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: 2892
Warnings: Language, Adult Situations, fluff, drinking, discussions of sex, designated driver
Summary: Tom encounters Thalia late at night at the school library but food is the need for the evening. But as usual with Tom, that leads to something more…
Click here for intro to Educating Thalia
The rain beats against the glass, matching his mood. Walking down the row of books, he finds the volume he needs and pulls it down from the shelf. His thoughts roam to a similar night months ago, and taking a chance, he turns to the left. The vision in front of him lifts his spirits and with a smile and a chuckle, he crosses the dark and empty room.
“I thought I’d find you here, darling.”
Lost deep in her thoughts, her brow is furrowed when she lifts her head. The grin breaks across her face and reaches her eyes, a wide, friendly expression. She is happy to see him. “Hey, Tom.” She pats the side of the couch next to her, with little fear of being discovered on a late Friday night. He sits down, keeping his distance, though he does hit his leg against her knee before resting his ankle across his thigh. “Just trying to get a few things finished so I can get some time to relax this weekend.” Looking at the pile of books at her feet, she scoffs. “Even if it is just five minutes.”
He looks at her quizzically, “I thought you had a family thing tomorrow, or something?”
She sighs. “I do; Big Jim, from the bar? His wife asked me over for an early dinner tomorrow before my shift. I’ve just been so busy, I haven’t really had a chance to see her except when she stops by the bar.” Thalia fidgets with the patch on her jeans. “Do you… Do you want to go with me?”
Her hopeful smile tugs on his heartstrings. “Oh darling. I can’t. Tomorrow is the day we go to New York with the students to the theatre district for their field study. You planned it, remember?”
Her eyes grow wide. “Shit, yeah. I guess I totally have my dates mixed up.” She looks at her phone screen and laughs. “Yeah. Ya know, it’ll be better as soon as I get this paper done for Masterson’s class. If I pass it, I don’t have to attend class the rest of the term. And I can sleep in two days a week!” She playfully claps her hands together in glee.
Tom lays his arm on the back of the couch and plays with her dark curls. “Are you afraid, dear, you won’t do well?”
“Perfectionist. You know that.” Her eyes close and she involuntarily leans towards him. Whispering she tells, “Damn, you smell good.”
He chuckles quietly. “You work too hard. Is it so bad to fail? There’s learning in failure too, Thalia.”
Her eyes pop open and she shifts in her seat. “It’s not an option. You know what it was like for me at Christmas. If I go back home, I’ll be a teacher, or be a tour guide at a museum, or work with Dad at his shop. I mean, I don’t mind getting dirty, but changing oil filters and knocking out babies isn’t how I want to live my life. I want more than that. I think that’s the one part of me that must come from my mother; wanting adventure and a grand life. For me, I can’t get that in Chicago. I want Cairo, Paris, hell, even Honduras looks pretty interesting right now with all the things I’m discovering.” He tries to hide the scowl on his face from her reference to work with Evans; but at least the few extra hours on campus allows her to cut back late night hours at the bar. “I want the mud on my boots to be worldly.”
Her passion speaks to him. He remembers being young, and wanting those things too. A wanderlust for new experiences and places to see. “You’ll get those things, darling. I believe you can make it happen.”
Just then, her stomach rumbles and they both share a laugh. She pats her belly and whispers, “Shhh. We’ll eat later.”
“Thalia, have you been here all evening?” Tom scolds, already knowing her answer. “Have you not eaten?”
Sheepishly, she hides behind her book. He reaches over and pulls it down. “That’s it. We’re going to dinner. Come on.” He rises to standing and holds his hand out to her. “I won’t take no for an answer.”
She reaches to him and allows herself to be pulled up. “Tom, don’t be ridiculous. I’m not dressed to go any place and-”
“Shush. Come on. We’ll go for wings and beer.” He bends to pick up her books. “Do you need all these for your work?”
She nods as she throws her pens and notebook in her bag.
“Thalia Bareo, you may be one of the last students on Earth who still loves book research. Ever heard of a thing called ‘the Internet?’” Tom teases as he adds two more books from the side table to the large stack in his arms.
“I like the written word, Professor. The feel of the pages under my fingertips.” Reaching for the book on the top of his stack, she opens it carefully, waving it under his nose. “The smell of old books that haven’t been used in ages.” She holds it to her face, inhaling the scent and cutely sneezing from the dust. “That’s tangible, real. It’s served me well, and this close to the end of my graduate work, I’m not changing anything.”
She takes several of the books from his arms and he follows her to the stairs, down to the checkout desk. “Mrs. Hooperman? I didn’t know you were still on duty tonight.” Tom greets the clerk brightly, setting the stack of books on the counter and taking the ones from Thalia as well. “I had two items on reserve and tech was supposed to leave the delivery of my laptop here?”
The older woman eyes the two suspiciously, clacking a few buttons on her keyboard. “Yes, Mr. Hiddleston. Let me get those for you. I’ll be right back.”
As the woman walks away, Thalia turns to Tom. “Wings? Isn’t that rather beneath your fine dining tastes? Where are we going?”
Mimicking one of her signature moves, he rolls his eyes at her. “We’re going to take this ridiculous stack of books to your car,” Tom tells as he puts on his winter coat, and helping Thalia into hers, his hands resting momentarily on her waist, “and walk across the street to Too Talls.”
Looking over her shoulder, Thalia turns back to Tom and briefly touches her fingers to his forehead and he momentarily feels burned by her touch. “Are you crazy? Do you have a fever? Do you need to lie down? That’s a campus bar! Do you know how many people will be in there tonight?”
The light in the office down the hall flicks off and the clerk heads towards them. Tom hisses, “I do need to lie down, with you by my side and I’m going to-”
The clerk clears her throat, stepping into their presence. She makes a clucking sound in the back of her throat, quickly scanning Tom’s reserved materials and handing him a form to sign for the computer. She smiles brightly at Thalia and the two make small talk, the woman complaining her Friday nights will be lonely once the young girl graduates. “Thank you, Mrs. Hooperman. And thank you for the recipe you gave me last week. I really liked it. It made perfect frozen meals!”
Gathering the books, Tom sighs. “Mrs. Hooperman? Could we borrow a basket for these? We’ve worked late and I can help get them to her car, but she’ll have to bring them back on her own?”
“Yes, yes. Good idea. Let me find one.” She turns to leave.
“You were saying?” Thalia smiles.
“None of that now, girl. Don’t get me worked up. The math department was having a celebration and their assistants were invited. We’ll sneak in on their gathering with the pretense we were working on the Gala presentation and needed a break.”
“I hate math,” Thalia shudders. “Not my strong suit. I mean, I’m functional, but I don’t get how someone would want to spend their life with numbers. So boring and strict. Words, history, those things change; matter.”
Tom chuckles. “Don’t say that when we get over there, it could start a bar brawl; which I’m sure you could handle quite well, but- ah! Mrs. Hooperman, perfect. Thank you so much!”
She helps the two load the books into the box she found and Thalia takes Tom’s laptop and they head out into the night, thankful the rain has stopped.
By the time Tom walks into the bar, the place is in full swing. Searching the crowd it takes him a few minutes to spot Thalia standing next to the corner booth in the back, talking to the waitress. He strides over to the bar, but before he can place an order, someone from the booth calls out to him. “Hiddleston, old man, join us!” shouts a jovial if slightly intoxicated voice.
Shit. It’s the guy from the math department whose name always escapes him. They’ve played tennis before and Tom even attended a dreadfully boring dinner party at his home once, but Tom still can never remember the man’s name. He’s got his arm up on the seat behind him, and Tom catches the casual way his fingertips drag across the shoulder of the young blonde sitting next to him.
Thalia nods her hello as he joins the group, and they are both invited to join the table. There’s some shifting of seats and somehow the pair end up at the back of the booth sitting together. The math professor teases, “Maybe you language buffs can help class this group up a bit. I’m afraid we’ve taken our fair share of drinks tonight.” His other arm sweeps out to the array of empty glasses and bottles on the table.
The waitress arrives and hands Thalia her drink, announcing the chicken wings will be up shortly and asking if anyone else would like to order. Tom orders a cheeseburger and fries with a beer. The group explains the reason for their celebration- two of the students will be joining the math nerds at NASA after graduation, so the professors wanted to thank them for their dedication. “And how often do you get to really relax and know your students, right Tom?”
Tom simply nods as the redhead on his left slides a bit closer and begins asking him questions about life in London. Thalia’s hand briefly scrapes across his thigh before she turns her attention to the conversation going on around her.
Drinks are served and food is shared and the group begins to get louder as the night wears on, finally leading to a drinking game. Tom seems to have missed the rules of the game, and bows out, claiming designated driver status. Thalia simply chuckles and raises an eyebrow at him, reaching for the shot placed in front of her.
The game seems to go on forever. He’s learned more about Thalia than he truly has a right to know. She’s taken drinks to reply to the most innocent questions, but some of the racier ones as well. She’s never kissed a girl, but on the next question he learns that she’s fantasized about it. She’s shoplifted, cheated on a test, and had sex while her parents were at home. The group coerced him to at least participate by drinking his own beer slowly, and the questions flow more freely as everyone begins to lose their inhibitions a bit. No one seems fazed when the professor from the math department boldly places his hand on the back of the young woman’s neck as the game continues. It’s as if the team knows of their connection? Thalia catches his eye and the challenge flashing there quickly has him toss his head back in laughter.
A boy in a ballcap throws it all in by presenting to the table, “Never have I ever had sex with someone I work with….”
From the corner of his eye Tom can see Thalia lick the salt from her wrist as she prepares to down another shot, and he takes a long draw from his bottle of beer on the table. As he watches cautiously the other student and professor down their drink, and he realizes the man’s arm is no longer behind the girl, but quite obviously in her lap. Next to him, the redhead whispers she’d like to know more about working with him next semester in the language department. Tom shifts uncomfortably, sliding a bit closer to Thalia, and silently pushes his plate of fries to her. With an innocent smile, she takes one, chewing quickly before slamming another shot in response to the statement ‘Never have I ever had sex in more than five cars.”
“Wait, wait, wait.” Slurs the redhead. “Thalia, you’ve been slammin’ ‘em back. I’m gonna need some clarification. Go with the last one. Tell us about how you’ve had sex in more than five cars.”
The rest of the table agrees, hitting the shot glasses on the table and starting a chant, “tell us, tell us, tell us.”
Tom sits back, trying to keep the fire from his eyes. He’s not liking this game too much, but it has been eye opening. He struggles not to make eye contact with her, difficult to do as he can feel the heat rising through her body next to him.
She chuckles, resting her elbow on the table and reaching for another buffalo wing from the basket. She begins to pick it apart and shrugs her shoulders. “Well you assholes don’t have to act like it’s so unbelievable,” she huffs with a sarcastic smile. “Not much to tell, but I can actually clear up three things you’ve learned about me.” The tap of her leg against him lets him know her honesty is for his benefit. “My dad owns an auto mechanic shop. When I was in high school, I worked there and had a crush on the other guy that worked with us, about three years older than me.” From the corner of his eye, he can see the blush rising across her cheeks, as she pauses to chew a bite of the chicken. Wiping her fingers on a napkin, she continues. “When Dad would go out on service calls, we would choose the nicest car in the shop and screw around in the back seat. So there you have it- at work, with a co-worker, 5 or more cars. Three things about me.”
“I call bullshit,” says the dark haired boy down the table from her. Tom tenses, wondering what the boy might have to say. “You’re a fuckin’ ice princess who never puts out.”
Thalia turns to him with a flash in her eyes, which quickly turns sympathetic. “Aww, Caleb, are you still blaming your limp dick on my fat?”
The table goes wild, high fives, “oohs” and “she burned you!” The girl next to him says, “Dude, she’s got you pegged!”
“Oh! There’s a question!” Someone chimes in. “Never ever have I been-”
“Whoa!” Thalia raises her voice, jumping from the bench. “That’s my cue to leave. You math department people are too hard core for me. I’m out.”
She starts pushing the girl next to her and the three people on the outer end of the booth slide out for Thalia to make her exit.
The boy in the baseball cap teases, “What? Us talking about ‘doing the beast with two backs’ is too much for you? Thought you loved that Shakespeare shit?”
Thalia laughs, grabbing another chicken wing to go, wobbling for a moment on her feet.
Donaldo, Tom thinks, remembering his name, chimes in. “Hiddleston? She’s your teaching assistant.” He gives the man a shove on his arm. “You can’t let her go out into the dark night, half drunk and alone. Be a gentleman and at least walk her to her car.”
The red head pipes up as Tom begins to slide out of the booth. “Actually Professor,” her hand squeezing his thigh. “I’m a little too drunk also. Think you can give me a ride home?”
Bloody hell. He sighs. “Sure, why not? Who else needs a ride?” Seeing Thalia starting to walk away, he reaches his hand out to her arm and feels the spark of electricity between them. He wants to get her alone quickly. “Ms. Bar- Thalia. Wait. I’ll drive you and a few of the others home; you’ve all had a bit much to drink.”
She wobbles again. “Really, sir,” she smiles slowly. “I haven’t had that much to drink. It’s these damn heels.”
“Uh- huh. Right.” He steps closer to her, smelling the alcohol on her breath. “Just wait.”
Turning back to the table, he sees the party is splitting up and one of the other faculty members from a smaller table nearby is offering to take a group home also. The two men divide up the students based on where their ‘deliveries’ need to be made and Tom is more than pleased to note the redhead will be in the other car. As the group exits the pub, he’s fairly sure she’s the one trying to grab his ass.
Click here to read Chapter 23 Ride Home
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