Rescue Mission Chapter 10
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: 3352
Warnings: Language, Adult Situations, Fluff
Summary: Thalia surprises Tom with a message on Christmas Day – and then it’s his turn to surprise her and take their relationship a step further.
SPECIAL NOTE: Due to Good Friday in the States and the New Year celebration in Sri Lanka, there will be THREE story postings this coming week. Look for chapters to be posted on Wednesday, April 12; FRIDAY, April 14 and Sunday, April 16. If you want to make sure you are always up to date with Tom, Thalia and Chris, just follow avenger-nerd-mom on WordPress and stories are sent directly to you!
Click here to the beginning of Educating Thalia
Stomping the snow off his shoes, Tom turns the key in the lock and opens the door. He leaves his scarf and black coat on the rack and toes off his shoes. He has just set down the key and is rubbing some life back into his cold hands when his phone chimes to signal a message.
Hm, who has suddenly remembered him on Christmas day? He has already exchanged wishes with his family in England and India and a few friends all over the world.
None too keen on interaction with someone who probably isn’t worth the time and only felt obliged to be nice during the holiday season, he ignores his phone and goes into the kitchen to make himself a cup of tea.
While he waits for the water to boil, his let his thoughts wander…and they settle on Thalia. What would she be doing right now? He pictures her in something red and figure-hugging, surrounded by playing, bright-eyed children and slightly tipsy adults sharing jovial stories or even singing some carols together, stories tossed back and forth in rapid fire Spanish.
With a sigh, he dips his teabag into the hot water, grinning briefly to himself when he remembers that he still hasn’t been able to teach Thalia how to brew the perfect tea for an Englishman. Well, he’s certainly taught her other things…
Feeling more cheerful and wistful at the same time at the thought of her so far away, Tom carries his steaming mug into the living room. He plonks himself onto the couch, stretching his long legs that are slightly tired after the walk.
Bracing himself with a hot sip of Earl Grey, he fishes his phone out of his pocket and glances at the notification. Thalia’s name appears, making him sit bolt upright and nearly spill tea all over his pants.
Why would she text him today? She had wished him Merry Christmas before leaving for break nearly a week ago, and they’d even sent a few messages back and forth. Her light teases proved she was over any bitterness about his failed date, and she wasn’t holding hurt feelings against him. She’d expressed she didn’t really have time for even a fake date, but she understood his reasoning. He felt things were back on an even keel between them and he was content in the blossoming relationship with her.
When Thalia had simply sent a smiley face emoji last night at bedtime, he’d considered calling back instead of texting her, but something had held him back. Surely she was soaking up the family fun and had only contacted him out of some sense of duty. Just because he’s become a part of her life here doesn’t mean she wants him to stick his nose into her other business.
Curiosity peaked, Tom swipes his finger across the screen and reads her message.
Help! Appealing to the English gentleman to rescue a damsel in distress. Do you have a few minutes?
Brows rising, he re-reads the weird message, his free hand blindly groping for the mug so he can take another sip. What’s this all about?
Even more curious now, he types out his reply, wondering idly when he last used his phone to text someone for fun. He pauses mid-typing when he remembers his catastrophe of a date and the messages he exchanged with Thalia that evening.
As if an Englishman could ever refuse a beautiful woman in dire need of some assistance… What’s the matter?
Her reply is almost instant.
If I don’t get an excuse for leaving this lunatic asylum posing for a family get-together, I’m going to kill someone.
With a chuckle, he settles down more comfortably.
Miss Bareo, I am shocked to the core. It’s Christmas, not Halloween. No gruesome killings, please. I don’t want to see reports of a Chicago Christmas Massacre on the news.
He gets a laughing emoticon before her reply flashes on the screen.
Thanks, I needed the giggle. It’s just all a bit too much right now. Are you busy, Tom?
Well, you are interrupting my date with a hot cuppa, but I feel inclined to forgive you.
Her answer makes him quirk a brow and smile before drinking some more tea.
Only you would use the phrase ‘inclined to forgive’ in an SMS.
Is that good or bad? he types, feeling a little like a twenty year old messaging his girlfriend—and enjoying that ridiculous notion far too much.
It’s very you.
“Now what’s that supposed to mean?” He mutters aloud to himself, home alone on Christmas. Tom shakes his head, fingers hovering above the keys. Before he can reply, a new message appears.
This might be a bit weird, but…
He waits with bated breath, curious to know what on earth she wants to share that would be weird.
Would you Skype with me?
Staring at the screen, he wonders for a moment whether she’s serious. Has she had one drink too many?
What the hell, why not? He types his reply, grinning to himself.
As I said, the gentleman in me would never refuse a damsel in distress. Especially not if said damsel happens to be you.
He gets a thumbs up and her username in reply.
His tea forgotten, Tom gets up to grab his MacBook from the desk and carries it to the sofa. He switches it on, feeling oddly nervous for a moment. What’s he supposed to say? Why does she want to video chat with him? And why the heck does it make him so happy beneath the confusion?
He fiddles with his denim textured shirt, rolls the sleeves up and pats his hair, then catches himself being all fidgety and scoffs. As soon as Skype has loaded, he searches for her and adds her to his list of contacts, drumming his long fingers against the keyboard.
Hardly a minute later, a video call flashes and he accepts it.
It’s kind of surreal to see Thalia’s face pop up after a moment. Her curly hair is tamed into a loose braid, but some defiant strands have wiggled free. She’s wearing what looks like a seriously ugly knit Christmas sweater, and a fine gold necklace that draws his attention because she’s not the type to deck herself out in jewelry.
“Hi,” she says, a tentative smile lighting up her features, though it doesn’t make the tension around her eyes go away.
“Hi,” he replies somewhat dumbly, at a loss for what to say.
For a few moments, they sit like that, looking at each other and smiling uncertainly. The longer the awkward silence lasts, the more fidgety Tom feels. He smiles a little brighter as if to encourage her to speak, but feels ridiculous. To give himself something to do, he takes off his glasses and sets them aside, then goes back to staring at the screen. His tongue flicks over his lips. He swallows, willing himself to speak.
“So, what on earth…” “What were you…”
They both speak at the same time, which makes them laugh and breaks the ice.
“What were you doing?” Thalia asks.
“Nothing special. I just came home from a long, lonely walk through mostly deserted and much too windy streets.”
She gives him an incredulous look. “Seriously? What sane person walks around town alone on Christmas day?”
He narrows his eyes at her. “And what sane person Skypes with her professor on Christmas day?”
She grimaces. “Point taken. In my defense, I’m with family, Tom.” She says the word like a curse. “I’m going stir crazy and longing to drive a carving knife into a few people’s necks.”
“Whoa there, my warrior. If you keep up the murder talk you’ll scare me away.” He smiles at her again, shifting on the sofa and taking the laptop with him to sit more comfortably. She doesn’t smile back, and he realizes again that she’s all tense and morose despite the banter.
“What’s the matter, darling?”
The word slips out automatically and he bites his lip. Is she even alone?
Taking his cue, Thalia moves too, and he catches a blurry glimpse of stuffed toys and photographs before she settles down and it’s just her face against a light lavender colored wall.
“Ugh.” She makes a frustrated noise, gesticulating wildly. “All of this is driving me crazy. I see my extended family only on rare occasions, and when I do, I remember why.”
Rubbing her temple, she searches for the right words.
“I know they mean well, but I hate it when everyone makes my life their business. All the career advice and badly concealed criticism. And if my aunts ask me one more time when I’m planning to marry a nice man with a steady income and settle down, I swear I’ll poke my eardrums out with a rusty nail or something.”
Tom bites back a chuckle, secretly loving how her Latina temperament comes to the fore when she’s annoyed.
“I can’t even imagine this,” he admits. “But whoever thinks you need career advice is obviously a prat or seriously delusional because you’re one of the smartest women I know and on the sure-fire path to academic success.”
Her whole posture relaxes a little, one hand rising to play idly with the end of her braid resting over her curved breast, making his hands itch to do the same. He tugs down on the leg of his pants, adjusting himself discreetly.
“Thank you. Seriously. I mean, I know I’ve got brains and I’m doing what I love, but… it gets to me, all the sly jabs mixed with well-meaning people who have no idea what is important to me. It’s enough to make a girl feel like a worthless piece of shit.”
Before he can protest, she launches into another heated complaint, tugging harder on her hair. “And they’re right, aren’t they? I’m burying myself in studies because I have no fucking idea what else to do. I don’t even know whether I’ll find a decent job, and in the meantime, I’m working myself to death so I can pay my rent.”
She scrunches up her face and sniffs, and Tom really wants to hug her and comfort her. Or inch his hands beneath that monstrosity of a sweater and make her forget all her worries.
“Don’t say that,” he admonishes gently, lifting a hand as if he could actually touch her.
“You’re letting them get to you, and you know you shouldn’t. Nobody knows what the hell they’re doing, Thalia. We’re all just living our lives and doing what we think is best. Or at least people like you and me do, and we’re probably happier than those who let others decide what’s right and wrong.”
He rubs his neck, struggling for the right words. “You’re doing what you’re damn good at and what you like. Whatever is supposed to happen after that will fall into place once it’s time. And you’re an amazing woman who’s come farther in such a short time than a ton of people twice your age. Me included, probably.”
He grins self-deprecatingly, and a corner of her mouth lifts.
“Now you’re just downplaying yourself to make me feel better,” she argues half-heartedly. She whispers, “And you’re not ‘twice my age,’ Tom.”
He purses his lips at her pointed reference to age. She’s right, nearly a decade isn’t that much, but some days the age difference seems like light years apart. He sighs and chooses to ignore her statement. “The point is, Thalia, that you’re not answerable to your family or any nay-sayers. It’s not your duty to marry and raise enough children to form a football team, or to visit them more often and let them hack away at your admirable self-confidence. Your only duty is to yourself. To be true to yourself. To be happy.”
She sighs, and this time her whole mouth curves in a slow smile that reaches her eyes.
“You’re being entirely too nice to me, Professor Hiddleston.”
Her words tug at him, loosening something inside.
“I’m sure I’ll find a way for you to pay me back,” he says in a deep, low tone that makes her eyes darken.
They stare at each other, neither willing to break the connection.
When Thalia finally looks away, her gaze slides over his face and his torso, and he can feel it like a caress.
“Did you go to the staff party yesterday?” she asks, moving restlessly as if she’s felt the change in atmosphere too.
It’s his time to groan in frustration. “I did, yeah. Don’t remind me.”
She giggles. “That bad? Tell me all about it.”
Tom leans back and props himself up on a cushion. He tells her about the food – atrocious when compared to what the English prepare for Christmas – and about the stilted speeches, about the wreath that nearly caught fire and the secretary who spilled her drink all over herself and got rescued by Professor Evans.
“Was Professor Kent there too?” she wants to know, and Tom grimaces.
“Gave me the cold shoulder the whole time. If looks could kill, you’d be Skyping with my ghost now.”
That sends her into another fit of laughter. “Serves you right for texting me all throughout the date. Pfft, gentleman, my ass.”
Tom grins at her wolfishly. “Oh, your ass certainly doesn’t make me feel very gentlemanly.”
She half-chokes on her laugh, eyes going wide.
“God, I wish I weren’t here. I have a feeling you’d make the Christmas blues go away very efficiently,” she says, her tone half longing and half seductive.
“Me too. I miss you.” Tom flinches, wishing he hadn’t quite blurted that out.
But her expression softens. “I miss you too.” She sounds mildly surprised at her own admission.
“How long will you be stuck there?” he asks after an awkward pause.
“I fly back around the third, I think? Gotta get back into the frame of mind for school. My brain is rotting here… New year, new schedule.” She screws her eyes shut and makes a whining sound.
“Well, then, when you get back, we’ll just have to make the best of it. I saw an advertisement that the old movie house will be showing a film I’d like to take you to see. I think you’ll really like it…”
Her sweet voice begging for details fills his ears and his heart lifts on a lonely Christmas Day. He can see Thalia’s mood brightens considerably as well, and before long they’re both laughing and throwing Shakespeare lines back and forth that only make everything even more hilarious.
His answer to one of her queries is interrupted by someone calling her name. He hears loud knocking and watches her head swivel to where he presumes the door is positioned in the room.
“Alright, alright, I’m coming, basta ya” she shouts before turning back to him, chagrin on her face.
“I’m sorry. I guess it was too much to hope for at least an hour or so to breathe. I’d better go back into the lion’s den.”
“Lions hold nothing on you,” Tom says softly. He leans forward to fix her in his gaze. “You can do this, darling. You’re a wonderful woman. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.”
Thalia smiles at him a little sadly. “Thanks again. You have a nice time with your tea, Professor.”
On impulse, Tom blows a kiss at the camera, seeing her breath hitch before her smile deepens.
Once she’s ended the conversation, he logs out and drinks the rest of his now cold tea in one go. An idea pops to his scattered brain, lost in thoughts of his beautiful Thalia. Before he knows it, his fingers fly over the keyboard, checking for a way to surprise her. He needs to do this now before he can give himself a chance to chicken out of it.
Tom fiddles with the strap of his black backpack, bouncing on the balls of his feet and waiting for the crowd to thin before exiting the building.
He takes a deep breath, still not entirely sure this was a good idea.
Don’t be a wimp, Hiddleston. He gives himself a last mental pep talk before taking out his phone and dialing Thalia’s number.
She picks up after a few rings, and he hopes he hasn’t woken her.
“Tom?” She sounds happy with an undertone of confusion. “Hi. What’s up? I didn’t expect you to call again so soon.”
Clearing his throat, he tries for the nonchalant tone he’s been practicing in his mind, but he sounds a lot more excited and anxious than he wants to.
“Hi. Uhm, good morning. Am I disturbing you?”
“No, not at all.” There is a muffled groan. “I’m always up before seven am on vacation.” Her voice is loaded with sarcasm, but the joyous sound rings in his ears. So he did wake her, he thinks wryly. “It gives me time to consider whether to fake some sickness so I won’t have to face another day cooped up with clucking aunts and noisy, nosy children, or if I should just run away.”
That makes him chuckle. He grips the shoulder strap tighter.
“So, no plans for today?”
“None whatsoever, unless you consider my murder plans, which I’ve perfected pretty much over the last few hours.”
“I never knew you were such a violent woman, I’d better watch my tongue from now on,” he says, but his tone isn’t as humorous as it should be.
There’s an awkward silence, punctured by a blaring horn on his side and a baby wailing on her side.
“How about…” He swallows and tries again, “How about running away to the Chicago History Museum?”
“Uumm…” Tom can almost picture her face, her nose scrunching in that adorable way it does whenever she frowns. “You know I love museums, but there’s no way my family would let me go on a day like today; there’s still family stuff and-.”
This is it. He takes another deep breath. “Not even if a certain friend of yours had traveled miles to see you and insists on a tour of the museum?”
“Okay, now you’ve kind of lost me,” she giggles. “Am I still dreaming, because I was actually having a rather delicious dream… you were in it… and we had pancakes? But I think that’s because I can smell the cooking in the kitchen-”
“Thalia,” he interrupts her early morning rambles, going in for the kill. “If I turned up on your doorstep, ready for some touristy fun, would you be able to extricate yourself from the lion’s den? I could act like the hapless Englishman completely lost here in Chicago…not that I’d need to do much acting, mind you. I do feel like on a different planet.”
There’s a sharp intake of breath and an “oh my god” followed by something muttered in Spanish.
“You’re here, in Chicago? Right now? But…what…oh my god!”
Tom’s smile beams from ear to ear and his heart pounds at the joy and confusion in her voice. “Thalia, it’s the holidays. I hated the idea we’re both lonely. To be completely honest, darling, I wanted a chance to see you away from school. I hope you don’t mind it; I haven’t been too presumptuous have I?”
He waits a bit impatiently for her answer, hearing the lyrical voice of a small child rambling in Spanish through the phone. He hates he can’t see her at this moment, surprised he’s come all this way to see her, or at his slight admission of his true feelings.
He anticipates her answer, not realizing he’s holding his breath.
Her voice drops, possibly not wanting others around her to hear. “You’re… unbelievable.” She chuckles. “Yea, I’d love a day as your tour guide. Let me get myself presentable for you, deal with my step-mom and aunts, and I’ll catch the train as soon as I can. I can meet you around nine at the museum?”
He finally takes a deep breath. “I’ll see you then, darling.”
Click here to read Chapter 11, Chicago
Copyright © 2017 avenger-nerd-mom. All rights reserved. Intellectual property of avenger-nerd-mom and devikafernando