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: 3559
Warnings: Language, Adult Situations, recovery, forgiveness, concern, anguish, family relationships
Summary: Thalia has a special visitor in Chicago while she takes time away to heal…
Click here for intro to Educating Thalia
Author’s Note: There are three remaining chapters in this series.
His knees practically knock together from sheer nervousness. He truthfully can’t remember the last time he stood on a girl’s front porch, facing the fear of meeting her family. He clutches the fragrant bouquet in his hands, smiling that he will soon smell the scent on her skin in person. Pushing the buzzer, he chuckles to himself at the sound of a little dog barking fiercely on the other side of the door.
A quiet voice calls out, “Buster, hush! I hear it; I’m coming.”
The intricately carved wooden door opens and a pretty blonde smiles out at him. “More flowers?” She chuckles. “I hope they’re paying you extra this week for all these deliveries.”
She reaches for them, with cash in her hand. A tip. She thinks he’s a delivery person. He clears his throat and says, “No, um, actually, I’m here to see Thalia? I’d like to deliver these in person.”
The smile on her face grows and her head bobs up and down. “Mmm… I see. Are you Chris or Tom? Come on inside.” She ushers him in, closing the door behind him. Before he can speak, she continues, narrowing her eyes at him. “I remember you. You were at the club?”
Nodding, Chris replies and introductions and pleasantries are exchanged. A yip pulls his attention down to the little dog sitting at his feet. “Buster, you go.” She waves the dog away. “I’m safe, ya silly mutt… Follow me. She’s holed up in her room and doesn’t come out much. She didn’t mention you were planning to visit?”
“She, uh, doesn’t know I’m here. In Chicago. She has no idea I was coming to visit.” He admits nervously, following her down a hallway, catching glimpses of a dining room and family room. They veer to the right and this hallway is lined with family photos. He wishes he had time to stop and look, to see pictures of Thalia as a little girl, to know her life.
“Relax, sweetie. If you’re half the man she thinks you are, she’ll be glad to see you.”
Her words stop him in his tracks. Not paying attention, he runs right into her when she stops at a door. “Sorry. What? She told you about me?” Another piece clicks in his brain. “You asked if I was ‘Chris or Tom.’ So you know?”
“The dining room banquet table looks like a showroom for a floral shop. Honestly, all the conflicting smells are giving me a headache,” she smiles. “When the flowers kept coming, I started to figure it out. Two boyfriends? Good for her!”
Stacey pats Chris’s arm gently and he likes her instantly. She knocks on the door. “Thalia, honey, you-”
A muffled response comes through the door. “Stacey, I’m tired. Whatever it is, let it wait. I’ll be down for dinner. We can even braid my hair tonight, but just let me be, please.”
The broken sound of her raspy voice is heartbreaking, but just hearing it springs alive his hopes. His pulse races knowing she’s on the other side of that door and the thought he could be the one to lift her spirits. If she’ll accept his apologies…
“But Thalia,” she pushes open the door, ignoring her stepdaughter’s request. “You have a guest.” With a flourish of her arm, she ushers Chris into the room.
Her eyes widen in shock and her mouth pops into the sweet little “oh” she sometimes makes. “I’ll leave you two alone,” Stacey says warmly, closing the door on her exit.
“What are- How? I mean… What the hell? I can’t make words.” She giggles. “We kept playing phone tag and… and you didn’t answer my messages. I thought-”
Not knowing really what to say, needing to rein in his emotions at her presence, he stalls for time. “You’re watching TV?” Chris looks around the little room, an obvious shrine to her high school days. It doesn’t look like a thing has changed since she left for college. He can feel her eyes watching him, but he needs to look. Stepping to her desk, his eyes brush over photos of friends and family, the same funeral announcement she keeps in her apartment and a high school plaque for her top score on a college readiness assessment. Turning back to her, he smiles. “You hate television.”
Her battered body sits propped up between pillows on each side, her right arm in a sling and her other hand resting near the remote. The bruising is still harsh, and the stitches mark her cheek. “Look like hell, don’t I? Can’t fuckin’ sleep. Meds keep me up at night and I sleep all day. I’m hungry, but then I throw up, and please, please, as much as I love to share a laugh with you, please don’t make me laugh. My ribs ache so much….” She turns off the program. “Hate that shit. If that’s a ‘real housewife,’ I don’t wanna be one…. My brain is turning to mush already. I can feel it.” Tucking her hair back, she sighs. “Please, come around here. Sit on my good side.” She motions him to the left of the bed. “I’m glad you’re here, Chris. It’s a nice surprise.”
Holding out her good hand, Chris realizes he’s still standing there awkwardly with the bouquet of orchids and pink calla lilies in his hand. Stepping forward, he kisses her forehead, the one spot on her face not bruised. Whispering he says, “Hey, Niña. I missed you.” He hands her the flowers and she inhales their aroma, murmuring how beautiful they are. He eyes the row of vases lined up on a bookshelf under the window. “I promised you a Spring Break together. I always make good on my promises; you know that.”
“You do; that you do.” She hands the bouquet back to him and he lays it on the bedside table before sitting gently on the bed next to her. “That’s why three is my favorite number now, you know. You and your promises. Scootch closer and turn so I can see you better. I missed your face.”
His heart melts. Whatever anger he had, distrust he felt… he feels it all rush from his body the minute her hand rests on his thigh. First giving a squeeze of his tight muscle, she turns her palm up, inviting him to hold her hand. Just as he has so many times before, he winds his fingers between hers and holds her hand tenderly.
“I was an ass, Thalia. The things I said? I-”
“Stop. I don’t wanna do that. You’re here now. Don’t you think that says everything?”
Her eyes brim with tears and she wiggles uncomfortably on the bed. He simply nods. “Yea, I guess it does, but I still want to say I’m sorry. Seeing you in that hospital bed? That was the scariest moment of my life, listening to you tell-”
“I don’t wanna do that either. You haven’t answered my messages; did you know they got him? Tina had a frying pan in her bag,” she chuckles. Wincing, she pulls her hand free, placing it on her ribs and dropping her head back in pain. “Shit, I keep forgetting not to laugh,” she states painfully. “She had a frying pan and hit him over the head, several times. That’s why they found a bloody handprint on the door. He was clutching his head when he ran off. She covered me with a blanket and called 911.” Placing her hand back in his, she traces over his fingers and up the veins on his arms, looking to them and avoiding his watchful gaze. Her touch calms him and he feels at peace for the first time in days.
“They tell me she stayed with me till she heard the sirens but then she left because she was afraid they’d make her leave or she’d be in trouble for hitting him. Can you believe that?” Shaking her head in disbelief she raises her dark chocolate eyes to his. Under her long lashes, he sees how tired she is, and a little hazed from the pain medications. “She’s a hero, and she thought she’d be in trouble…”
“That’s amazing; and I already knew. I’ve talked to Jim. But thank you for telling me.” His hand slides up her arm, tickling the soft spot at her elbow, to her hand, where she’s tracing over an old faded tattoo. He lifts it to his lips and kisses gently, the velvety softness of her skin warm against his plump lips.
“So too mad to talk to me, but asking my friend about me? Man, that is such a punk ass little boy move, Evans,” she teases, hitting his leg. “No boys for me… You have to be my man. The one to take care of me.”
“Then I failed horribly, because I wasn’t there when you needed me most.” He doesn’t want to remind her she has another man for that task as well. “Thalia, honey, I wasn’t avoiding your calls. I was busy working extra hours, late ones, on a last minute…” He pauses, searching for the right word, but not finding it, so he continues, “… thing… that came up and several faculty members were called in to help. I was afraid if I called, I’d wake you. And then I just lay awake for hours, thinking all the horrible thoughts, and-” his words drift off…
Like she can read his sad thoughts, she pulls her hand free and caresses his cheek, scratching her fingers in his scruffy stubble. “Hey, stop. I handled myself. I can be a tough bitch when I need to be…” Sighing she closes her eyes and strengthens herself. “You were both there when I really needed you most. And you untucked my feet from that damn blanket. I am forever indebted to you.”
Carefully resting a fist on the bed at her right hip, he leans over her, mindful not to bump her injuries and he delicately hovers his lips over her lush full mouth. She sighs contentedly and her tongue flicks out, wetting her lips in anticipation of their connection to come. Lightly, he brushes against her, the kiss growing from soft and sweet to heated and powerful. She relaxes into him and a quiet moan sounds in the back of her throat.
Her hand runs up his chest, reaching slowly over every muscular ridge. She pats his chest and Chris pulls back with a little pop. “Don’t make me breathe so hard,” she admonishes him, her eyes brimming with tears. “My lungs won’t expand that much,” she jokes.
“Ah, honey, did I hurt you?” He moves back gingerly looking over her to ensure he caused no harm. “Why are you crying?”
She just lets the tears begin to fall. “Please. Please just hold me. I’m so damn tired. Physically and mentally, and I can’t pretend to be strong for now. I see the hurt in Dad’s eyes when he looks at me. I hear him talking to Stacey at night and I just-”
“You just need to shut down, and let someone else carry the load… I totally understand. What do you want me to do, baby?” Chris bites back his own tears, taking the lead over her. Fuck. The skinny British ass was right…
She leans forward and points to the recliner next to the bed. “I can’t sleep flat; I instinctively try to roll to my belly and that doesn’t work with a broken arm. I’ve be sleeping in that. Can we sit in it together, and you rock me to sleep?”
“Anything for you, Niña, as long as you’ll take me,” he says.
“You were an ass, but I deserved it. I should have been more honest. With both of you. I’m sorry.” Her sobs grow louder as he gently lifts her in a basket carry and pivots to sit down in the chair. “I was selfish and frivolous with our emotions and-”
“There, there. None of that now,” he whispers, brushing his lips over her forehead. “You settle yourself. Move around till you’re comfortable and then I’ll wrap my arms around you and hold you till you sleep and all your cries are out, babe.”
After she squirms around a few minutes, he can’t take anymore of it and gently taps her hip. “You little minx! You did that on purpose, rubbing your peachy ass all over my lap…”
Nestled into his neck, she pulls out the chain to his Saint Christopher’s medal and whispers in Spanish. Her breath is heated and moist against his skin and he longs for more contact with her. She’s just too fragile, in body and spirit to even think of more. Logically he knows that. Try telling that to his dick rested against her hot little pussy. He groans and bites the tip of her nose, another non-bruised spot.
“You love it.” She sniffles, her tears beginning anew.
“Aren’t we a twisted pair?”
Resting his arms around her gently, he can feel the bandages and wrappings around her chest through her ratty old high school t-shirt for the quiz bowl team. Her cries increase but her battered form melts into his arms. “No. Tighter. Hold me tighter,” she breathes out through sobs. “Pair? It’s a fuckin’ triangle and I didn’t even see the mess I was making.”
Leaning back on the chair, the recliner foot rest kicks up and Chris pulls her back against his chest. “Thalia, shhh. Not now. You need to sleep.” His fingertips tease and tug at her wild hair. “Cry all you want, but no, no more talking. How can I be mad at you? I’m crazy about you. I still know what I know- I’m not your only man. It just made me angry finding out who it was… I think… I,” he sighs. “I think I liked it better when I thought you were seeing a married man.”
Sleepily, she gasps. “Fuck, Chris! How could you think that of me? That’s awful.”
Looking down into her eyes, he raises one hand and swipes his palm over her face, forcing her to close her eyes. “Shh… What else was I supposed to think? There were no signs of anyone else in your house, you were always free in the evenings, we spent Sundays together all the time. I never imagined in a million years you were fu-…” Sighing bitterly he stops himself. “Get some sleep,” he says somewhat forcibly.
She trembles in his arms, and he senses the change in her. She responds to the verbal force. Damn. Fucker was right again…
“Sleep,” he says again, caressing her back until she falls limp in his arms and her breathing rate changes, turning to quiet little snores and puffs of air against his neck.
Chris watches her for a few minutes, his heart lurching again at the bruises that have changed color and still make his gut burn with anger. If that bastard hadn’t be arrested, he’d would have hunted him down and beaten the shit out of him.
His body tenses in anger, and Thalia shifts ever so slightly, making a soft protesting sound without waking up. Willing himself to calm down again, Chris scans the room instead. His gaze falls on the coffee table next to the recliner, where a glass vase is overflowing with unfamiliar yet beautiful flowers in various shades of pink and white. A letter lies next to it, unlined white pages with messy yet straight handwriting.
It begins with “My dearest Warrior Princess”, and he knows who’s written to her even before his eyes skip to the bottom with the words “Yours forever, Tom”.
Shit, this is none of his business. He shouldn’t snoop around.. But he can’t help himself, his curiosity wins out over all the other feelings.
“Only a couple of sentences,” he silently promises himself and squints at the lines, wishing he was wearing his glasses.
I sincerely hope you’re feeling better now, darling. You’ve been gone only for a few days, but it’s like you took all the colours away with you. I go about my daily routine, and everything reminds me of you. I can’t even sit at my desk without thinking of all the good – and bad – things that happened in my office. Foolish, I know…but doesn’t love make fools out of all of us?
To paraphrase – and hopefully not mangle – a quote from ‘Jane Eyre’: “I feel as if a link, a thread, exists between your heart and mine. And should that link be broken by distance or by time, my heart would cease to beat and I would die, and you would soon forget me.”
Scoffing, Chris snaps his eyes away from the letter.
Sappy British idiot. Then again, Thalia probably loved this with the same intensity with which she’d love a totally different message he might’ve sent her.
He wiggles a little, cradling his girl closer while trying not to jostle her. Closing his eyes, he listens to her soft snores. And deep down inside him, a voice wonders whether Thalia will indeed move on and forget about them both…and whether it will feel like a form of dying to him too.
Shutting himself off to all of those unwelcome thoughts and emotions, Chris matches his breathing to the soothing rhythm of hers, lulling him to sleep as well.
What seems like just minutes later is actually hours, but his eyes slowly open when he feels another presence in the room. Rolling his neck side to side, doing his best not to disturb his sleeping angel he focuses on Stacey standing near the desk. Her smile is wide and her eyes are soft.
“You two are fuckin’ adorable,” she whispers. “She’s peaceful, I can see it in her face.” She moves to sit on the bed near the chair and confides in Chris. “Her father is so worried; we all are. But I can see it now. She didn’t need to come home to heal. I knew something was up when I was there last month… whether you like it or not, both of you changed her. She needed you… She needs him.”
She scrunches up her face in thought, and Chris recognizes it as the same expression Thalia has when she’s lost in the depths of her mind while studying. Fleetingly the academic thought of heredity versus familiarity floats through his mind. Her weight shifts on the bed and it squeaks, pulling his thoughts back to the stepmother.
“Thalia’s tough as nails. Always has been, but,” she shakes her head, “I can see that love has changed her. As mad as you are, she’s still in some ways just a child. You can’t blame her for wanting all the toys, collecting the good looking boys on campus.” Her laughter is light and airy. She gazes affectionately at the snoozing woman in his arms and he knows the love she has for her stepdaughter; he feels it as strongly as anyone would recognize the love of a daughter.
Chris nods and sighs. “We’re men. And you have to know, at least for me anyway, it had nothing to do with being older or a professor. She’s not even in any of my courses. She was just an amazing woman I met at a bar one night, and I was the lucky one. She picked me. She’s beautiful and charming and so damn smart; so smart it’s scary. I’m just lucky she let me in her life when I needed someone, and I guess she needed something too.”
Stacey pats his arm, “You understand that’s how we can love two things at one time? Because they’re different from the other… I don’t think she ever meant to hurt either of you… But I hear her cry at night; and mumble your names. Hurting either of you damaged her more than whatever that asshole did to her. That’s physical; she can heal from that… But her heart, her mind and how she feels about you both?” She shrugs her shoulders. “You love what you love, and sometimes it sucks. But I think if you leave her now, that will be a different pain and will last you both much longer.”
Chris can feel Thalia change in his arms, rising from a deeper sleep. Her breathing moderates and he’s aware she can most likely sense their communication, even if she’s not aware of their words just yet. His hands circle over her back to pull her from sleep as he simply tells Stacey, “I’m not leaving.”
Stacey rises from the bed, gently tucking back one of Thalia’s wayward curls. “Good, because her father will be home from work in about an hour, and Jim and his wife are coming over from their hotel for dinner. She hasn’t had a real bath in days. I’ll get everyone to go out for ice cream and you can take care of my girl. I can’t imagine she will want you to go back to your hotel tonight? That’s the best she’s rested since she got home.” She nods to Thalia in his strong, muscular arms. “Don’t worry about her dad, either. I’ll take care of that with my husband.”
Click here for Chapter 43 Homecoming
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