayla chuckled softly. “Yeah.” She sighed, turning back to the wardrobe. “I really need to hurry.”

“No problem.” He watched her, thinking she was pointedly avoiding eye contact. Turning, he made his way to the door.

He glanced back at her, finding her frowning at a pencil skirt on a hanger.

Not wanting to bother her more, he opened the door.

“Callum.”

He turned back to her, finding her clutching the skirt tightly. “It was… nice meeting you too.”

Chapter Text

Callum sighed, staring at his door for a moment.

It was still relatively early so though the chances of Ezran being up were remote, they were still not outside the realms of possibility. He really wasn’t in the mood for more teasing.

He wanted a shower, desperately.

He needed to wash the scent of Rayla’s shampoo or soap or whatever it was off his skin. Make a fresh start.

Opening the door, he slipped off his shoes and quietly made his way through to the kitchen. There was clearly no point in trying to get any more sleep in. Best he shower and make an early start on the day.

“Hey.” Ezran grinned, popping around the corner. He immediately shook himself as he took in Callum’s demeanour. “You ok?”

“Uh, yeah.” Callum started in shock. Electing to get the interrogation over and done with now, he made his way to the counter and grabbed the coffee container. Pulling the espresso maker from its usual spot on the counter, he began spooning in coffee grounds.

Ezran was quiet, and Callum glanced back at him. He attempted to give his younger brother a reassuring smile but suspected it did not have the affect he was going for.

“You just get in?” Ezran leaned against the wall, his eyes apparently taking in Callum’s clothes from yesterday.

“Yeah.” Callum turn on the stove and leaned against the counter.

“What happened?” Ezran asked, concern evident in his voice. “Did you guys have a fight?”

“No? Not really.” Callum considered the question. “Em, she was rushing this morning, so we didn’t get a proper goodbye, but I think we’re okay.”

Ezran narrowed his eyes.

“With the whole long-distance thing and her… work issues, we decided…” Callum sighed searching for the right words. “not to, you know, make a go of anything.”

Ezran frowned, looking confused. “But you… stayed over again?”

Callum flushed, looking away. “Eh… we were just… making the most of her time here.”

Looking confused, Ezran made his way to the cupboard and grabbed two mugs. “What now?”

Callum sighed, turning off the stove and lifting the espresso maker off the heat. “I guess we go back to before.” He nodded his head in the direction of the mugs Ezran still held in his hands.

“So… what, messaging and watch parties?” Ezran put the cups down.

“I guess?” Callum shrugged, filling their mugs, then adding milk, and sugar for Ezran. “Yeah, hopefully.”

Ezran sighed, taking a sip of his coffee. “I don’t get it.”

“Yeah.” Callum shrugged, as he made his way to his room. Truth be told, he didn’t get it either, but there didn’t seem to be much that could be done about it. When one person didn’t want to be in a relationship, it wasn't like the other could force them.

He needed to get through work today and he could wallow in self-pity later. What was the guy equivalent of watching chick flicks and eating ice-cream? He wasn’t really an ice-cream kinda guy. Comfort food and chick flicks?

“Hey Ez, want laksa for dinner tonight?” He turned to look at his little brother.

“Uh oh, you must be really bummed.” Ezran frowned at him.

“What? Why do you say that?” Callum felt himself flushing. Was he that transparent?

“You always make laksa when you’re bummed.” Ezran was far too intuitive for his own good.

“No, I don’t!” Callum snapped a little sharply. “Anyway, do you want it or don’t you?”

Ezran looked at him awkwardly. “I’m kinda supposed to go hang with Aanya and Ellis tonight, but I can cancel if you want company.”

Callum shook himself. He must be looking mopey and pathetic. Ezran had never really connected with friends before this year in university. He didn’t want to see his little brother cancelling plans because he was acting like a teenager having a sulk. “Don’t be silly. More for me.” He smiled at Ezran, determined to put on a brave face. “I’ll try save you some.”

“Okay.” Ezran didn’t look or sound convinced.

“Well, I better get started on my day.” Callum called to Ezran as he opened the door to his bedroom. “Chat to you later on.”

Callum leaned against the closed door and exhaled slowly. He needed to pull himself together. It wasn’t like he had some dramatic break up of a long-term relationship. He was being ridiculous.

He sat on his bed and scrolled through his and Rayla’s text messages, smiling at some of the funny exchanges. He was hurt, but he didn’t want to lose her friendship.

Exhaling slowly, he composed a message.

  Callum:   Good luck with your big meeting today. Hope you manage to get a coffee in first.

He observed the screen for a few seconds, the message never changing to ‘read’.

With a sigh, he got to his feet and began stripping off last night’s clothes. He needed a refreshing shower.

~~~

 

Callum frowned at his tablet, completely uninspired. The day was absolutely dragging, and it was barely even his usual start time. He had checked Rayla’s profile repeatedly, not entirely unsurprised to find she wasn’t online. She must have been super busy with her meetings. No wonder she had been in such a rush earlier.

A soft ‘dinging’ from his laptop caught his attention. Maybe Rayla had signed in? Not that he expected much in the way of conversation with her over IM, but it would still be nice to say something to her.

He brought up the flashing message, frowning slightly to see it wasn’t Rayla who had contacted him.

  Claudia:   WTF?!

Callum winced. Oh no.

Bloody Viren.

Though, he probably should have expected this.

  Claudia:   WTF?!?! Were you on a date with RAYLA?!

  Callum:   What? No. Definitely not. Haha.

He was not good at lying. Though in his defence, they never did have a conversation about whether or not there were on a proper date.

Claudia: YOU WERE AT THE DINNER THING WITH HER!

DAD SAID YOU BOTH DISAPPEARED AFTER!!!!

“Fuck.” Callum swore under his breath. He grabbed his phone from the desk and pulled up Claudia’s details. He needed to nip this in the bud and IM was not the way to do it.

Selecting “call" he jumped to his feet and made his way to the balcony

“Oh my god, did you guys do it?! Callum, what the fuck?!” Claudia practically screamed as soon as she picked up. Callum was eternally grateful she was working from home.

“Calm down, Claudia.”  He attempted to appease her. “Your Dad must have got the wrong idea. It’s not a big deal.”

“Eh, yeah it is. You’re chummy with Rayla?! Ball buster Rayla?! What is going on?!” She sounded almost hysterical.

“Nothing is going on.” Callum’s chest ached to say it out loud. “I guess she asked if I wanted to go for networking or something. I could hardly say no to free food and drinks.”

“Why didn’t you say anything on Friday?” Claudia sounded like she was calming down a little.

“She only mentioned it on Saturday morning.” Callum was happy he didn’t have to outright lie.

“Oh.” Claudia seemed to consider this. “And where did you both disappear to after then?”

Callum sighed. “I didn’t know anyone else there but your Dad. I’m sure he wouldn’t be insulted to know I didn’t want to spend the night hanging out with him.”

Again, technically not a lie…

“Yeah, I guess.” Claudia sighed. “Aw, I thought I had some awesome gossip.”

“Sorry to disappoint.” Callum leaned back against the wall.

“I suppose I can forgive you.” Claudia teased. “So, what’s she like in person?”

Callum pondered. “Like I told you, she’s... fine. Nice.”

  Funny, charming, cute...

“Boring!” Claudia mocked. “And you didn’t try and put the moves on her? Understandable, I guess. She’d probably bite your dick off or something.”

“Wow, thanks for that mental image.” Callum turned up his nose.

It took Callum multiple attempts to hang up on Claudia. She was clearly still struggling with the lack of human interaction and didn’t appear to want to go back to work.

Sighing heavily, he slumped into his chair. He glanced at his phone, navigating to his photo gallery. Flicking through the photos from Saturday morning he stared at Rayla’s smiling face. It seemed crazy to think he took those photos less than 48 hours ago.

Maybe he should have simply gone home on Saturday night. Maybe everything had just moved too fast and they irrevocably messed things up forever?

He scrolled to the selfie Rayla took of them, then the photos taken by that annoying woman.

He smiled to himself. They looked... cute. Like a couple.

But that wasn’t what Rayla wanted, or so she said. There were a few times over the weekend where he thought... maybe... maybe she did want what he wanted, but ultimately it wasn’t what they had agreed to yesterday.

He put his phone screen down on his desk and picked up his drawing pad. He needed to focus on something, anything, but Rayla.

There was no point in wishing for what ifs. Dreaming up random scenarios where he had said how he really felt, and she had felt the same. Or where she wasn’t in the process of applying for some new job... where she lived in his building and their serendipitous meeting had been in the elevator or at a coffee shop...

He needed to accept that nothing was going to happen between them. Not now anyway.

Maybe not ever.

Maybe the timing would never be right.

~~~~

  Rayla:   Hey, sorry about this morning. I panicked when I realised how late I was running.

Callum frowned at his phone. It had been hours since he sent Rayla a message. He had worn his phone battery down in record time checking and re-checking their message conversation to see if she had read his text. Part of him wanted to be petty. To ignore her just a little and make her sweat, but that would be being immature and would only hurt him in the long run. He didn’t want to push her away.

He wasn’t happy about how things had ended but, ultimately, she had laid her cards on the table and he had accepted them.  

  Callum:   How did the meeting go?

  Rayla:   ... not great.

  And found out my flight has been delayed five hours.

  Mondays…

  Callum:   Bummer.

  What time it rescheduled to?

  Rayla:   1am

  At least Katolis airport has a decent food court.

Callum chewed on his lip.  She was stranded here? He had a chance of an extra few hours with her? Maybe an opportunity to say a proper goodbye?

  Callum:   If you want to chill, you can hang here. Ez is over at his friends.

  Rayla:   I’m really not in the mood for a booty call.

  Thanks.

Callum winced at her abrupt message. That wasn’t what he had in mind but he could see how she took it that way. He had no idea how to salvage it either. Not through text anyway. Deciding he had nothing to lose at this point, he elected to call her.

The phone rang a few times before she picked up and he had started to worry he had really pissed her off.

“Hey?” She sounded guarded.

“Hey.” Callum stood up, nervously pacing his lounge. “Eh, that’s not what I was, uh, suggesting.” He blushed furiously, squeezing his eyes shut in embarrassment.

“Okay.” She didn’t sound particularly convinced.

“I had planned to make dinner for Ez and me, so there’s extra. And I was going to watch a movie. That’s all.” Callum felt himself rambling.

Rayla snorted on the other end. “What’s for dinner?”

“Seafood laksa.” Callum wandered into the kitchen, checking the cupboards though he knew he had the ingredients.

“What’s that?” He thought he could hear some of the tension leave her voice.

“Spicy noodle soup.” Callum explained as he leaned against the counter.

“How spicy?” Rayla seemed to have regained some of the playful tone he liked so much.

“Hmmm... relatively?” He felt himself relax a little too. “Not a fan of spice?”

“Xadian cuisine isn’t exactly known for heat.” She paused. “Or flavour.”

Callum snorted, not sure where to go from here

Rayla sighed. “Okay.”

Callum’s heart began to race. Okay as in yes? “Okay?”

“If I’m not imposing on you.” She sounded sheepish.

Callum almost laughed out loud. “Not at all.”

“And only if you promise that I get to meet your frog.”

The teasing tone was definitely back.

~~~

 

 

 

This time, Callum pulled up into the correct bay at Rayla’s hotel. He felt a completely different kind of anxious on this occasion.  

Back then, he had no idea if they were going on a date, if she was interested in him.

Now?

This might be his last chance to see her for who knew how long. He needed to ensure they were ok. That things weren’t left awkwardly between them.

He didn’t think he could go back to not talking to her daily, even through messages. He could barely remember what he did with himself before they started messaging.

Turning off his engine, he glanced around the hotel entrance, noticing Rayla immediately. She was wearing that pencil skirt from earlier, along with a beige blouse and black high heels, hair pulled back into a sleek ponytail.

It reminded him of the first time he saw her across the computer screen. Professional and beautiful and a little intimidating.

That seemed so long ago now, so much had happened and so much had changed… he had to frequently remind himself that he’d only really just met her.

She seemed to recognise his car immediately, making her way over, a large purse slung over her shoulder and suitcase trailing behind her.

Callum felt a little awkward having someone so incredibly put together getting into his beat-up old Land Cruiser. He hopped out as she stopped by the passenger side. She smiled at him a little shyly as he rounded the bonnet and reached for her suitcase.

“I can manage.” She snickered, pulling the bag towards her.

“Fine.” Callum grinned back, gesturing to the double doors at the rear of the vehicle. “But I’ll get the back. There’s a knack to it.”

He resisted the urge to touch the small of her back or grasp her trailing hand. He desperately wanted to touch her, even in a friendly manner. However, she had already got the wrong impression once, he didn’t want her to think the offer of dinner and a place to relax while she waited on her plane involved any ulterior motives.

Bag secured, they climbed into the seats and Callum pulled out onto the road, heading in the direction of his apartment. Which brought on a whole new kind of anxiety. Bringing her home seemed… strange. On top of that, cooking for someone was a weirdly intimate activity.  

But the weekend was over. This particular catchup was a bizarre sort of addendum.

And more than any of that, there was something… vulnerable about her today. She was quiet, her shoulders slumped, eyebrows knitted together.

The cheeky glint that made his heart race seemingly absent right now.

“So… not a great day at work today?” He glanced over at her as he coasted to a stop at a red light.

Rayla sighed, looking out the window. “Nope.” She replied curtly.

“… want to talk about it?” Callum offered.

Rayla took a deep breath. “Not really.”

Callum frowned, feeling useless. He wished he knew how to make her feel better but that was hard when he didn’t even know what was wrong. Maybe she just needed a distraction…? “You can confide in Bait, if you want? He’s a pretty good listener. Especially when he’s suckered to your face.”

Rayla snorted softly, looking over at him briefly.

~~~

“Do you mind if I change? I’d really rather not fly in this.” Rayla gestured to her outfit.

“Of course not.” Callum glanced in her direction as he threw his keys on the counter. He briefly considered offering her his en suite bathroom to freshen up in but… what if she thought he was pressuring her? “The bathroom is down here.” He gestured for her to follow him. “Eh, Ez is usually pretty clean but I have my own bathroom, so I take no responsibility for the state of it.”

Rayla grinned at him. “I lived with guys in uni, I know what to expect.”

Callum had the prep work completely on dinner by the time Rayla emerged from the bathroom. She looked much more relaxed as she padded into the kitchen on stocking feet. She had swapped her skirt and blouse for leggings and a slouchy top, her hair rearranged into a loose high pony.

Callum couldn’t help but think that he found her that bit more attractive in her civies.

His Rayla.

Or rather the real Rayla.

Not the professional façade a little uncomfortable in her own skin.  

She leaned on the counter next to him, her eyes sweeping over the various ingredients.

“Looks complicated.” She looked at him, her eyebrows raised.

Callum shrugged. “It’s not too bad.” He picked up a jar. “My Mom used to make it completely from scratch but I’m too lazy. Paste suits me fine.”

Rayla smiled softly at him and Callum forced himself to look away.

Having her here, in his apartment, his kitchen and not being able to so much as touch her was much harder than he thought it would be.

Maybe inviting her here had been a bad idea? Now he would have memories of her being in his space.

He would look at the counter and see her unsure expression as she eyed the tofu puffs or smell her shampoo when he made a coffee.

He needed to be aware of himself. He couldn’t slip, couldn’t find a way to bring up how he really felt about everything. About her. She was all alone in his apartment with him. That would be beyond creepy. He needed to distance himself from her.

“Still want to meet Bait?” He asked, stepping back, and wiping his hands on his jeans.

“He's the only reason I’m here.” Rayla teased.

Callum snorted softly, rolling his eyes as he led her down the hallway to Ezran’s room. He opened the door, glancing around briefly for anything too disturbing. The room was messy but more or less okay.  

His room was fairly a-typical for university student. His coffee mug from this morning was left atop a bunch of papers, next to some hard-backed zoology textbooks. Some clothes were thrown across chairs and a strange assortment of shoes littered the floor. His walls were adorned with various prints and photographs of strange and unusual wildlife.

Rayla however, seemed drawn to the wall of sketches and half-finished water colours above the desk.

“Did you do these?” She glanced over her shoulder at him.

Callum stepped a little closer to her. “Yeah, ages ago.” He gestured to one of the pieces, a framed water colour of their family from many years ago, when his mother was still alive. “That’s probably the most recent piece of traditional art I finished. I did it for Ez’s eighteenth birthday.”

This he did not do from memory, recreating a grainy photo his father had framed on the mantelpiece.

It was of the four of them at the shack on the Prom. Ezran was still a small baby, all chubby cheeks and wild hair. He was cradled on their mother’s lap, while Callum was sitting on Harrow’s shoulders, grinning broadly.

He had vague memories of that trip, though more feelings and emotions than anything too clear.

“They’re amazing.” Rayla gazed at all of them, her eyes seeming to focus on specific details.

Callum swallowed against the lump in his throat. “Uh, thanks.”

“You don’t do… traditional art any more?” Rayla’s attention was still on the numerous sketches.

“Not in a while.” Callum stared with her, a little wistful.

“Why?” Rayla turned to look at him.

Callum shrugged, a little lost for words. “I don’t know. Art blocked, I guess.” Rayla narrowed her eyes at him, seemingly confused. “I draw all day every day for work, so I’ve kinda lost the… drive to draw for fun.”

“Oh.” Ralya turned her attention back to the art wall. “That sucks.”

“I guess.” Callum snickered. “Kinda like how you’ve lost the drive for recreational lawyering.”

“Exactly!” Rayla grinned, rolling her eyes. “Anyway, where are you hiding your frog?”

“Someday I’m going to get you to acknowledge Bait is not my frog.” Callum shook his head at her, gesturing to Bait’s obvious enclosure.

“Never!” Rayla declared dramatically as she followed him to the corner. “Wow, he has a mansion.” She stepped up to the large glass enclosure, peering through the dense foliage and clearly looking for Bait.

“He’s a very spoiled frog.” Callum replied flatly as he wrestled with the opening. He slid the glass back, peering into the moist set up, searching for the dark eyes that set Bait apart from the various plants in his habitat.

Callum started a little when Bait jumped onto his hand. “Ah, true to form.” He pulled his hand out of the enclosure, his other underneath it in case Bait lost his footing. Turning, he presented the infamous frog to Rayla. “Rayla, Bait. Bait, Rayla.”

She smiled warmly at him, a soft chuckle in her throat.

Callum was happy her attention immediately focused on Bait, as he felt himself blush.

“He is way cuter than I would have imagined!” She leaned in closer, raising her hand but not touching him.

“You want to hold him?” Callum offered.

“Can I?” Rayla looked at him with wide eyed wonder and Callum felt his heart race.

“Yeah, of course.” He held his hand out, bringing his other up to cup Bait from behind.

Instinctively, Rayla brought her hands to his, and together, they encouraged Bait to shuffle across into Rayla’s hands. Callum tried to ignore how his pulse raced as their fingers moved against each other. After everything that had happened, simply touching her hands should not have been this exhilarating.

She giggled as Bait made himself comfortable in his palms. “Ok, now what?”

Callum shrugged, laughing. “That’s pretty much it.” He gestured to Bait nestled happily in her hands. “That’s… basically all he does.”

Rayla grinned, eyes on the plump frog in her hands. “Really?”

“Yep.” Callum chuckled.

“Wow… no offence, but I’ll take my cat.” She held Bait a little closer to her face, apparently examining him. “He is cute though.”

“Well at least you ticked two things off your Katolis hit list.” Callum focused his attention on Bait’s enclosure.

Rayla frowned at him, looking a little taken aback.

Callum gestured to the frog in her hands, feeling flustered. “Getting to meet Bait and getting that jelly tart.” He explained.

“Ah.” Rayla appeared to relax a little. “True.” She straightened up, offering Bait back to Callum. “I’m intrigued by this laksa thing though.”

Callum chuckled as he deposited Bait into his tank.

Rayla made herself comfortable sitting on the counter as Callum cooked. They chatted easily about childhood pets and the origins of Bait. Having made laksa many times before, Callum found it relatively easy to cook and talk, despite how distracting it was to have her in his kitchen.

He was certainly happy with how at ease Rayla seemed in his living space. From what he could tell, she had had a trying day and it was nice to see her relax.

And yet… it was hard not to think about how… easy this seemed. Joking and laughing with her as he made them dinner. The relaxed ease was something he’d never experienced with anyone but his family before.

He tried not to look at the clock, to mentally count the hours until she had to leave.

This simply domesticity was exactly what he wanted, and he couldn’t decide if it was better or worse to have this brief glimpse.

“Okay, finished.” He declared after taking a taste of the broth.

Rayla eyed the pot cautiously. “That looks really spicy.”

Callum shrugged. “It’s not that bad.” He grabbed some bowls and began spooning out their portions. “Do you want a beer, just in case?”  

Rayla bit her lip, pulling on the hem of her top. “Uh, maybe not… I’m trying to have a good week.” She explained.

Callum glanced at her nodding. “Milk?”

Rayla rolled her eyes, slipping off the counter. “You said it wasn’t spicy!”

“Well its not to me!” He protested, garnishing their bowls with coriander and bean sprouts. “But I’m starting to think our definitions might differ.”

“Milk.” Rayla confirmed, making her way to the fridge. “You?” She asked, looking around for the glasses briefly.

“No, I’m not a wuss. Water is fine.” Callum teased, grabbing two sets of chopsticks and two flat bottom spoons from the cutlery drawer. “Anything in particular you want to watch?”

“Something I know has a happy ending.” Rayla finished pouring her milk, seeming to avoid eye contact. “Spirited Away?”

Callum raised his eyebrows. “Spirited Away?”

“What?” Rayla smirked. “Watching you do all that cooking put me in the mood.”

Callum smiled, shrugging. “Why not.”

The proceeded into the lounge, Rayla placing her bowl on the coffee table as she made herself comfortable sitting cross legged on the couch. She grabbed her bowl and looked to Callum who had taken his place a respectable distance from her. “You grabbed forks?”

Callum shifted, pulling the chopsticks from his back pocket.

Rayla turned up her nose. “No forks in this house?”

Callum chuckled. “Not for laksa.”

Pouting, Rayla accepted the offered chopsticks. “How do you eat soup with chopsticks?”

Callum laughed out right at her. “How do you eat soup with a fork?!”

Rayla rolled her eyes, grinning. “Shut up!”

“Excellent argument!” Laughing, Callum offered Rayla a spoon.

Rayla grabbed the spoon, pouting adorably. She looked between her chopsticks and spoon, appearing unsure.

Callum took up his chopsticks, seizing some noodles and a prawn and he lifted the bowl closer to his mouth.

Rayla frowned, awkwardly gripping her chopsticks, and attempting to mirror his actions.

Callum watched, thoroughly amused, as she tried to grip some noodles. The slippery items slid out of her imperfect grasp numerous times. She grumbled, looking up and catching him chuckling at her. “Stop it!”

Callum raised his hand in defence. “I’m not doing anything!”

“You’re judging me!” She narrowed her eyes playfully at him.

Callum winced. “Well,… you’re holding them wrong.” Callum showed her his own grip. “You need to keep your thumb flat.”

Rayla looked at her hands, attempting unsuccessfully to mimic Callum’s movements. “Better?” She looked up at him.

Callum wrinkled his nose. “It’s not worse.”

Rayla sighed dramatically. “Show me.” She held her hand out to Callum.

Breath catching in his throat, Callum hesitated briefly. He swallowed, putting his own chopsticks down on the couch. “Em, like this.” He rearranged her fingers into the correct position, feeling his cheeks burn as their skin moved against each other. “You move the top one with your middle and index fingers. Keep your thumb still.” He picked up his chopsticks and demonstrated.  

Rayla attempted to mimic his actions and Callum couldn’t help but smile at her clumsy manner. Seemingly satisfied, she attempted to pick up some noodles once more. This time, she managed to get a large clump of noodles almost into her mouth before she lost her grip and they splashed into the bowl. Rayla squeaked in shock, checking her clothes for damage.

Callum couldn’t help snorting out loud, smiling fondly at her.

Rayla rolled her eyes, apparently struggling not to erupt in laughter herself. “Can I please just have a fork?”

~~~

Callum startled awake as some trailer blared on Netflix. He frowned at the television. He had fallen asleep too? Glancing down, he sighed, finding Rayla still snoozing against his shoulder. She had fallen asleep not long after they finished eating, curling up on the sofa and eventually slumping against his side. She had seemed utterly exhausted, but he didn’t think he was that tired, though he had got up early.

Sighing, he looked at the time on his phone. They should really be leaving for the airport soon. Feeling a little guilty, he shook Rayla gently by the shoulder.

“Rayla?” He spoke quietly, not wanting to startle her.

“Mmm?” She mumbled, snuggling a little closer into his neck.

Callum’s pulse quickened as her hair teased his skin. “Time to wake up.” He continued. “You’ll miss your flight.”

Rayla yawned, then sat up. She glanced around, blushing when she seemed to realise she had been sleeping slumped against him. “Sorry.”

“It’s ok.” Callum chuckled.

“Do you have the number of a cab company?” She pulled her phone out of her pocket.

“I can drop you to the airport.” Callum offered, getting to his feet.

“Don’t be dummy. It’s late already.” Rayla got up as well.

“I don’t mind. I just had a power nap.” Callum grabbed their bowls and made his way to the kitchen.

“Honestly, a cab is fine.” Rayla seemed to be googling cab companies.

He sighed, leaning against the counter. “I’d like to.”

Rayla looked up from her phone, a funny look crossing her pretty features before she looked away. “Okay.”

~~~

Callum pulled into the set down bay and turned off the engine.

The drive to the airport had been quiet. He was beyond distracted, his mind racing with the prospect of how to properly say goodbye.

He wasn’t sure why Rayla was so quiet.

“Thanks again.” Rayla smiled at him. “I really appreciate you letting me hang out.”

Callum snorted. As if that had been any inconvenience. “No problem.”

An awkward silence hung between them.

“Well, I should go check in.” Rayla grabbed her handbag from the foot well and opened the door.

Callum got out too, making his way to the rear of the car. He struggled with the doors a little before retrieving Rayla’s bag.

“Thanks.” She said stiffly as she took it from him. “Well, I guess I’ll message you?”

“Eh, yep.” Callum nodded, unsure what to do.

Rayla hesitated for a moment, then stepped forward and hugged him. Callum started in fright. Having practised keeping his distance all evening it took him a moment to realise she was the one who initiated. Before he had a chance to properly hug her back, she stepped backwards, looking a little embarrassed.

“Bye.” She glanced at him.

“Bye.” Callum replied, once again thoroughly confused.

Rayla nodded before she turned to walk in the direction of the airport entrance.

Callum swallowed against the lump in his throat. His heart raced as he watched her go. This felt wrong. Unsettled. Watching her slowly moving away from him made his stomach twist. Things felt unfinished, like he was trapped in a weird limbo.

Messaging her just didn’t feel like enough. He wanted to be with her, even if they were a plane ride away. Pretending he was okay with putting the weekend behind him felt… wrong.

He couldn’t keep silent any longer.

“Rayla, wait.” He called out, hurrying after her.

She turned back to him, clutching the strap of her handbag with both hands.

Callum took a deep breath as he caught up with her. “Rayla...”

“Yeah?” She asked, looking more than a little confused. And nervous.

It was now or never, Callum decided.

He took a deep breath and licked his suddenly dry lips. “I know you said that you want this, uh, weekend to be a one time thing and I... I understand that, with work and the distance and all. I just wanted to say, if things change or, or whatever...” He paused, wondering if it was possible to sound any less articulate. “I like you. A lot. And if, you know, you ever wanted to give things a go, well, I’d like to. I know you live in Duren and I get that it would be hard but-”

His desperate rambling was cut off as Rayla closed the small distance between them and gently pressed her lips to his. She rested her hands on his chest a contented sigh escaping her lips.

“Okay.” She murmured, pulling back, and pressing her forehead to his.

“Okay?” Callum asked, his hands moving to caress her waist.

“Let’s give it a try.” She smiled shyly at him. “This... thing.”

“Really?” Callum whispered, a confused chuckle escaping his lips.

“What, changed your mind already?” Rayla leaned back, smirking.

“Hell, no.” Callum smiled, his hands tightening around her waist, drawing her against his chest. Rayla snickered, grinning broadly at him. Callum sighed, the tension of the past few weeks finally easing somewhat. Telling her how he really felt, what he really wanted was like a massive weight off his shoulders.

He sighed, eyes sweeping over her beautiful face as he cupped her cheek and leaned forward to kiss her. Rayla’s hands slid up his neck and tangled in his hair. Callum almost felt dizzy from the relief, though whether that was the relief of telling her how he felt or finally being able to kiss her, he couldn’t tell. He pulled her close against him, thinking once again, how perfect it felt to kiss her… how soft her lips were, that alluringly sweet shampoo, the way her breath hitched and caught as he hands caressed her waist.

“Sir, you cannot leave your car there.” A small voice called from behind them.

Callum pulled back, turning his head in the direction of the voice.

A petite but stern looking parking attendant was glaring at them both.

“Eh, sorry.” Callum stepped away from Rayla slightly, looking over his shoulder at his car.

The attendant rolled her eyes but gave them a little space.

He looked back at Rayla, grimacing slightly, though he struggled to keep the goofy grin off his face. “Oops.”

Rayla rolled her eyes, beaming broadly. “I should really go check in.” She wrinkled her nose. “Sorry.”

Callum sighed happily. “Yeah, probably.” He leaned forward to kiss her again, overwhelmed that he finally could.

It was far from perfect. She was just about to fly away, and he had no idea when he would see here again but she felt that same as him. He hadn’t imagined something between them.

“I guess I’ll talk to you tomorrow?” He sighed, though he couldn’t keep from smiling.

Rayla laughed, leaning forward to kiss him quickly as the parking attendant noisily cleared her throat. “Can’t wait.”

Chapter Text

Tuesday 08:40

Callum jumped as his alarm woke him. Grabbing his phone, he silenced the abrasive ringing. He didn’t think he could remember waking up this happy or excited. Even Christmas mornings as a kid paled in comparison to how he was feeling now.

He and Rayla were a thing. Whatever that meant. Boyfriend and girlfriend? That sounded a little high school...

Whatever.

He was just happy he finally knew she liked him back. Properly liked him back, as in in a serious fashion. Not simply in a ‘lets have a fun weekend and call it that’ kind of way.

Who was he fooling when he thought he could be satisfied with putting the weekend behind him and not wanting more? He hadn’t realised how much he desperately wanted to be with her until it seemed that it wasn’t likely to happen. Taking the risk and telling her how he really felt about it all had been possibly the scariest moment of his life.

And though she had only left a few hours ago, he was already aching to see her again.

He navigated to his messages, smiling at the one she had sent him at stupid o’clock last night. It was a selfie of her and her cat in the soft lighting of what he assumed was her bedroom.

Rayla: Home safe and sound. Shadow says goodnight.

He smiled at the photo, happy to have another reference. Not that he particularly needed one, but he liked having it all the same. Rayla looked tired but still so beautiful. Relaxed in a way he only caught glimpses of over the weekend. He couldn’t wait to see more of that side of her.

He thought back on his first time seeing her... how she had taken his breath away even then, before he knew how smart and witty and funny she was. It seemed surreal to think she wanted to be with him.

Ordinary, standard guy that he was.

Now all he wanted was to see her again, to talk to her, hold her, kiss her...

And he couldn’t even talk about her. Not to any of his friends anyway.

Callum: Morning. 😊 Hope you managed to sleep okay. Shadow looks happy to have his Mom back.

Swinging his legs across the bed, Callum got up, happier and more ready to face the day than he had felt in ages.

~~~

 

Tuesday 09:32

Rayla: Morning. 😊 How’s it going there? Hope you’re not too wrecked after the late night. Thanks again for dropping me to the airport.

Callum snorted, not wanting to imagine how down in the dumps he would be today if he hadn’t offered her a ride.

Callum: No problem. Its been quiet today so I’ve been able to take it easy. You got a busy one?

Rayla: Yeah, pretty busy. Have the day off yesterday to make up for and my Dad’s are staying another night so might be off the radar a bit. Probably won’t really be able to call or anything.

Callum: Rough they’re considering yesterday a day off! I guess it makes sense though.

Rayla: Yeah, well, I’m sorta still doing my old job and the super job so work piles up. Speaking off, I have to run the team meeting.

Message you later?

Callum: Sounds good.

 

 

 

~~~

 

 

Tuesday 11:17

Callum moved his mouse, turning his online presence from “away" to “active", then turned back to his sketchbook. His work for the day was finished, another soulless advertisement. He had completed it in record time, his fingers itching to sketch other things. Now, it say patiently on his screen, waiting to be emailed to his boss for approval.

He stared at his current work, evaluating it. He was happy with the main sketch, but there was something about the texture of Shadow’s fur he was struggling to get right. He glanced at Rayla’s pencilled face, heart skipping a beat even seeing it on paper.

She really was beautiful.

He glanced at his tablet, feeling a little guilty for neglecting work to concentrate on personal projects. He hadn’t been able to focus though. He thought once he finished this sketch, he’d be able to focus on work but he was already fighting images and flashes of Rayla.

Turning the page, he began to sketch anew.

This time he outlined the beautiful walk that had been what he was now mentally referring to as their first official date.

Rayla, back to him, looking out over the pristine bay, the gentle breeze toying with her soft locks.

He sighed at the sketch, not quite happy with it. The small drawing didn’t seem to give the occasion justice.

He glanced to the corner and the number of canvases stacked there. He itched to grab one and continue drawing but he really should email Gren.

He heard a noise from the door and realised Ezran was coming home.

He steeled himself. Did he need to keep the Rayla thing from Ezran? Surely not, but maybe it was a good test. If he could carry on regardless in front of Ezran, he’d definitely be able to act normal in front of Claudia, for example.

Sighing, he got to his feet and exited his room. He needed a break and to clear his head anyway.

Ezran was in the kitchen, two coffees from the cafe on the corner in hand.

“Hey.” He smiled weakly at Callum, offering a cup to him. “How are you today?”

Callum took the cup, trying to avoid eye contact. How was he today? On top of the world! Though, that was hardly playing it cool. “Eh, yeah, I’m ok.” Callum leaned against the counter, taking a sip of his coffee.

Ezran sighed. “Sorry I didn’t hang out with you last night-” He paused, eyes focusing on something behind Callum. “Hold on, are there two bowls?”

Callum looked around, realising he hadn’t cleaned up in the slightest last night. The wok was still on the cooker, knives and chopping board neglected and most telling, two bowls and two sets of chopsticks.

One fork.

“Eh…” Callum grasped for an explanation.

“Who came over?” Ezran narrowed his eyes at Callum.

Mind blank, Callum struggled to come up with an explanation. “Uhhhh…”

Rayla?!” His younger brother looked conflicted.

“Em, maybe?” Callum’s resolve began to crumble.

“WHAT?!” Ezra gaped at Callum. “How?!”

“Uh, her plane was delayed.” Callum blushed.

Ezran was looking increasingly confused. “So… what? Did you guys just ‘make the most of it’ or…”

Callum crumbled, no longer able to maintain his resolve. He broke into a grin, looking down.

“Ok, you seem happy, so I need to know what has to be sterilised?” Ezran turned up his nose comically, stepping away from the counter.

“Nothing happened.” Callum rolled his eyes, smiling widely. “She came over to chill while waiting on her plane. We had dinner, watched a movie… she fell asleep.” He shrugged.

Ezran narrowed his eyes. “Annnnd…?” He waited for Callum to respond. “You were like a kicked puppy yesterday morning and now you’re grinning like an idiot.” Ezran folded his arms. “That wasn’t only what happened.”

Callum snorted, taking a sip of his coffee. “Well, we… talked.” He felt himself blush. “We’re, uh, going to give the long-distance thing a go.”

Really?!” Ezran looked almost as happy as Callum felt. “That’s awesome, Callum.”

Callum shrugged, struggling to keep the grin from his face. “I guess.” He savoured his coffee, contemplating. “There’s still all the weirdness with work though, so don’t go gossiping to Ellis and Aanya.”

“Pfft, they don’t even know where you work.” Ezran rolled his eyes, then started suddenly.

“What?” Callum asked, concerned at his little brother’s reaction.

“I assume Claudia and Soren still work in your company though, right?” Ezran winced.

“Yes. Why?” Callum’s heart began to race. Ezran hadn’t said anything had he? He wouldn’t. He already knew about the complication of Rayla’s position.

“Well, I was messaging Claudia last night and I might have invited her and Soren to dinner on Thursday night.” Ezran explained.

Any other day Callum would have been delighted to catch up with his childhood friends, but the prospect of an evening with them under these circumstances was anxiety inducing.

“We can cancel?” Ezran offered. “You seemed so down yesterday, I thought it would help take your mind off things. I’ve been messaging Claudia about having them over for food since you told her about all the cooking I’ve been doing.”

Callum shook his head. “No, it’s fine.” He shrugged. “I won’t talk about Rayla.”

“You sure?” Ezran looked sceptical.

“Yeah,” Callum rolled his eyes. “Claudia has gone loopy in lockdown; we probably won’t get a word in edgewise. And I managed to make it most of my life without talking about Rayla, I think I can manage an evening.”

Ezran considered this. “Hmm, maybe… but that was before you spent the weekend locked up in some kind of sex dungeon with her.”

Callum turned up his nose, blushing. “Ugh, I never want to hear that phrase from my little brother, ever again.”

“Ok then, locked up in a love nest.” Ezran teased.

“Well, thanks for the coffee.” Callum pointedly ignored him. “Some of us have work to do. Talk to you later.”

~~~

Wednesday 15:37

Callum sighed, staring at the interface before him. Was it engaging? Attention grabbing? He didn’t find work the most inspiring on a regular day, but he had had zero ability to concentrate today.

True to her word, Rayla had been busy most of yesterday, only finding brief moments to message him here and there. Her evening had been mostly occupied with entertaining her Dads, though he had fallen asleep tragically early regardless.

They had messaged back and forth a little this morning, but once again, she was really busy. It seemed she was in and out of meetings all morning. At least her Dads had left at lunch time.

They had already arranged a watch party for tonight.

He sighed, glancing at his opened sketchbook, one of many drawings of Rayla looking back at him. She had left less than forty-eight hours ago, and he was already missing her beyond belief.

He looked at the stacked canvases once more, the blank material taunting him. With one last glance at his tablet, he got to his feet and made his way to the corner. Various canvases were abandoned together against his easel, now grubby from lack of use. Dust motes danced in the air as Callum flipped through the canvases, finding one in a size of his liking. He pulled it out and set it on the easel, then grabbed his pencil and began sketching.

Callum stepped back, evaluating his work. The larger canvas definitely worked better with the picture. He had outlined the scene lightly, Rayla, the bay and bushland that bordered it, wildflowers abloom.

He was just about to grab his watercolours when his phone buzzed on his desk.

Rayla: Finished for the day?

Callum frowned at the message, eyes darting to the time. Oh dear, he had got totally caught up in his art and it was way beyond finishing time. He woke his laptop, scrolling through his emails to ensure he hadn’t missed anything. Hopefully, this particular indiscretion had flown under the radar.

Shrugging, Callum pressed call, selecting speaker and putting his phone down on the desk. “Hey”

“Hey.” Rayla sounded relaxed. “Am I on speaker?”

“Yeah.” Callum chuckled. “Is that okay?”

“That really depends on what you’re doing?” She teased.

“I’m drawing.” Callum glanced at the phone, then back at his canvas.

“Drawing? Really?” Rayla sounded genuinely interested.

“Yeah?” Callum chuckled. “I am an artist, remember?”

“Are you still working?” She sounded concerned.

“No.” He put his pencil down, evaluating the sketch. He was satisfied it was definitely ready for him to begin painting. He was itching to start it now, though not quite as much as he wanted to talk to Rayla. He grabbed his phone, turning speaker off and collapsed onto his bed. “Recreational drawing.”

“Oh.” She sounded pleased. “That’s good.”

Callum snorted. “I guess.”

“It’s just, you said you hadn’t drawn… what was it…personal art in ages?”

Callum’s stomach flip flopped. She had remembered that detail? He hadn’t really thought about it much himself. It was like a switch had been flipped in his head. All he wanted to do was draw now. It was like being a teenager again. If only he still had that much free time. “Well, I did promise you I’d do you a frog selfie picture.” He grinned.

Rayla laughed out right. “You’re going to deliver on that? I thought that was just a lame pass at trying to get into my pants.”

Callum rolled his eyes. “That was a genuine offer of thanks.” He blushed, running a hand through his hair. “And anyway, it worked, didn’t it?”

Rayla snorted loudly. “Yeah, that was what did it.” She replied sarcastically.

~~~

Thursday 12:22

Rayla: You’re really abandoning me tonight?

Callum: Sorry. Ez organised this dinner party thing last weekend.

Rayla: I now only have an exciting evening of catching up on my laundry. I hope you appreciate that.

Callum: I’m sure you and Shadow will have an exciting time.

Rayla: You’ll just have to make it up to me somehow...

Callum: That’s not exactly going to be easy considering you’re an entire plane ride away.

Rayla: Hey, you’re the creative one. I’m sure you’ll think of something 😉

 

 

 

~~~

Thursday 18:53

“HI!” Claudia screamed as Callum opened the door.

“Hey Claudia.” Callum chuckled as she threw her arms around him in a crushing hug. “Still don’t believe in social distancing, I see.”

“Pfft.” She stepped back, grinning. “We’re having a Mexican feast, right? I’m sure Ezran isn’t making us solo nachos.”

Callum rolled his eyes, gesturing for her to go inside. “Hey Soren.”

“Callum!” The older man held out his fist, bumping it against Callum’s. “Good to see you survived lockdown.”

“Yeah, you too.” Callum gestured for them to move further into the apartment.

“Ez!” Claudia screamed again as she entered the kitchen.

“Hey Claudia!” Ezran turned from the stove, stepping forward to hug her. “Hey Soren!” He moved to hug the tall blond, only for Soren to step back, arms raised.

“Ah ah ah.” He wagged a finger, then raised his fist again. “Fist bump only. Social distancing is still in place, remember?”

“Ugh, Soren, you are so annoying.” Claudia rolled her eyes, opening the fridge and sliding in a six pack of beers. “Beer?” She glanced at everyone, raising a second six pack to show them.

“There are rules, Claudia.” Soren said decisively, accepting a beer.

“Yeah, yeah.” Claudia reclined on one of the tall stools, watching Ezran cook. She sipped her beer, pausing briefly before launching into another spiel. “Thank you sooooo much for the invite!” She enthused; eyes wide. “Honestly, my house mate is driving me CRAZY! She’s got really into quilling and there are little bits of paper EVERYWHERE!”

“What’s quilling?” Ezran asked, looking up from the pot.

“It’s when you get little pieces of paper and roll them up to make pictures.” Claudia replied dismissively. “Why couldn’t she have taken up a useful hobby like you, Ez?”

“Well, I was missing comfort foods so it seemed to make sense.” Ezran grinned. “There’s only so much of Callum’s spaghetti bolognaise I can stomach.”

“Hey!” Callum objected. “I branched out occasionally! I made laksa this week.”

“Oh yeah? And you gave my portion away to-" Ezran stopped suddenly at the look on Callum’s face.

“To who?” Soren asked casually.

“No-one.” Callum hoped his blush wasn’t obvious. “I ate it all myself.”

Soren shrugged, accepting the explanation. “We got super into keto but had to give up after a few weeks. Three dudes on a high protein diet unable to leave the house. Not pretty.”

“Lovely, Soren.” Claudia mock gagged.

Ezran shot Callum an apologetic look. Callum sighed, subtly shaking his head. He shifted uncomfortably against the counter, desperately trying to think of something to say. He jumped when his phone vibrated loudly next to him, the screen lighting up with a notification. Callum’s eyes widened in surprise when his phone displayed “Message: Rayla” in bold letters. He dove for the device, hoping Claudia and Soren hadn’t seen.

“Wow, someone’s keen.” Claudia mocked, craning her head in an exaggerated manner. “Who’s messaging you?” She teased. “Got on Tinder?”

“Uh, no-one.” Callum’s mind went blank. “I’m, uh, having an argument with some guy on Reddit.”

“Pfft, loser.” Claudia rolled her eyes. “So, anyway-”

Callum looked around to make sure no-one could see his screen, then unlocked his phone, eager to see what Rayla was messaging him about. He took a sip of his beer, as a picture message began to load. He tried to hide his grin, anticipating another cat selfie or similar.

An image of Rayla clad only in a bra and panties filled his screen.

Callum choked on his beer, spitting half the contents onto his phone. He locked the device with one hand, wiping the screen against his pants and then shoving it into his back pocket.

“You okay?” Soren asked, looking disgusted.

“Yeah.” Callum blushed crimson, the mental image burned into his mind. “Beer went down the wrong way.” He took another sip, hoping to disguise his embarrassment. “Dinner ready yet?” He glanced at Ezran. He was itching to get a proper look at the photo but there was no way he was doing that with an audience.

Ezran glanced at the pot, a critical look on his eye. “Yeah, more or less.”

“Okay.” Callum put his beer down. “I need to use the bathroom first.” Not waiting for an answer, he rushed into his room, slamming the door behind him. Pulling his phone from his pocket, he reopened his messages with Rayla.

He exhaled slowly, eyes running over the image again and actually getting a chance to read the message that accompanied it.

Rayla: Halfway through laundry. Sure is hot in Duren today. 😋 Have a fun dinner party.

Callum: You are evil.

He ran a hand through his hair and tugged on his suddenly too tight trousers.

Rayla: Am I…? Well, how about you call me later to tell me exactly how evil I am…

Callum chuckled, shaking his head. Could he kick Claudia and Soren out now?

Slightly more composed, Callum made his way out of his room and back into the kitchen. Ezran was busy doing the last of the dinner preparations, while Soren and Claudia assisted.

“Want me to set the table?” Callum asked.

“Sure.” Ezran glanced over at him.

“I’ll help.” Claudia began grabbing cutlery.

 

 

 

“What was all this frog legal stuff anyway?” Soren mumbled around his burrito. “Dad said you got sued or something.”

Callum cleared his throat, eyes darting to Ezran in a silent plea for help. “Yeah, all cleared up now though. Some weirdo thought I was copying his stuff.”

Soren nodded, swallowing before continuing. “That’s good. Dad said you had one of the big shot lawyers helping you out. Must have been scary.”

“Uh, yeah, it was okay.” Callum nibbled on his tortilla chips, really hoping Rayla wouldn’t come up directly. “How has cyber security been? All the working from home stuff-”

“Pfft, ‘okay’.” Claudia scoffed, rolling her eyes. “You went to the quarterly dinner thing with Rayla.”

Callum shifted uncomfortably. “Not with her, with her. I just went-”

“Who’s Rayla?” Soren interrupted, looking confused.

“Callum’s lawyer.” Claudia explained, raising her eyebrows suggestively.

“Nice.” Soren winked at Callum.

Mouth dry, Callum tried desperately to think of ways of changing the subject.

“The nachos aren’t too spicy, are they?” Ezran glanced at Callum.

“No, they’re fine.” Soren dismissed. “So tell me about this lawyer chick?” He leered at Callum. “She hot?”

Callum stuttered, lost for words. This had definitely been a bad idea.

Claudia snorted, smacking Soren playfully on the arm as she guffawed loudly. “As if! Rayla’s a legal superintendent. Fun is forbidden by those guys.” She took a sip of her beer.

Callum frowned, torn between defending Rayla, and drawing unnecessary attention to their relationship.

Soren turned up his nose. “Oh, well, that’s no fun. I thought Callum might have got lucky for once.”

Again, Callum wanted to protest but thought against it. If the subject was insulting him rather than Rayla, well, he’d deal with that. Soren had always been callously dismissive of his feelings.

“With Rayla?” Claudia laughed loudly. “She gets people fired for so much as looking at someone the wrong way. She probably has vagina dentata and is-”

“Ugh, Clauds, I’m afraid to ask, but what the hell is vagina dentata?” Soren looked horrified.

Eyes wide with perverse merriment, Claudia grinned at Soren. “It’s when a chick has teeth in her pussy, and it bites off dicks.”

“Fuck Claudia, where do you come up with this shit?” Soren grimaced, crossing his legs. “I did not need that mental image.”

“Yeah, we’re trying to eat.” Callum attempted to change the subject, uncomfortable on many levels.

“Ugh, men.” Claudia laughed. “Okay then, metaphorically, chicks like Rayla enjoy metaphorically castrating men.” She looked back at Soren. “So, there was this guy in our department, Steve. Anyway, he was a bit flirty with the interns, who whinged to HR and then Rayla had them go through everything in his email and-”

“Claudia, can you lay off Rayla for once?!” Callum snapped.

Silence descended on the table, all eyes turning to Callum. He swallowed, glancing around at the wide-eyed faces on him.

“It’s just… uh, women in those sort of roles have a hard time and often get judged unfairly.” Callum waffled, desperately wishing people would stop looking at him.

“We, uh, got really into feminist podcasts in lockdown.” Ezran said, sounding unsure.

Really?” Claudia did not sound impressed.

“Yeah.” Callum nodded shakily, looking at Ezran. “And, uh, other social issues. You know, em, how minorities are being treated. That sort of thing.”

“Yeah, exactly.” Ezran agreed. “That stuff. Watched some TED Talks on sexual harassment.”

“That’s a good point.” Soren added sagely. “You should see some of the gross stuff we intercept on my team. Some guys are gross.”

Claudia rolled her eyes and stuck out her tongue. “Yeah and so are some chicks.”

~~~

Callum frowned at the dishwasher, contemplating how best to get all the dishes done in one load.

“Hey.”

He glanced up, finding Claudia leaning across the island bench.

“Hey.” He smiled stiffly at her. He was still annoyed by the stuff she said about Rayla.

“So, uh, sorry if I upset you earlier.” She bit her lip, looking a little ashamed. “I know Rayla helped you out. I’m sure you appreciate that.”

Callum sighed, standing up. “Yeah, I did.” He ran a hand through his hair. “I do…” He exhaled, struggling to keep quiet when he probably should. “The whole thing opened my eyes, I guess. We have it pretty easy in our department. We can relax and be ourselves. Especially the guys. There’s a different standard for girls. Women. Senior ones especially.”

Claudia shrugged, squirming a little. “Yeah, I guess. Anyway, at least its all behind you now.”

Callum snorted. “Yeah, I guess.”

 

 

 

 

 

Callum sighed, closing the door to his room, then immediately pulling out his phone.

Callum: Still awake?

Rayla: Awake and... restless.

And evil, apparently...

Callum swallowed, pressing the call button. The phone rang for a brief moment before Rayla picked up.

“Hey.” Her voice was low and husky.

“Hey.” Callum couldn’t help but grin, collapsing onto his bed. “How was your evening?”

“Boring.” Rayla snickered. “Considering you abandoned me for some lameo dinner party. How was it?”

Callum snorted. “Torture, considering what you sent me just before.”

“Oh?” Rayla teased. “Did you not like that?”

Callum chuckled, shaking his head. “I didn’t say that... It just made it hard to concentrate on conversation.”

“Oh no.” Rayla sighed dramatically. “How terrible. What were you concentrating on instead?”

Callum rolled his eyes, grinning broadly.

She really was evil.

Chapter Text

Friday 11:32

Rayla: You free for a chat?

Callum: Sure. 😊

Rayla: Videocall ok?

Callum’s eyebrows shot up, his pulse racing at the idea of video-chatting with Rayla after what happened during their phone call last night. The sounds of her gasping and crying out were still fresh in his memory.

Callum: No problem.

He unplugged his headphones and let his playlist run through his speakers as he got to his feet. Ezran said he was going to be out most of the day, but he wasn’t taking any chances.

He was settling back against the headboard when his phone alerted him to an incoming video-call. Taking a deep breath, he answered.

Rayla filled the screen, a cheeky grin on her face. She looked extra playful and Callum felt his body respond involuntarily.

She seemed to be sitting in her lounge room, looking relaxed in her casual Friday outfit. Bright sunlight was streaming through the windows behind her and he could just make out Shadow stretched across the polished concrete floor.

“Hi.” Rayla smiled impishly at him, looking a little flushed.

“Hi.” Callum couldn’t help but snicker. She was about as subtle as a punch to the head.

“How’s your morning going?” She shifted on the couch, reclining against the back.

“Fine.” Callum shrugged. “Few bits and pieces to do that’ll get me through the afternoon. How about you?”

Rayla looked down, struggling to keep the smile from her face. “Yeah, pretty busy.”

Callum snorted at her, trying to keep a somewhat straight face. Why was she being so coy? She sure as hell wasn’t shy last night when she was sending him pictures of herself practically naked as he tried to entertain guests.  

Rayla took a deep breath in an apparent attempt to control herself. “So, um, ... we should talk.” She flushed crimson, looking away from the screen, appearing suddenly nervous.

Callum felt his stomach drop. This did not sound good. “Eh, ok.”

She glanced at the screen and then immediately away again. “I’m... really struggling with the long-distance thing.”

Callum’s breath caught in his throat. It hadn’t even been a week… He found himself lost for words, managing a pathetic “Oh?” after a long pause.

“Yeah.” Rayla continued avoiding looking at him. “So, uh, instead, I thought I might try moving to Katolis.”

Callum stared at the screen, his brain struggling to register what she had just said. “…what?”

Rayla finally looked at him, appearing more nervous than he’d ever seen her. “It’s something I had in the works since before I met you. Before lockdown actually. I didn’t say anything because-”

“You’re moving to Katolis?” Callum snorted in shock as he sat up straight. “Really?”

“Maybe?” Rayla looked to be studying him intently. “…you’re not freaked out, are you? Like I said-”

“So, you’re transferring to the Katolis office?” Callum interrupted her, still struggling to get a grasp of what was happening. “What about the super job?”

“No.” Rayla was starting to look increasingly nervous. “I’m leaving the company entirely.”

Callum started laughing, his mind slowly catching up. “You’ve got a new job, with a new company, in Katolis?!”

“Yeah.” Rayla explained, worrying her lip. “Is that ok? I know it sounds crazy-”

“Ok?!” Callum asked in happy confusion. “Why wouldn’t it be ok?”

Rayla began to laugh herself, seeming to relax a little. “I don’t know. I was afraid you’d think I’m a stalker weirdo. We only met in real life a week ago.”

“You said it’s been in the works since before lockdown.” Callum narrowed his eyes at her.

Rayla rolled her eyes, bringing her knees up to her chest and wrapping an arm around them. “It has, but that doesn’t mean it might not still freak you out.”

Callum grinned, shaking his head. “Why would I be freaked out by my girlfriend actually living in the city I live in?”

“Hold on, I’m not sure I agreed to this whole girlfriend thing.” Rayla grinned teasingly.

Callum shook his head, laughing. “Na, I think you did at the airport on Monday. That’s kinda what giving it a go means.” Rayla chuckled but did not otherwise protest. “So, hold on, did you just want to videocall to see my face while you pretended we were breaking up?” Callum’s brain was still struggling to process all the information.

Rayla winced, looking a little guilty. “Em, it went a bit smoother in my head.” She bit her lip.

Callum sighed in disbelief. “That is even more evil than what you did to me yesterday evening.”

“Really?” Rayla grinned. “That all worked out in the end, didn’t it?

Callum rolled his eyes. “I suppose…”

She sighed in an exaggerated manner, appearing to consider things. “Guess I’ll have to figure out a way to make it up to you…“

 

 

~~~~

 

Friday 16:24

Callum stared at his tablet screen, mind a million miles away.

Rayla was moving here.

To Katolis.

And she was leaving the company, so there was no more concern about getting into trouble on that end.

He frowned, realising he hadn’t even asked her where she was going to be working. Or when exactly she was moving. He had been so distracted and confused by her mock ‘break up’ joke and then distracted by other things that they hadn’t even talked about practicalities.

He glanced at the time. It wasn’t unreasonable to consider knocking off for the day this early on a Friday, was it? Grabbing his phone, he leaned back in his chair and messaged Rayla.

Callum: Free for a call?

Rayla: So soon? Looking for round two?

Callum snorted. She was going to be the death of him at this rate.

Callum: Haha. I just realised I didn’t ask you anything about your new job.

              I feel like a bit of an asshole.

Rayla: Yes, that’s exactly what I’ve been thinking all afternoon :P

              Give me 20?

Callum: No problem.

Almost to the minute, his phone began ringing 20 minutes later. He answered the videochat, giddy at the prospect of seeing Rayla again.

“Hi.” She grinned, happily. “Done for the day?”

Callum shrugged, moving his mouse to ensure his online presence was still active. “More or less. I’m not getting much work done, but don’t want to log off.”

Rayla chuckled, rolling her eyes. “Lucky for some.”

“You going to be working late?” Callum asked.

“Yep.” She sighed, though she was still smiling. “Handed in my notice, so now they’re losing it about everything they want me to hand over before I finish up.”

Callum stomach flip flopped. “You’ve officially resigned then?”

“Can’t get rid of me now.” She teased, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear.

“When do you actually move?” Callum glanced at his laptop, bringing up his calendar.

“Well, I was supposed to give four weeks’ notice, but I’ve heaps of annual leave they don’t want to pay out, so I’ve two and a half weeks of official work.”

“You’re moving here in two and a half weeks?!” Callum could barely contain his excitement.

 Rayla laughed at his obvious delight. “No, dummy. You can’t just pack up your life in two and a half weeks!” She paused for dramatic affect. “I’m moving there in three weeks.” She considered for a moment. “Ish. I’m still negotiating with my new company on flights and moving and stuff. And I’ll probably need to come back and forth a bit to sort my apartment here.”

Callum glanced at his calendar, taking a mental note of the date three weeks from now. “Where are you going to be working?” He tried desperately to pay attention to her news. She seemed really excited and he didn’t want to only address his wants. “Similar to what you’re doing now?”

“No, actually.” She shrugged her shoulders. “Something completely different. I’m going to be working for a nonprofit.”

“Really?” Callum beamed. “That’s amazing. You get to be a lawyer for good.”

Rayla laughed heartily. “You do have a good memory.”

“Well, you make an impression.” He grinned as she rolled her eyes and blushed. There was something unspeakably adorable about how flustered she would get when he complimented her.

“So, you going to help me narrow down where I should look for apartments?” She seemed to look to her computer screen. “I’m not great with Katolis suburbs.”

“No problem.” He nodded enthusiastically. “Do you have to have something immediately?”

“Na,” She looked back at him. “They’re putting me up in a self-catering place for a month which I can extend, so I’ve got some time. I have to figure out what to do with Shadow though. No pets at the accommodation they’re providing. I’m undecided on whether or not I board him or send him to my Dad’s. I feel bad having them come up here again just to pick up a cat… but I also feel bad putting him in a cattery for four weeks. Did you know there’s like… an Airbnb for cats?”

Callum chuckled, trying to imagine that. “He can stay here if you want. They’re easy with pets in this building and Ez would go nuts.”

“That’s ok. I don’t want to put you out.” She jumped as the feline in question hopped into her lap.

“Seriously, Ez would probably pay you to let him hang out with your cat. And he’d never forgive you if he found out you boarded him rather than let him stay here.”

Rayla rolled her eyes. “Gotta make a good impression on Ezran.” She chuckled. “He comes across as a judgemental hardass.”

“Exactly.” Callum grinned.

 

 

~~~

 

 

Three-ish weeks later…

Callum: Hope the leaving drinks are going well. I’ll track your flight number so I should be waiting in arrivals for you.

Rayla: Ugh, aren’t they supposed to be making me feel sad for leaving?! These drinks SUCK! Waiting at the airport will be infinitely more exciting than this.

              Thanks again for waiting up. Maybe I should have got the AM flight tomorrow.

Callum: No way. It’s already been 3 weeks.

Rayla: Dummy.

              Better pretend I’m interested in these guys before I leave forever, I guess.

              Call you from the airport.

 

 

~~~

 

 

Callum stood at the arrivals hall, heart racing. Rayla’s flight had landed over 20 minutes ago and he assumed the people making their way through the doors now were from it. He scanned each face, though the moment he saw her distinctive platinum blonde hair in the crowd, he knew it was her.

He sighed, struggling to believe the day was finally here. The previous three weeks had dragged. Rayla had been incredibly busy wrapping up her job as well as her life in Duren. They managed to talk (and more) most evenings but it still seemed like forever ago that he actually was in her intoxicating presence

He had spotted Rayla before she him, her eyes still scanning the hall for a moment before she identified him. Her face broke into a stunning smile as she waited for the people in front of her to file through the doors.

Callum weaved his way through the small crowd, making his way to the front just in time to greet her as she emerged into the bustling space, his heart racing impossibly fast. He physically ached to touch her, listen to her laugh, breathe in the sweet scent of her shampoo.

He didn’t wait for her to speak, stepping forward to embrace her in a long awaited hug. Rayla chuckled against his neck, dropping her bags to hold him tight.

“Hi.” She mumbled into his hair, sighing happily.

“Hi.” Callum muttered back, resting his head against hers. “How was your flight?” He asked, leaning back a little to look at her face.

She wrinkled her nose, shrugging. “Fine. Quick.”

Callum sighed, his eyes taking in her face briefly before he leaned forward to kiss her.

“Hey!” Rayla smirked with a raised brow, leaning back a fraction. “Little public, don’t you think?”

“Nope.” Callum grinned back, pulling her closer. “Airports have different rules.”  

“Do they?” Rayla muttered against his mouth, pressing herself against him.

Callum sighed as he felt her lips on his again. It had been far too long since he had seen her, kissed her. Every now and then he’d wonder if this whole infatuation with her was due to how weird things were lately. He pondered if maybe he’d lost his sense of normal due to being isolated from society for so long, but then he’d hear her voice or see her face and all doubts would melt away.

It was just… Rayla. He’d never met anyone like her. Funny, smart and beyond beautiful. How could he ever question the logic in falling for her?

Rayla giggled softly, her forehead pressed against his. “You’re not having second thoughts about me moving then?”

Snorting loudly, Callum shook his head. “Not for a second.”

“Excellent.” She slipped from his embrace, tugging his sleeve playfully. “Let’s make up for lost time, shall we?”

Callum remained rooted to the spot, chuckling at her. “Aren’t you forgetting something?”

Rayla looked at him quizzically, then started. “Oh crap, my bags!”

Callum laughed openly at her, widening his eyes in disbelief. “Eh, anything else?”

Rayla observed him for a moment. “Shit, Shadow!” She flushed crimson, looking around for signs for the freight department, he presumed.

“This way.” Grinning, he slipped a hand in hers as together, they grabbed her bags.

“You can never tell Shadow I nearly forgot him.” She buried her head in his shoulder as they made their way to collect her caged cat.

“Hey, its Ez you should worry about.” Callum teased. “He’ll file for custody if he hears.”

“Well it’s a good thing I’m a lawyer, isn’t it?”

 

 

 

~~~~

 

 

Callum struggled with the door, Rayla’s bags in one hand while she wrestled Shadow. The poor animal had not enjoyed his time spent in his travel case and he had been desperate to escape since they picked him up. Successfully opening the door, Callum stepped back to allow Rayla in. She took one step inside the apartment and dropped to her knees, allowing Shadow down.

He seemed to stick his nose up in the air, glaring at them both for a moment, before stalking further into the room. Rayla snorted, then turned to help Callum with the bags.

“You sure you don’t mind me crashing here tonight?” She whispered as she looked over her shoulder at him and made her way down the dark hallway. “I can’t check in to my accommodation until two tomorrow. You’ll have to think of ways to entertain me until then, you know?”

“Pfft, hardly.” Callum snorted, switching on the lights. He followed Rayla into the living room. She was kneeling on the floor, petting Shadow, who though still looking put out, seemed to be relaxing a little. Callum collapsed next to them, tired at the late hour but still giddy at the fact she was here, in his apartment again.

Rayla smirked at him, giving Shadow one last pat, then rising up onto her knees so that she could slide into his lap. “So,” She mused, glancing around. “Is your brother home or…?” Trailing off, she grinned wickedly.

Callum laughed softly, his hands running up her sides and around her back. “Nope.” He pulled her close against him. “He conveniently had a movie night at his friends house.”

“Ah, convenient indeed…” Rayla echoed, leaning forward to kiss him.

 

 

~~~

 

 

Callum woke slowly, the soft morning light gently rousing him. He glanced to the other side of the bed, butterflies in his chest as he took in Rayla’s sleeping form next to him. She looked so beautiful as she continued to sleep, lying on her side, her hair fanned out on the pillow.

Callum took the time to observe and note her every feature, her thick eye lashes, delicate bone structure, those pouty lips. She looked different in sleep, relaxed and peaceful.

He sighed, content beyond measure to be able to spend this quiet moment with her. No time limits, no outside pressures or worries. Just the two of them. Together.

Rayla sighed, making a small sound in her throat as she blinked softly, her eyes taking a second to adjust to her surroundings. Focusing on him, she smiled softly. “Hi.”

Callum couldn’t help but smile back, reaching out for the hand relaxed by her face. “Hi.”

Rayla curled her fingers around his as she moved forward, nestling her head against his naked chest.

“Sleep ok?” Callum asked into her hair, wrapping an arm around her back.  

“Mmhmm.” She mumbled.

“It’s nice to wake up with you and not get immediately kicked out.” Callum chuckled, gently caressing the smooth skin of her back.

Rayla snorted, leaning back to look at him. “But it’s such a good tradition.”

Rolling his eyes, Callum choose to ignore the bait. “So, you have check in at your apartment at two? And viewing two places in the afternoon, yeah?”

“Yep.” Rayla sighed. “You sure you don’t mind driving me around?”

“Of course not.” Callum leaned forward to kiss her. “I haven’t seen you in three weeks.” If anything, he was looking forward to the afternoon wandering around with her. Their previous time in Katolis had been hectic and nerve wracking. Even their date to the Prom had been stressful in its own way as he tried to read her mixed signals.

He had feared she was playing with him back then. Picking up his obvious attraction to her and stringing him along. Or wanting to let him down easy. How things had changed in such a short period of time.

This afternoon would be relatively relaxed. Checking into her short stay accommodation, viewing potential places to lease, maybe grabbing a coffee, and going for a stroll through the suburbs.

Normal couple stuff.

“Dork.” Rayla rolled her eyes, a bashful smile on her face.

“What do you want to do this morning?” Callum sighed, gazing at her.

“Nothing.” She arched her back, yawning softly.

“Oh, is that my new nickname?” He grinned, raising his eyebrows, a hand caressing her side.

Rayla groaned at his cheesy joke, pretending to gag. “That’s terrible.”

“Accurate though?” He smirked, rolling his hips against hers just enough to make her gasp.

“Nope. I’m kicking you out again.” She began pushing him towards the edge of the bed.

“Hey! This is my bed! You can’t kick me out.” He protested, struggling against the combined effort of her arms and legs shoving him toward the floor.

“Doesn’t matter. That was the worst pun ever.” She changed tactics, her fingers moving to his rib cage.  

“Rayla!” He cried out, struggling as she began to tickle him. “No! STOP!”

“Eh, I’m home you know?!”

They both paused as a voice rang out into the apartment.

Rayla began giggling uncontrollably, hand over her mouth. “Ezran?” She hissed, face pink.

“Yep.” Callum blushed, glancing at the closed door.

“Oops.” She sat back, looking flushed as well. “I guess we should probably get up? Say good morning?”

“Aw.” Callum pouted, trying to grab her waist, but she slipped out of his grasp.

Rayla rolled her eyes at him, grabbing her bag and tossing it on the bed. “How about we wait until we check into my accommodation. You know, avoid mentally scarring your little brother?”

Snorting, Callum got to his own feet, grabbing a pair of sweatpants and t-shirt. “I think he might be mentally scarred already after all the phone calls in recent weeks.” He turned to find Rayla dressed in a baggy t-shirt and loose cotton shorts, as she pulled her messy hair into a high ponytail. Opening the door, he stood back to let her exit.

Ezran was reclined on the couch, petting Shadow who was stretched out along his torso. “Hey!” He grinned, twisting around to look at them. “Eh, I’d get up but-" He gestured to the feline purring contentedly on his chest.

“Can’t possibly disturb this spoiled cat.” Rayla grinned, leaning against the smaller of the two couches. “Nice to meet you in person.” She grinned, her cheeks a little pink. “And thanks again for taking in this bum.”

“Are you kidding?” Ezran scratched Shadow’s head as the cat purred contentedly. “I should be thanking you. He’s gorgeous.”

“Told you.” Callum rolled his eyes. “Coffee?” He asked to the room at large.

Rayla and Ezran nodded.

“So, you caught the red eye then?” Ezran glanced at Rayla as Callum made his way into the compact kitchen.

“Yeah,” Rayla shrugged, briefly watching Callum work. “Flights fill up fast right now. It was the red eye or the AM flight today.”

“Uh huh.” Ezran’s tone was a little teasing. “What’s on the agenda for today?” He sat up a little, earning a meek protest from Shadow.

“Checking into my accommodation and then apartment hunting.” Rayla sat down, tucking her legs under her body.

“Oh, where you looking?” He asked, calming Shadow with a scratch under the chin.

“Yara?” Rayla sounded a little unsure. “Today anyway. Hawthorn tomorrow.”

“Wow, ritzy!” Grinning, Ezran raised an eyebrow.

“Is it?” Rayla looked a little embarrassed. “The rental market in Duren is crazy. Its hard to compare.”

“Coffee.” Callum offered a cup to Ezran, putting another on the coffee table. “Uh,” He glanced at Rayla, looking a little embarrassed. “How do you actually take your coffee?”

Ezran snorted, gently ushering Shadow off his lap. “I’m going to jump in the shower. Nice meeting you in person, Rayla. See you guys later.”

Rayla grinned at Callum. “You don’t even know how I take my coffee?” She teased.

“Well, you kicked me out every morning before I could find out.” Callum pointed out.

“Dash of milk.” She said as she reclined on the couch, stretching her long legs out before her.

Callum returned with her coffee, sitting down next to her as she pulled her legs up for him. Once settled comfortably (coffee in hands), Rayla stretched her legs out across his lap, sighing contentedly. Smiling at him, she pulled her phone from her pocket, and began scrolling through something.

“So, is this accommodation far from here? It’s close enough to my new office apparently.” She frowned a little at her screen.

“Na, you could walk really.” Callum took a sip of his slightly too hot coffee, resting a hand on her bare thigh.

She nodded, a little distracted as she looked back at her phone. Callum sighed, watching her drink his coffee, as she concentrated on something on her screen.

This was perfect, he thought. Simple, easy… what he had been dreaming about for what felt like forever, but had only really been a few weeks... Relaxing together like this. She looked gorgeous as ever in her simple lounge wear, face bare and hair a little messy from sleep. 

He watched her, smiling to himself at the small expressions that crossed her face as she played with her phone. It still seemed surreal that they were finally here.

Together.

He felt the familiar mix of excitement and contentment that had been a feature of their relationship since almost the first moment of their meeting across a computer screen all those weeks ago.

A strange sort of understanding that he still didn’t really get.

She looked up from her phone briefly, her eyebrows jumping slightly when she caught him watching her. Blushing a little, she stuck her tongue out at him as she went back to her phone, leaning forward slightly to take a sip of her coffee.

I love her…

Callum started as the thought came rushing to the forefront of his mind. He felt his face grow red as he allowed the idea to permeate his  mind, settle, making itself at home.

Swallowing he realised it was true, he did love her. It had come on so slowly, so gradually, he hadn’t even realised until he was surrounded by it, awash with her... everything. He had almost forgotten what his life was like before he met her.

Infinitely more boring and mundane, that was for sure.

Rayla swallowed her coffee, glancing at him, her brows knitting together as she observed his clearly altered appearance. “You ok?” She asked, sitting up a little straighter.

“Yeah, good.” Callum took a deep breath, smiling a little nervously. It was hardly a revelation to share with her. Things were already moving at lightning speed. Best they get used to this new normal before racing towards another one. And what if she didn’t feel the same? This was all so new still. The knowledge would be his personal secret for now.

“Great, in fact.”