A collaboration involving Professor Hiddleston and Professor Evans- The two are rivals at a posh New England university and have no idea they both have taken interest in the lovely Thalia Bareo. She’s a grad student with interests in language and history; a sassy full-figured Puerto Rican girl from Chicago. Story updates are posted on Wednesdays and Sundays.
Word count: 3618
Warnings: Language, Adult Situations, Fluff, Impolite Use of Cellphone
Readers may wish bodily harm on a certain someone after this chapter, and he’s surprisingly clueless, but the bastard wears his glasses… so, there’s that.
Summary: Professor Tom tries to keep suspicions away from his secret relationship with his assistant and grad student, Thalia Bareo
Click here for the introduction to Educating Thalia
Tom sits in the staff lounge, his head bent diligently over some paperwork. None of his colleagues have any idea that he’s been staring blankly at the same page for minutes without accomplishing anything.
Over three months have gone by since his secret night with Thalia in the school library, and they’ve managed to sneak many others in too. Their stolen moments are the sunshine in his life now, a time when he can truly be himself and get a taste of what a happy relationship might feel like. If only…
With a sigh, he adjusts his glasses with his forefinger and tries his best to not let his feelings run away with him. Yet his thoughts keep drifting to the idea she’ll be leaving soon after finals, and be gone for the long weeks over the holiday break. If he’s honest with himself, he doesn’t want to be apart from her that length of time. Tom shakes his head and turns the page to give the appearance he’s working. He needs to focus on what his head tells him, not his heart, or they’ll risk being discovered.
“Alright, I’ll call it a day then. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”
Laughing at her own joke, Professor Joanna Kent grabs her bag and coat, ready to leave the staff lounge. As usual, she manages to walk by Tom so closely that she ‘accidentally’ brushes his arm.
He grits his teeth. Hiddleston, get your butt into gear and do this.
Suppressing a sigh, he rises and catches up with her in front of the door.
She turns, fluttering her lashes at him.
Tom clears his throat and gives himself a mental shake. “I was wondering… A new Greek restaurant opened at Williams Street, and… Would you like to join me there for dinner tonight?”
Her eyes widen, and then the lash-fluttering increases to such speed that he feels dizzy looking at it.
“That sounds lovely, Tom. Tonight at eight? I know which restaurant you mean, I’ve been meaning to check it out. I could meet you there?”
Well, he has to give the woman credit for one thing, she doesn’t beat about the bush.
“Sure. Uhm, great. Yes.”
“Awesome. I’ll see ya then.”
She gives her hips an awkward swishy sway and leaves, her overly sweet cologne lingering unpleasantly, and Tom has to remind himself for the umpteenth time why this is supposed to be a good idea.
“Trying your luck with the local ladies, Hiddleston?” comes Professor Evans’s voice from close by where he’s packing his bag.
“Beginner’s tip,” he adds with a smirk, “you might want to smile a little more.”
Tom resists the urge to roll his eyes, realizing with a start that Thalia is rubbing off on him. He scoffs instead, shooting his colleague a glance. “I’m not entirely sure you’re the right person to be dishing out dating advice, but thanks a lot.”
Smirk still firmly in place, Evans walks out too, leaving Tom alone in the room to sort out his feelings and give himself another pep talk.
Hours later, Tom is fervently praying for a hole to open up in the ground and swallow him whole.
They haven’t even gotten to the meal yet and he’s had more than enough. Struggling hard to keep his polite smile in place, he toys with the napkin.
Professor Kent has been talking incessantly since she arrived – which was fashionably late and in heels so high she’s almost walking on stilts. While she’s always come across as bold and wanting to appear younger than she is, Tom hasn’t expected her to present herself quite so aggressively. Her hot pink dress is a bit too short and offering glimpses of cleavage he certainly won’t be caught staring at. What surprises him even more are the layers of makeup she’s hiding behind. Not that he’s ever looked at her with much interest, but she strikes him as pretty in a sort of bland way. With the right makeup, she would look attractive because she has a nice, small nose and even features. Tonight, however, she’s gone for the siren look complete with garish colors and fake lashes, and it’s all he can do not to cringe.
He wants a woman like Thalia who knows how to bring out the striking features she has, not someone who decks herself out in war paint to slither into a different skin.
Of course, he has complimented her nevertheless, earning himself some fake-humble giggling and two cheeks presented to kiss.
Tom takes a long sip of water and reminds himself to inject “I see”, “oh, really?” and “mhm” at regular intervals while Joanna keeps on talking.
He has no real idea what she’s blathering on about. Oh, he has tried valiantly, because it’s rude of him to ask her out on date and not care…but he’s fighting a losing battle. For one, she jumps from topic to topic and doesn’t much care for input. And it doesn’t help that he wishes he could take Thalia out on a proper date instead. Right here, for everyone to see. It’s like he has this primal urge to officially stake a claim on her or something, although he knows full well that he can’t and won’t.
His phone chimes in his pocket, and he automatically reaches for it.
It’s a message from Thalia, the last thing he’s expected. He texted her right after he left the staff room, telling her about the planned date. Her reply came more than an hour later, consisting only of an “okay” and throwing him off balance. He expected some teasing or at least a longer comment, and the one word with its million ways of interpretation has had him wondering ever since.
He turns his phone to vibration mode and makes sure that Professor Kent is so entertained by her own baseball-related story that she won’t notice him checking the message.
Enjoying your date?
With a grimace, he taps out a reply, wishing for once that he’d use emoticons because he’s sure there are a whole bunch of very expressive ones he could use to illustrate his suffering.
Tremendously, thanks for asking. I think having all my teeth pulled out without anesthesia would be preferable.
He keeps the phone on his thigh instead of sliding it back into the pocket, hoping against hope that Thalia didn’t just want to check in on him but will reply.
It’s getting rather warm in the place, which is full of enthusiastic guests and the mouth-watering smells of Greek cuisine. But he doesn’t want to take off his suit jacket. It’s his armor, protecting him from unnecessary ogling and offering at least a bit of reassurance. Joanna has already eyed him like a vulture about to pick the meat off his bones; he doesn’t need to encourage her by chucking the jacket. Thalia is never good at hiding whenever she’s running her eyes all over him, but there’s a world of difference between her appreciate gaze that makes him all hot and bothered and between this…this…leering.
Stop it right here, Tom, he scolds himself. He’s making matters worse. Dammit, he should be banishing Thalia from his thoughts. Tonight of all nights is the worst time to long for her. And he shouldn’t be comparing apples with pears.
Just when he leans forward with his chin on his hand, tuning in to Joanna’s monologue – Wait a minute, she’s talking about cleaning alcohol stains from expensive dresses? How did they get to that topic? – he feels his phone vibrate on his thigh. Tom glances down and reads.
I didn’t need that visual. 😉 Surely it can’t be so bad. Man up and woo the lady with your irresistible charms, Professor Hiddleston.
He suppresses a chuckle. Her tone is odd today, and he can’t put his finger on her mood. Stretching his pained smile wider, he flicks his gaze down to type a reply.
You know very well that I’m all man. But if you need a re-demonstration, I’m more than ready to comply.
He feels his lips curl in a grin, but his fingers hover over the send button. So far, they’ve only messaged each other sparingly, keeping it either project-related or organizing their clandestine meetings. Is this too far? And why the hell does he tease her when he should be focusing on his date?
Tom hits send and looks up in time to catch Professor Kent staring at him expectantly.
Flustered, he takes his glasses off and stuffs them in a pocket.
“I’m sorry, Joanna, how terribly rude of me. I think I’ve lost you there for a bit.” He gestures to the phone, cringing inwardly. “My sister. From England.”
She raises her needle-thin eyebrows. “Oh, how adorable. So, you’re a family man?”
Before he can try to get a word in – and he honest to god has no wish to share family stuff with her – she bulldozes ahead. “I keep thinking we’re much too young to think about all the settling down and founding a family stuff, don’t ya agree? We’re still enjoying life and all it has to offer, why tie ourselves down with babies and added responsibilities?”
Tom blinks and gets a “yes, if you say so, sure” in sideways before she rambles on.
With an internal groan, he sits back again and gives up all pretense of listening. The ironic thing is that she’d make a good ‘partner’ for him as it’s obvious she doesn’t want anything serious, finds him attractive and is too interested in her own life to get suspicious of anything he might be doing. That’s the theory, but reality looks a lot different. There’s no way he could ever see himself dating her, whether it would help or not.
His phone bounces a little on the table, and he snatches it up to read Thalia’s message.
You are so NOT texting me teases like that while you’re staring at Professor Kent’s cleavage. Behave.
There’s no smiley this time, and Tom finds himself wondering again what mood she’s in. Is this a serious reproach, and deservedly so? Or is she teasing him back?
Only one way to find out… He types surreptitiously, nodding at whatever Joanna is now saying about sports cars.
If you think that’s a tease, you’ve got another thought coming. And for your information, Miss Bareo, the only cleavage I am mentally ogling is yours. In fact, I’d love nothing more than to bury my head in it now. I shaved before my date, so I’d be all smooth and cool against your warm, full globes. I’d hold them ever so softly, not giving you the fondling you crave, and then I’d run my tongue all over them, avoiding the hard peaks that are begging for my attention.
Tom presses send and sits up straighter. He needs to get this dinner over with, preferably without making a fool of himself.
When the waiter brings their food and there’s a momentary lull in conversation, he puts on his most charming smile. Filling their glasses with wine, he asks, “So, tell me, Joanna, have you ever been to England?”
He’ll keep her talking about herself. That should do the trick.
“God, no, England is way too plain, old and snobby for me. Monaco, though, now that would be grand, to mingle with the high society and…” comes her reply, and he realizes again how much her shrill voice grates on his nerves. He’s always been sensitive to voices, maybe because of all the book readings and plays he’s been to. And Thalia’s voice has him enthralled. That sexy Spanish accent, the passionate lilt to it. Her husky undertone which gets more noticeable the more aroused she becomes.
Shit, maybe it’s not such a good idea to distract himself with thoughts of her moaning his name when she’s writhing in his arms.
Shifting against the tightening in his pants, Tom devotes all attention to his food and studiously ignores his phone even when it vibrates dully on the table cloth.
They make it through the main course without any trouble, although he is seriously considering splashing wine all over his suit just so he has a reason to leave early. Not only is Professor Kent still droning on about a hundred different things a minute, he can also feel her play footsie with him under the table.
Jesus, he shouldn’t have gone on this date.
On the pretense of dropping and picking up his napkin, Tom scoots his chair back a little and sits so he’s out of her high-heeled reach.
He tops up her wine and debates whether to accidentally brush the glass so the wine hits her instead. Wasn’t she going on about how she’s an expert at removing alcohol stains? But then he thinks of having to be all gentlemanly and pat her body down with napkins, and he ditches the idea.
With an apologetic smile that is totally lost on the woman, he checks his messages.
There are only two words. Not fair.
Damn, what’s this all about? He’s at a loss how to answer. Is this her way of refusing to be teased? Or is she turned on and too shy to urge him on?
Running a hand through his hair, Tom asks Joanna whether she wants any dessert, and she orders a fruit salad. Ugh, as if she needed another minus point on the ever-growing list in his mind. What the hell is he doing here sitting with a stick-thin tactless excuse for a woman who thinks she needs to count calories to keep up her appeal when he could and should be spoiling Thalia with some sinfully tasty sweet treats?
As if she’s read his thoughts, another message appears.
I hope you’re not feeding her dessert.
Tom’s fingers fly over the keys, typing his answer before he can think about it.
He flinches and drinks more water. It doesn’t take more than a moment for her reply to appear.
He hurriedly sends another message.
By now, I’d be willing to feed her anything to make her shut up. I’ve never met a woman in my life who yaps on and on like this. I swear my ears are ringing. But that aside, I won’t be feeding her anything. There’s only one woman I want to feed – with food and with quite some other things – and that’s you.
While typing, it dawns on him how pathetically, dangerously true that is. He’s addicted to Thalia, so much so that he’s got no room left inside him for the politeness he’s usually so proud of. He knows he’s being a dick, texting her on his date, but he can’t bring himself to care.
In between dainty nibbles on fruit pieces she clearly doesn’t enjoy, Joanna suddenly changes track and asks him personal questions.
Using his best British behavior, he dodges them all and offers half-answers that have her narrowing her heavily painted eyes.
“But enough about me,” he insists when his phone vibrates, “why don’t you tell me more about why you chose to become a college professor?”
That effectively sends her off on another self-centered discourse so he can glance at the screen.
If I can be such a good girl for you all the time, sir, you can be good too. Keep that chiseled chin up.
Tom frowns at the sentences. Her tone is kind of bossy, but then she’s mentioned the word that always triggers his darker side, and he’s pretty sure it’s deliberate.
With a sigh, he pockets his phone and lives through the rest of the ordeal silently. Not even the amazing dessert he’s chosen – Greek yogurt with honey, walnuts, vanilla and something else that’s delicious – can lighten his mood.
Nearly an hour later, Tom finally ditches the subtle and seriously unsuccessful hints that they should leave and outright tells her that he should get going because he has an early morning class.
When she rises from her chair and he gallantly helps her into her coat, she leans into him, and her wine-breath wafts into his face.
“What a lovely evening we had. Now how about proving to me that you’re indeed a typical English gentleman and making sure that I’ll reach home safely?”
Her fingers crawl up his jacket lapels and he has the irrational wish he knew how to disapparate at will.
“But of course, Joanna,” he says in his best British voice, jaw clenched.
Once they’re outside the restaurant, he realizes that she’s walked here and apparently lives close. And it’s more than plain to see she’s had a glass or two too much of wine, because she’s swaying dangerously on her killer heels.
With a long-suffering sigh, Tom offers her his arm and escorts her home.
Oddly enough, something has made her go quiet, so they spend nearly ten minutes navigating the pavement in awkward silence.
Tom shoves his free hand in his pocket against the winter cold, toying with his phone and wondering what Thalia may be doing at the moment. What does she think about this whole dating farce? Will she do the same soon, and let him know about it like he did?
His gut clenches of the thought of her with another man. Worse still, it would be a bumbling, fumbling boy and nothing like the real man she needs.
A gust of cold wind makes him even more miserable. It will be Christmas break soon, and he isn’t particularly looking forward to it. Thalia will visit her family in Chicago, and most of his colleagues will be on leave too. And he? Something holds him back from traveling to England for a week or two, and he can’t really pinpoint what.
Maybe he’ll barricade himself in the library and read until he’s forgotten all about the world. It’s worked wonders for him before, both during childhood and much later. Though he’s usually spent Christmas with his family back home.
With a jolt, he realizes he hasn’t bought Thalia anything for Christmas when he picked out cards and little souvenirs to send to England.
Damn, how could he forget that?
Another thought brings him up short, which makes Professor Kent stumble and grab onto him with both hands. Tom lets her hang onto him, quickening his long strides so he doesn’t prolong the agony of being with her.
Would Thalia even accept a present from him or would it be out of line? He desperately wants to gift her something simple yet meaningful. A book to emphasize their shared love for literature? Another of those girlish, vividly colored, endlessly long scarves she wraps around herself these days, which always make him itch to grab her by the dangly ends and reel her in for a kiss? A naughty toy to explore another nuance of their relationship and make her discover more thrilling novelties?
He’s pulled out of his thoughts roughly when Joanna digs her long, red nails into his forearm.
“That’s me, right over there with the lovely pink curtains,” she says with a slight slur, pointing across the half-empty street.
Tom swallows, feeling claustrophobic with her pressed so close. She turns and dances her fingers up his jacket lapel again, and he has a devil of a time of keeping his expression civil. He’s beyond the point of fake smiles by now, but he sure hopes his feelings don’t show on his face.
“Such a gentleman,” she says, followed by a high-pitched giggle. “How ‘bout bein’ even more gentlemanly and accompanying me in for a nightcap?”
Revulsion making his skin crawl, Tom takes a hasty step back and extricates herself from her surprisingly strong hold.
“Erm… I think I’ll pass on that, Joanna, uh… thanks.” He fumbles for something nice to say when her redder than red lips begin to droop and her thinner than thin eyebrows pucker.
“I’ve had a nice time tonight, thank you.” Liar, liar, pants on fire. Grasping onto his last ounce of reserve, he forges on. “But I don’t think I should be joining you now. We’ve barely got to know each other, and…” He breaks off and gives himself the millionth mental kick.
For a moment, Joanna simply glares at him. With a “right” that is tight-lipped and glacially cold compared to her previous sugary tone, she turns and wobbles across the street. Halfway up the short flight of stairs, she comes to a teetering halt and turns to look over her shoulder at him.
“Ya know, we would have gotten to know each other a lot better if you hadn’t spent so much time looking at your fucking phone.”
With that, she’s up the stairs and inside the building before he can pick his jaw off the ground.
“Serves you right, Hiddleston, you pompous, pretentious arse,” Tom mutters to himself and sighs.
He definitely isn’t dating material. This fiasco has proven it once and for all. And it’s proven something else he’s begun to suspect… Thalia makes him a better man, in a way. He can not only let down his guard and be himself around her, but he’s also much nicer than people here have probably come to expect it from him.
Shoving his hands into his pockets, he turns and begins the walk back to the bus halt, as he’s left his car at home tonight.
No more pretend dates for him, no thanks.
He tries to summon a Shakespearean quote to calm his frazzled nerves, but all he can think about is Thalia, home alone in her own bed, as he dials her number.
Click here to read Chapter 10, Rescue Mission
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