Nikki cleared off the coffee table, using the tried and true method of pushing everything onto the floor.
“Really?” Clint raised an eyebrow.
“What? We needed to clear off the table and it’s cleared. Job done and time spent on it…oh roughly a minute? I think it’s very efficient.”
Clint chuckled. “It seems like there’s a point there, though if I wasn’t so tired I might be able to figure out why there isn’t.”
“Maybe I’m just right.”
“Often. But I don’t think pushing things onto the floor should ever be the best option.” He rubbed his eyes.
“Was your day really that bad?” Nikki sat down next to him.
“It wasn’t great. Reporters have been trying to contact me. Several of them even made it to my front door. And the phone has been busy to put it mildly. I had to turn it off eventually.”
“I could kill Tobin.”
Clint laughed. “I think Tobin could kill me. It wasn’t his fault. I gave him the story, he couldn’t leave me out of it. Not without making people doubt what he did tell.”
“Pah. He could have tried. He at least could have minimized it a bit more than he did.”
“Maybe. But I did put him in a pretty tough position. I can’t blame him for being ticked off.”
There was a knock on the door.
“I’ll get it,” said Nikki.
“No, don’t bother. It’ll be the Chinese food. Why don’t you go grab us some beers from the kitchen?”
Clint pulled out his wallet and several bills as he crossed the room and opened the door. And then froze.
Grant wasn’t looking angry. He wasn’t looking vindictive. He wasn’t looking really much of anything. If Clint had to describe his expression it was one of a daze.
“Can I come in a moment?”
“Sure.” Clint stepped aside to let him enter.
Grant looked around the apartment for a moment. Clint waited, stealing himself for a possible bombshell. He’d made an enemy. And Grant was the kind of person who moved quickly.
“I’ve had quite a day,” said Grant at last. “Donald, Gloria, Eleanor, the press…and it’s not looking too good I have to admit. So I would really like to know one thing. Why? Because I don’t choose people hastily. You, I learned about. Tobin told me all about those photos you took of Glades back in the day. Plus you’re ambitious. You want to make it in LA as a photographer. What could you possibly have to gain from what you just did? I honestly don’t understand it. Why did you do it? You’re burning too.”
“Yes. I mean just…why? I think at the very least I have a right to know that much.”
Clint hesitated. Why not? There were somethings you should own to, no matter what it said about you. “The truth is, it was about Lionel.”
Grant blinked. “That git?”
“Look, I didn’t like Lionel. He rubbed me all the wrong ways, every single time. But the thing is, he saw why long before I did. The reason he got under my skin like no one else ever has was because he was everything I hate about myself. And you know what? I wouldn’t like to be killed off and have the man responsible get off scot free for it. I’d like to think there’d be someone who’d make that man pay the price in one way or another.”
“So at the end of the day…you just did it for yourself?”
“I never said I did it for perfect reasons.”
“I worked for my studio for years. I worked, and I sweated, and I sacrificed. You have no idea what that kind of commitment is like, do you?”
“No. I probably don’t.”
“No.” Grant shook his head. “And you might have taken that away from me, because some hack, blackmailing photographer had a weak heart.”
“It looks that way.”
Grant stared at him for one long minute and then strode to the door and walked out.
Clint heard Nikki clearing her voice and turned to see her standing in the doorway to the kitchen.
“I guess you would have heard all that?” he asked.
“You guess right. You know you’re wrong don’t you? You’re not Lionel.”
“A part of me is.”
She came over and wound her arms around him. “Not anymore. And for what it’s worth: I would absolutely make anyone pay to hell and back if they ever killed you off.”
Clint tucked a strand of Nikki’s hair back behind her ear. “Then you’re the first person who would.”
“Well you know me. I can kick up quite the fuss when I need to.”
“I do know you. And one, when that one is you, is more than enough. Nikki.”
Nikki blinked. “What did you just say?”
“Marry me. I’ve thought about this. I thought it about it a lot. And I was going to wait until I had built up a photography career that I could be proud of. And I could come to you a success. And now, that may never happen. My career just took a grave hit. One that I inflicted myself. Maybe I can salvage it. Maybe I can’t. Maybe I don’t even want to anymore. I do know I have a lot of things to decide. But there’s one thing I don’t have to decide. I do want you. I want us. And I want it from here on out. Marry me Nikki. And I swear we’ll face the world together come hell and high water.”
Nikki kissed him in answer.
AN: Proposals are probably on the top five things I find the hardest to write.