Until The Sunshine Fades

Thirty Nine

“What are your plans for tonight?”

Isabella, who was staring at the screen of her laptop, visibly startled at the sound of Mila’s voice, her eyes snapping to her office door as it swung open, allowing the other woman to swan inside. She had been struggling to focus. Since Gerard had departed the previous morning, the feeling of being unsettled that had disappeared in his presence had started to creep back in, and it had made it difficult for her to focus on the screen in front of her. She knew that she was asking a lot. She had uprooted her life, taken it away from a place that she knew like the back of her hand and away from the people she cared about the most, and it wasn’t something she was going to get used to immediately, but she had thought that, after a few weeks, she would feel more settled than she did. It still felt temporary.

“Huh?” Isabella spluttered.

“What are you up to tonight?” Mila repeated “Because if you’re free, the rest of us are heading out for drinks. David’s promised to buy the first round” she added with a wide grin.

Isabella’s lips quirked despite herself. “What’s the occasion?” she prodded.

“I have no idea” Mila replied “But no one is complaining. Can we count you in?” she asked.

“I don’t know” Isabella answered, her hand moving to rub at her collarbone. She liked the people she worked with, she had enjoyed the time she had spent with them outside of the office, but still she was trying to keep a small distance between them. The more time that passed with her feeling unsettled, the less sure she got that her stay in Madrid was going to last long.

“Do you have plans?” Mila prodded “I know you said that your boyfriend was coming into town for a couple of days. Is he still here?” she asked, plopping down into the seat on the other side of Isabella’s desk.

Isabella shook her head. “He had to leave yesterday morning” she mused.

Mila nodded her head slowly, her expression sympathetic, but she didn’t quite know what to say, something which made Isabella shake her head, a small, rueful smile pulling up one corner of her mouth. “I don’t think I am going to be the best company” she mused, forcing out a soft laugh.

“You could come for the first round” Mila said gently “Take advantage of David’s generosity, and if you’re still not feeling it, then I’ll get you home. You’ve got my word” she added, offering Isabella a soft, reassuring smile.

Isabella wanted to shake her head, but she was swayed by Mila’s soft smile. “One drink” she quipped.

“If that’s what you want” Mila quipped “Though, once you see how fun we can be, I don’t think you’re going to want to leave so soon” she added impishly.

Isabella scoffed, rolling her eyes amusedly. “Think whatever you want to think” she quipped.

Mila laughed as she made her way towards the door. “I’ll see you later, Isabella” she chirped.

“Yeah” Isabella confirmed, a faint smile tugging at her lips.

“Another one, Izzy?”

Isabella, who was studying the bar menu, looked up at her colleague Marco, a small crease in between her eyebrows. She had stayed. After the first round of drinks, she had been easily persuaded to stay for a second, and after almost two hours in the bar, she had relaxed a little, the feeling of being unsettled and overwhelmed receding slightly. She had loosened up. She had joined in conversations and been eager to talk about what she missed about home, and it had left her feeling a little lighter. It was a topic of conversation that she was still reluctant to bring up with Gerard, even despite his reassurances that he wanted to hear it. She didn’t want to give him the opportunity to ask the question she knew she couldn’t answer: Why not just come home?

“Isn’t it my round?” Isabella prodded.

Marco shook his head. “David’s insisting that he pays for this one” he replied “It’s the last one seeing as we all have work in the morning. I think he thinks that if he lets us stay any longer, then no one is going to get anything done tomorrow” he added impishly.

Isabella laughed. “He’s probably not wrong” she quipped “I am not the best person to be around when I am hungover” she added.

“One last drink, then” Marco quipped “The same again?” he asked, gesturing to the wine glass on the table.

Isabella nodded. “Thank you” she said.

Marco turned around, nodding at David who stood a little further along the bar, before he plopped down onto the barstool at Isabella’s side. “Are you going to order anything?” he asked, gesturing to the menu that she fiddled with in her hands.

Isabella’s stare dropped to the menu before she shook her head, letting out a little laugh. “I am not actually hungry” she quipped “Mila disappeared on me a little while ago, and I got bored waiting for her to come back. Have you seen her?” she asked.

“She was talking to David the last time I saw her” Marco replied “Work stuff” he added.

Isabella nodded her head understandingly, allowing a brief moment of quiet to settle between her and Marco before he quirked a small smile. “You’re new in town too, aren’t you?” he asked.

“Too?” Isabella asked.

“I moved here six months ago” Marco answered “I mean, I know it’s not the same as moving here like you did, for the job, but I just wanted to let you know that I get it, and if you need someone to talk to, or even just someone to show you places that you need to know about, then I’d be happy to help out. It takes a little getting used to” he added with a small smile.

Isabella breathed out a soft laugh, her cheeks flushing a soft shade of pink. “You’d really not mind helping me out?” she asked “I mean, Mila’s been trying to, but she’s lived here her whole life. I know I’ve only moved a few hundred miles, but...”

“But it’s different” Marco finished for her.

“Yeah, it is” Isabella breathed out.

Marco reached out, patting her shoulder gently. “I’m happy to help” he said.

Isabella went to reply, but stopped when her phone vibrated on the counter. Glancing down at it, she spotted Gerard’s name immediately, before she slipped out of her seat, sweeping the phone into her grasp. “I have to go” she announced.

“OK” Marco mused “You know where my office is. Stop by whenever” he added.

Isabella smiled back at him brightly. “I might just take you up on that” she chirped “Night, Marco” she added.

“Goodnight, Isabella” Marco replied.

Isabella offered him a goofy little wave before she padded across the bar, already talking eagerly to Gerard.