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: 2831
Warnings: Language, Adult Situations, real life discussions
Summary: Thalia returns from Chicago and encounters both Tom and Chris.
Click here for intro to Educating Thalia
“Well, aren’t you two a sight for sore eyes… That nurse was right.” Thalia looks over her shoulder, checking no one is behind her. “Too good looking.”
She limps into the room, her knee in a brace, and leans against the refrigerator. Surprised to see her, Chris beams up at her over the morning paper, his feet propped up in the staff lounge chair, as usual. He moves to stand up and she motions him to stay. Equally shocked, Tom hands her the tea he just made for himself, his smile just as happy. Catching the quick questioning look that passes between the two men, she accepts the tea and teases, “Let me guess. You’ve bonded in the time of my absence and become the best of friends!”
Chris chuckles, “Not likely I’m ever gonna be friends with this British arse.”
“Nor I with the American asshole,” Tom smiles, winking at her.
Thalia’s stomach twists in knots and she tries to act as if nothing is out of the ordinary between this little group in the staff room. She feels like she’s failing miserably, in more ways than one…
“Wait, excuse me. I have to change those to your new usernames in my phone. I love that!” She pulls it out of her pocket and slides across the screen, playfully pretending to type. The tension in the air could be cut with a knife and she’s actually surprised they can stomach to be in the same space together. She was not expecting to find them at the same time, and decides to play it off as cool as they seem to be. It’s not the first time in the last few months they’ve all been in the little lounge at the same moment. The only difference is, this time they all know. “British Arse,” she says slowly, brushing her free arm against Tom’s. Stepping forward, she pulls out the chair Chris has his feet on, giggling awkwardly when they plop to the floor. She sits down and he crosses his feet at the ankles under the chair, wiggling them back and forth so the tip of his shoe hits her leg each time. “And American Asshole… There. Saved. So, what’s new?” She raises her eyebrow at Chris, watching as he happily folds his hands over his stomach.
Tom walks around the table, patting her shoulder as he passes by, murmuring, “I guess I’m in no rush. Since you’re here, I think I’ll stay.” The tall, lanky gentleman sits down on the couch where he can see her lovely face. She chuckles silently to herself at how his legs automatically fall a mile wide open. The chuckle gets stuck in her throat when she sees him cringe at the greenish and purple bruises on her face.
Her countenance softens when his turns serious. “Hey, I look a hell of a lot better than I did a few days ago….” she says quietly to them both.
Chris shakes his head slowly. “What are you doing here? You still can take another week off.”
Bobbing her head, she says, “I can. And I will. I’m not pushing myself. But I guess someone contacted a few of the offices on campus on my behalf? It seems that I can count some of my undergrad work towards the course hours I had scheduled for the fall, and my internship this summer will count for so many hours towards my curator certificate. I can graduate in August, but walk the stage in May, two semesters early. Would either of you know anything about that?”
When neither man answers, she fidgets with a napkin on the table and continues. “So I won’t officially graduate and have my diploma till August, but I can participate in ceremonial events this Spring, right before I leave for Paris.”
Tom speaks first. “So you’ve decided on that placement?”
Chris’s head drops to his chest and he waits.
“I did. It will lead to bigger and better things.” She nervously runs her free hand through her hair pulling on a few tangles over her breast. “But interestingly enough, I’ve also been offered the chance to teach some freshman level entry history classes here in the fall, should I wish to return.”
She smiles at the blush on Chris’s cheeks and the little thumbs up he gives that only she can see. He takes off his glasses and lays them on the table.
“So lots of things to do in less than a month before you leave…” he states quietly rubbing his hands over his face.
Nodding, Thalia stretches out her leg and massages her thigh, above the brace. “Thank you both for the flowers. All the calls and messages really helped.” Bending her knee slowly, she wonders if the pain will ever go away. Tilting her head to the side, thinking of the beautiful arrangements and sweet letters that arrived daily, she adds, “Of course, my stepmom got suspicious. That led to some interesting chats…”
“I still can’t believe you told your stepmother about- “ Tom begins before being interrupted. A silent shake of her head answers his unspoken question when another faculty member enters the room for a coffee refill. They all take great pretense in doing separate work, Thalia checking her phone, Chris reading the paper and Tom skimming a magazine, fidgeting with his glasses in a way that lets her know he can’t hide his tension well.
“God, I hate that woman,” Tom says when she leaves.
“Was it Professor Kent?” Thalia bounces in her seat with glee, turning to glance over her shoulder, still trying to keep things light. “Oh, really? Damn, I missed it. I would have loved to chat with her.”
Tom laughs and the familiar “eh, eh, eh” warms her inside. Hearing it in person is so much better than separated by miles and heartache. Her eyes shift back to Chris, who watches her quizzically. She can see he is trying to bring the conversation back around to more serious matters. She rubs her eyebrow in frustration. “I need to see each of you privately in the next few days. I actually have some paperwork I need you to sign in order for me to graduate early.”
“I knew it,” Chris jokes. “The whole reason you hit on me in the bar. Your semester long ruse actually worked, Miss Bareo.”
They all chuckle and Tom stands, tugging down the leg of his pants and adjusting his tie. “I didn’t miss that, Professor Hiddleston. I saw it, sir,” Thalia says with raised brows. “Don’t you need to be getting to class?”
Tom grins at his tie and turns his wrist to check the time. “In fact, I do. I have office hours this afternoon if you’d like to come by. We can spread things out on the desk to work, as we have in the past.”
His meaning isn’t lost on anyone and Chris pinches his lips closed. Thalia sighs. That wasn’t fair of him and she feels kicked in the gut, twisting inside at the hurt she’s caused them both.
“Actually, about that. My medicines make me really sleepy. On days I’m working on campus, can I hide in your office for a cat nap on your couch if I need it?”
He walks around behind her and swings her hair over her shoulder. She sees him look to the door to make sure no one is passing by. He bends, pressing his lips tenderly to her forehead and she feels Chris next to her tense. “Of course, darling. Anything you need and want.”
“Thank you,” she breathes out slowly, locking her eyes with his stormy blue ones briefly. She whispers, “We talked about this on the phone; that wasn’t very nice.”
With a grimace, Tom quietly replies, “I’m being as nice as I bloody can.”
She tugs on the end of his tie. “Try harder, please.”
Tom’s sigh is audible and he leaves the room in a huff.
Her eyes follow him out to the hallway before she turns to the other man. “Chris, I have a favor to ask of you, too,” Thalia begins. “I… I don’t feel safe in my apartment; not yet anyway.” She hates saying it outloud, fearing it as a weakness, but she doesn’t want to be alone. “Will you stay with me some; on nights you don’t have Avery?”
Chris opens the paper and refolds it properly, tossing it back onto the table. She watches him fight back a smile. “Of course, I will. You don’t even have to ask; you could even come stay at my place.”
She shakes her head ‘no’ in response. “I can’t, Chris. I have to get over it; I can’t live my life in fear. But I could use some help getting back on my feet.” Harsh images flash across her mind and she shuts them down quickly. Trying to change the subject, she adjusts the sling and grumbles in Spanish. “Do you have any idea how awkward it is to have big tits and wear a sling? I might as well be groping my boob all the time.”
Throwing his head back in laughter, it rumbles through her and she joins him. “It is great to squeeze. Your physical therapist doesn’t have you grabbing it to regain use of your hand?”
Three of her fingers had been broken in the melee as well and she would be starting physical therapy soon, but not yet. Her lopsided grin takes him in. “I guess I have you to thank for the newly remodeled stairwell and fresh paint that greeted me when I got home two nights ago?”
“Guilty. It was my idea, but Tom, Jim, Tina and some of the other patrons helped out.” Twirling his glasses between his fingers, Chris shifts in his seat uncomfortably. “Two nights? You’ve been home that long and didn’t tell either of us?”
Looking at the ground, she shyly replies. “I just needed time, and I didn’t know how you’d both really feel now.” Her heart pounds in her chest. She doesn’t want to do this now; she can’t. She’s tired and worn out and needs to keep her energy up for another meeting scheduled for the afternoon with the Dean, about her early graduation. She’s still fearful, even after all the phone calls the last few days from department secretaries sharing with her this new development, that this could all crash down; that news of their affairs will leak.
Chris anxiously bounces in his seat, but his words wrap around her. “It doesn’t change how I feel about you. Even battered and bruised, you are the most beautiful woman I know, Thalia Bareo, inside and out. And you got half these battle scars,” he wipes his hand across the stitches on her cheek, “because you kicked back. You’re strong and amazing, the type of woman I want by my side as long as you’ll have me.”
Leaning forward, resting his elbows on his knees, he can see under her lowered eyes. She lifts her face to his and he takes her free hand in his. “Can I ask you one question?”
His serious tone immediately sends up a warning flag. She jumps quickly to humor to deflect his mood. “Of course, Chris, you can sign my cast… I’m sure you’ve been planning secret messages for it. I’m hoping it’s a dirty limerick!” Her radiant smile lights up her face but her raspy voice doesn’t meet the same level of enthusiasm, as she tries to ease some of the tension. She reaches to adjust the collar of his shirt, and pulls the chain of his Saint Christopher’s medallion free, resting it against his chest and pressing it into him. She sighs. “What do you need to know, babe?” She whispers quietly.
Frustrated, he sighs. “Did you ever tell him you love him?”
Her smile softens. Thoughtfully, she replies, “I may have said it to boys, when I was younger… But I’ve never said it to any man…” She thinks about adding something else, but leaves it at that.
Pressing his forehead to hers, Chris slowly slides his nose down her cheek before softly and delicately landing his lips to hers. Twisting her fingers in the chain, she gently taps his chest and they separate with a sweet ‘pop.’ Without a word, Chris makes his exit to get to his next class. Thalia watches him leave, and for a moment the pain in her heart is bigger than that of all her slowly healing injuries.
From the hallway she hears Chris’ booming voice, breaking her from her dark thoughts. “Hey, Hiddleston. Hear anything ya like? Aren’t you late to class, man? Shouldn’t be standing around like that…”
“American asshole.” She hears Tom complain under his breath, a touch of endearment adding charm to his clipped words, and a slow half-smile creeps onto her face though her heart is still aching.
Raising the mug Tom offered her, the tea is now lukewarm on her lips. She feels like she just watched them both walk out of her life, but in the end, she’s really the one who’s leaving, in a larger, more profound sense. Graduation. Paris. Time to grow up and enter the real world… Her time in Chicago was the beginning of a goodbye, a step forward in a different direction. And part of her wants to freeze time, and relive all that’s happened before, to do it all again in a less hurtful way… but another part of her knows things have to change so each of them can grow and learn, heal and move ahead…
She gets up to warm the tepid beverage and the weight on Thalia’s shoulders is heavy as she walks to the microwave. Watching as it spins on the turnstyle, silent tears run down her cheeks and she hides behind her mass of curls. Angrily pushing the tears across her face, she chuckles, thinking how irritated Tom would be if he knew she was reheating it like that.
With the passing time, the classes change and other faculty come in as their breaks begin and they offer Thalia their condolences and their well wishes for a speedy recovery. Many have heard the news she will graduate early and rejoice in that. She can’t handle the noise, the joviality of it all, when she feels like a part of her is dying. Thalia quickly washes out her mug and leaves.
As she moves slowly across the campus she loves, her heart breaks and the tears flow freely. With her graduation looming and the internship in Paris, she knows it’s time to say goodbye. Stopping at a bench under a tree blooming with spring flowers, Thalia tries to pull herself together. With a sigh, Thalia shifts and wiggles but can’t really get comfortable. She hasn’t been comfortable in weeks, feeling the most herself when she’s by their side. Shaking her head, she knows she has to learn to stand on her own again
With her elbow rested on the arm of the bench, she presses her lips against her raised fist in thought. In a total fantasy world, she could keep them both! She giggles at the thought. “Two alpha males,” she mutters out loud, shaking her head. They’d murder each other in a week. At this point, it’s not her decision to make; each man will have to decide for himself what he wants. She’s juggled them both this long; she might as well keep doing it as long as they will let her. She loves them both, and right now she feels it would kill her if she had to make a choice…
To her left, she watches a couple lying on a blanket in the warm sun, surrounded by books and laughing. The tears begin to fall again, because that’s what she wants, someone to be by her side in the sun, not hiding anymore. The difficult part is, she can envision that future with both men. She’s had dreams of her and Tom, with a curly haired little boy walking between them, his clipped British accent, much like his father’s… or the Evans’ cabin, the breakfast table crowded around, several children with their noses hidden in books, the youngest in glasses, like her father.
She chokes on her sobs, letting it all bubble out, ignoring the stares of passing students. Someone offers her a tissue and she takes it, her thoughts still swarming as quickly as her stomach turns. Chris and Tom are both special to her in so many ways, and the dark haired beauty knows she’ll never forget them. Behind her closed eyes, a million memories of treasured moments flood her mind, and she’ll rely on that comfort in the months to come. Her two men have shown her sides to her character that she never had any idea about, and she’s thankful for the lessons she’s learned.
Click here to read Chapter 44 Paris
Author Note: There are three remaining chapters. (Lucky readers! After brainstorming the authors decided an additional chapter was needed for Wednesday, August 2.)
Copyright © 2017 avenger-nerd-mom and devikafernando. All rights reserved. Intellectual property of avenger-nerd-mom