Everything She Wanted

ch 46 Everything She Wanted August 9 2017

Educating Thalia

Collaboration by @avenger-nerd-mom & @devikafernando

AU FICTION

Chapter 46

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: 1104

Warnings:  Language, Adult Situations, angst, moving forward

Summary:  Thalia returns home after a dinner out with an old friend.

Click here for intro to Educating Thalia

The house is quiet when she tosses her purse and coat over the chair.  Setting the keys on the side table, she smiles at the glasses resting on top of the unfinished Times crossword puzzle from last week.  She pulls off her heels and leaves them by the railing.  Climbing the stairs, she can’t wait to get out of the tight fitting dress and into her comfortable jammies.  She still has some research to do for the upcoming presentation for the university, but the bed is calling her name.

The light from the room across the hall is still on, and she pauses just outside the door, listening to the solid deep voice reading about the fairy tale princess who got everything she wanted.  A soft giggle fills the air, and a sweet voice reaches her ears, “Oh, Poppa, don’t be silly.  Fairy tales don’t come true.”

Thalia steps into the light and Chris’s beaming smile warms her heart.  “Oh, honey, I think sometimes they do.”  He winks at her as Thalia sits on the edge of the bed, pulling the blankets up under Avery’s chin.

“What do you think, Thalia?  Do they?” the little girl asks, grasping the woman’s fingers in hers.

“Oh, sweetie, I think they do too, but I think sometimes you have to be the hero in your own story.”  Her warm chocolate brown eyes sweep across the postcards above the bed, ones she’s sent the child of far-off places around the world, the pyramids of Egypt, the Coliseum in Rome, and the Eiffel Tower in Paris.   Her eyes settle on the photo of the three of them in front of the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center.  “The handsome prince doesn’t have to be the one to save the day.”  Her eyes glisten with tears as she kisses the little girl on the forehead.  “Goodnight, Bug.  We’ll fix pancakes in the morning before I get you to swim lessons, sound good?”

The little girl tugs on her curls and sleepily nods her head.  “Yum, will you add cinnamon and vanilla, like Poppa does?”  Her thumbs up in response to Thalia’s silent nod is good enough.  Avery whispers. “I’m glad you’re here, T.”

Chris chuckles and hands her Mr. Bear.  “Goodnight, Bug, sweet dreams.”

Rising from the bed, the little girl is already half asleep when her father kisses her cheek and follows Thalia to the hallway.

Closing the door, he places his hand on her hip and leads them toward his room.   “The handsome prince doesn’t always get his way?  What kind of mixed up tale are you feeding the kid?” He chuckles quietly.

Thalia bumps his hip as they walk.  “Hey, sometimes the princess has to learn to stand on her own.”  She stops in front of the door and gently caresses the side of his face.  “You need a shave and haircut.”

He turns his head to kiss her palm.  “Fine, Princesa.”  His hand roams around her hip and rests across the small of her back.  “Alright then, I’m glad you can be her Fairy Godmother when you come for visits, if you won’t be the Queen of this castle.  You know, she loves it when you take her to swim class and help with her Spanish.”

“That’s good; that’s good.”  Thalia taps the door frame, reading his intent.  “I can’t stay with you; you know that.”  She points to the other door.  “The guest room, Chris, that’s where I stay when I’m here on university business.”

He playfully bangs his head against the wall, “Aw, come on.  Can’t blame a man for trying.  Comin’ in my house, looking like that.  How many ties hold the dress closed?”  He winks at her and pushes back her mane of curls. “Ah, fuck, Thalia.  I hate it when you decide to act like an adult.”

She giggles, and her voice drops low so she doesn’t wake the child.  “My will still isn’t that strong.”  She leans into him, claiming his mouth.  She can taste the lingering flavor of his after dinner coffee and her mouth smiles against his.  Chris slides his hand up her back and tugs her hair at the base of her neck.  He twists his fingers in the curls there as their tongues tangle, each French kiss chasing the other.  The hand on her hip holds tight and her fingers roam across his chest.  She can feel him, hard against her thigh as he tries to wiggle his leg between hers.  Her brain is jumbled and she holds on when he moans quietly in frustration.

A quiet voice in the back of her mind tells her she needs to stop this, but all thoughts run away when he pulls her hair back and attaches his wet, plump lips to her neck.  A small gasp escapes the back of her throat as his other hand begins to grope under her breast.  His thumb caresses over her taut nipple, pinching and squeezing, teasing the lacy fabric across her skin.  Pushing him back, she whines, “Ah, fuck, Chris, no.  We can’t.”  Creating a space between them, she keeps her hand on the waist of his loose sweatpants.  “Damn you; you’re evil.”

Chris reaches for the doorknob behind him, opening his room.  “There’s room for two, Thalia.  You don’t have to keep running away.  I’ve been down on my knee once before to ask-”

She sighs and kisses him softly on the cheek, stepping back and breaking the spell between them.  The reminder of his proposal still stings her heart.  “I’m not ready for what you need; maybe I should stop coming back, so you can move on?”

Leaning against the door jam, Chris crosses his arms.

chris at door

He nods his understanding.  “When you’re gone everything is gray.  I’d rather have moments of color, like these, than to have a lifetime of dark.  You taught me to walk in the sunshine again, Thalia.  You’ll always be mine,” he scoffs quietly.  “Even when you’re not… Good night, Niña. Te amo.”  With a wink and a crook of his eyebrow, he enters his room, alone.

“Te amo,” she whispers, as his door closes.  The dark-haired beauty returns to the space he offered her some time ago, when she was too afraid to stay in her own apartment.  Before entering her room, she looks down the empty quiet hall and envisions a life someday in a house of her own.  And she knows with more passing time, neither of her men will be the one who calls her “wife.”  Someday soon, one of them will grow up and leave her, but until then, she holds on just a little bit longer, not ready to make a decision.  For now, she’s happy being a princess, with two princes, each rescuing the other when they need it…  Still receiving her education from them both…

***

“Why are old lovers able to become friends? Two reasons: They never truly loved each other; or they love each other still.”

-Whitney Otto, How to Make an American Quilt

***

This concludes the story of Professor Evans, Thalia and Professor Hiddleston.

Click here for a “thank you” from one of the authors

Copyright © 2017  avenger-nerd-mom and devikafernando.  All rights reserved. Intellectual property of avenger-nerd-mom

Mended

ch 45 Mended August 2 2017

Educating Thalia

Collaboration by @avenger-nerd-mom & devikafernando

AU FICTION

Chapter 45

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: 1177

Warnings:  Language, Adult Situations, angst, moving forward

Summary: Eighteen months after her Paris internship ends, Thalia meets a friend for a quiet dinner for two.

Click here for intro to Educating Thalia

Eighteen Months Later…

Watching the man across from her, her eyes crinkle at the memories they created together.  Late nights on campus, his office, visits to sites in Italy and Greece.  Her hand reaches for his, rested on the table.  “Thank you.  Thank you for loving me; for teaching me to be free and open. I know…”  she sighs and pulls her hand back.  “I know I didn’t handle things well;  I know we’ve talked about it before; but I’m sorry.  I really am.”

His fingers drum against his thigh, his legs spread in his comfortable position, a look of amusement on his face.  Dropping his gaze, he looks back at her through veiled lashes, his blue eyes just as sharp, taking in her movements, memorizing them till next time.  “I know you are; but I want you to know I don’t regret one single moment.  We both had a lot to learn, needed to grow up.  I guess I have a sappy side that hopes the next time our paths cross, we’ll be in a different place, ready to settle down, bend to one another.  Until then, I’m glad we can enjoy evenings out like these.  My only sorrow is I can’t convince you to come upstairs to my room with me.”

She looks across the fancy dining room, to the doorway leading to the extravagant lobby.  Her body yearns to say yes, to fall to his knees in worship, to allow him to take care of her body, in a way he only knows.  Tilting her head in thought, her mind wins.  With a slight shake of her head, she says,  “No, no; I can’t tonight.”  She smiles warmly.  “In fact, I really need to get going.”

Looking at his watch, he sighs in disapproval.  “It will be months before I see you again, before we are in the same part of the world.”

Rising to aid her from the chair, he places her coat over his arm and they walk to the concierge desk to call for her car.  He admires the view as the Latina beauty speaks quietly in Spanish to the attendant and she coolly offers him a tip.  Turning back to him, she winks playfully, shrugging her shoulders.  “What can I say?  Everything I learned, I learned from you.”

He chuckles and the warmth fills the air between them.  He helps her into her coat; the puffy one is long gone, replaced by traditional wool, but she still wears the signature pink scarf.  Leaving the coat unfastened, he helps wrap the hand-knit scarf around her neck, caressing his hand gently across her cheek, his thumb pressing against her scar there.  “No.  You got it wrong, I learned from you.  You taught me so much; things I needed to know after all these years.  You did the educating, Thalia….”

A little silver car pulls into view and she nods, “This is me.  Improved, huh?  Lot nicer than that junker I used to drive…”  Her voice chokes and tears form under her lashes.  Through a tight whisper, she says, “You know I can never say goodbye; not to you.  You always have a piece of my heart.”

She rises on her tiptoes and places a tender kiss to his cheek, resting a finger over his lips to silence whatever words he had lurking there.  His eyes are shiny with the same unshed tears as hers. Feeling like tearing a part of her heart out, Thalia turns to leave.

She’s barely made two steps before strong fingers wrap themselves around her arm. They pull her back with such force that she stumbles against the hard body, its contours so familiar yet now so rarely molded against her own. A second arm snakes under her coat, around her waist and tugs her even closer, breasts pressed against his chest, one thigh wedging between her legs and making her shudder in forbidden delight. The hand on her arms moves up to wrap long fingers around her neck and tilt her head.

Lips parted, pulse racing, needing this desperately, Thalia stares into his face.  The gut-wrenching mix of pain and desire make his handsome features even more striking and she burns them into her memory.

“Oh no you don’t,” he half-growls, his voice rough around the edges, not caring that people on the sidewalk pass around them. “You don’t get to walk away like this.  Be mine, if just for this moment…  If I really own a piece of your heart, then prove it to me.”

She blinks at him, their faces so close that she can feel his breath ghost over her face, smell dinner and beneath that the unique scent of him that used to linger on her hands and clothes for days.  The sounds of the city melt away and the only noise between them are their beating hearts and ragged breaths.

“Prove it,” he repeats, and the commanding tone snaps her into action, her body reacting on a subconscious level. She bridges the minimal distance and seals her mouth over his, pouring all her longing into the kiss.

As soon their mouths connect, control is taken from her. His lips press harder, then his teeth nip her lower lip and make her swallow down a needy whimper. The tip of his tongue sneaks out to soothe the sting, only to bite down again, this time a little harder. Thalia’s hands fist in the coat at his back, as if she wants to be even closer. Their bodies rub against each other as restlessly and greedily as their mouths.  His tongue dives deep, slicks against hers and draws back before she can really taste him.

The kiss goes on and on like that, until it feels as if his tongue has explored and re-learned every tiny crevice of her mouth, drawn her essence into him to store it away as a tantalizing memory. Their breaths mingle until she doesn’t know where he ends and she begins, until she can barely remember her name.

Her pulse is hammering against his palm, as intense as the throb lower down where his thigh nudges possessively. When he finally pulls back, his tongue caressing her swollen lips in a last lick, Thalia knows she would have sunk to the floor in a puddle if his powerful arms weren’t still holding her close.

This time, he’s the one who presses a tender kiss to her cheek, so chaste and yet marking her, burning through her skin right into her core.

Before she can really surface from her trance, he steps back and lets her go, his pupils dilated as his stormy blue gaze rakes her from head to toe one last time, lingering on her thoroughly kissed mouth.

“Go. For now,” he says, so quietly she can barely hear it.

Knowing that she’s fighting a losing battle, she wheels around and walks away on shaky legs. Hastily she climbs in the car and drives away, the long talk and heated kiss actually leaving their hearts just a bit more mended than before.

Click here to read Chapter 46 Everything She Wanted

 Copyright © 2017  avenger-nerd-mom and devikafernando.  All rights reserved. Intellectual property of avenger-nerd-mom

Paris

ch 44 Paris August 2 2017.jpg

Educating Thalia

Collaboration by @avenger-nerd-mom & @devikafernando

AU FICTION

Chapter 44

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: 1966

Warnings:  Language, Adult Situations, angst, relationship issues

Summary:  Tom meets Thalia in Paris for a holiday, bringing news from the States.

Click here to read the intro for Educating Thalia

From the table on the veranda, Tom looks through the house and watches Thalia at the front door of the little cottage, speaking broken French to the delivery boy.  He smiles at the way she shifts her weight,  her hands pushing her hair back from her face.  He’s memorizing every moment, burning the images into his brain, knowing he’ll need them for the cold, lonely nights to come.

Pivoting on her heels as she closes the entry, she sees him through the doorway and her eyes light up.  Resting the bag of food in one hand, she asks, “More tea?”

“No, darling, I’m fine.  Come out here; it’s beautiful.”  The sweep of his arm indicates the view over the valley below, but his eyes remain on her full figure.  Just a few weeks apart, and she’s changed, even more womanly than before, but something is different.  He hasn’t been able to put his finger on it…  “Stop where you are,” he commands.  She quirks her eyebrow and freezes mid step, one foot balanced in front of the other.  “Set the bag down, darling; I’m not hungry yet anyway.  Take off your robe.”

“A different hunger, then?” She teases, placing the bag on the coffee table, and she seductively unties the silk cover, letting it drop from her shoulders.  She closes her eyes and sucks in her breath, as his eyes wash over her, taking in the faint bruises still on her ribcage.

Tom turns his head, squinting, finally seeing the difference.  “Thalia, have you lost weight?”  He motions her forward and pats his thigh, inviting her to sit there.

Resting on his offered leg, she swings her legs over his lap and he cradles his arms around her.  “Well, not on purpose,” she pouts.  “I’m not fond of the French food,” she explains.  “Seriously, all I eat is salad, bread and cheese.  I love the carbs, but I guess with all the walking around the city…  I hate it.  Send me to Rome!  Fatten me up,” the dark haired beauty jokes.

Tom inhales the scent of her hair, a lump catching in his throat.  “Italy it is, then, my love; let’s put it on the calendar.”

She tugs at the button on his shirt, her fingers creeping between the fabric and caressing the curls on his chest.  She sighs deeply.  “That sounds wonderful, Tom.”  Her tone is sad as she pulls away, sliding off his lap and into her own chair next to him.  He wonders if he’ll ever see Rome through her eyes…  Looking down at the papers and books in front of him, she asks, “What’s all this?”

Tom purses his lips and nods.  He pauses, looking down at the vineyards, taking in the view and judging his words wisely.  “It’s a syllabus for next fall; working out some new things.”

Perched on the edge of her seat, in her silk bra and panties, she looks over the books carefully, lifting one thick volume and admiring it.  “Tom?  These aren’t for classes you teach… are you… Are you offering a new elective?”

fingers on mouth TH.gif

He runs his hand thoughtfully over his mouth, back and forth, pushing against his lips.  The scruff on his chin is raw against his fingertips.  “They are.  They’re for classes I’ll be teaching at another university, Thalia…”

Hugging the book to her chest, her jaw drops.  “What?”  she whispers.  “You’re leaving?  You can’t leave…  Did they…”  Thalia shakes her head.  “Did someone find out about us?  Did you get fired because of me?  Because if you did–”

Tom scoots his chair closer to hers, trapping her anxiously wiggling legs between his.  Pulling the book from her, his fingers graze her skin and the heat is felt in his touch.  “No, no darling.  Nothing like that.  If anyone knows, nothing has been said to me.”  Taking her hands in his, he holds them tight and runs his thumbs over the back of her hand.   Tears fill his eyes and he chokes on his words.  “I can’t… I can’t go back to a place you’re not.”  He sucks in a deep breath, his tears falling.  He looks up to her tear streaked face and tentatively smiles when she bites her lip to hold back a sob.  He raises her hands to his lips and kisses them tenderly, dropping one of her hands to free his.

Tom rests his large palm against her face, his thumb caressing over the scar on her cheek.  He smiles through the tears.  “I couldn’t… I couldn’t be happy there anymore without you, my Warrior Princess.”  He sighs.  “Oh, how you lived up to that name.”  Her free hand runs over his thigh, squeezing it tightly as her chocolate brown eyes rapidly read his face.  “You fought so hard, darling; you’ve worked so hard, and I’m so proud of you.  I loved you.”  He inhales shakily, his voice rough when he repeats his words. “I love you and I never said it.  I should have, a thousand times over, loud enough so you could hear it… But instead I pushed you away.  I thought I was too old for you; too set in my ways–”

“Oh, Tom,” she sighs, coughing back the tears.  “I–”

“No, no; don’t.”  His fingertip presses her lips closed.  “I know.  I always knew…  I knew you loved me too, yet I did nothing to change my behaviors, and I’ll live with that regret the rest of my life, Thalia.”  Her gasping cries fill the space between them.  He wants nothing more than to hold her close but he knows for the sanity of them both he needs to keep his resolve.  He came to Paris to tell her he loves her, and he did.  But now it’s time to let her go…  “I had the wild orchid I always searched for and didn’t know what to do with it when I found it.”  He chuckles, pulling back and wiping his nose on the back of his wrist.

The spell broken, she shoves her wild hair back and ties it loosely before reaching for a napkin on the table.  Wiping her tear stained cheeks, she holds the wadded tissue to her mouth.  “Tom… Tom, you’re too important to me to just let go; I don’t know if I can go on alone.  I don’t know if I want to…”

“But you should, darling, and you can.  And maybe…  Maybe you’ll choose someone else.”  He stands from his chair and walks to the railing.  If she chooses him, his competition, he doesn’t want to know.  He’d run to the ends of the Earth to hide from that pain.  Turning back to her, his eyes glimpse into the other open doorway, the jumbled sheets and silk tie hanging from the edge of the bed, her favorite boots haphazard on the floor…  He sucks in a sharp breath, clenching his fists at his sides.  He pulls himself together and he smiles bravely.  “And maybe I’m deluding myself, thinking we were friends before, and we can be friends again.  I feel like in our line of work, we’ll cross paths soon enough.  I already saw your name listed for the return trip to Stratford Upon Avon next Spring.  My new school is taking students as well; that’s one of the reasons why they hired me when I approached them. They know my work in the field…  Work I couldn’t have accomplished without you, Thalia.  I feel like you’ve made me the man I am today.”

Shaking off her sadness, obviously still stunned, Thalia stands from her chair, rising tall. Following his lead, as she always has, he thinks to himself…  Her words are quiet and filled with sorrow.  “Well, I know for damn sure I wouldn’t be the person I am now without your influence during the last year.”  Sucking in a deep breath, she walks back into the cottage and bends to pick up her robe.  Sliding the delicate fabric back over her skin, she looks to him.  “Okay, then… As they say, ‘We’ll always have Paris…’”  Her voice is shaky, but she continues.  “And, well, your new school will be lucky to have you, and as your friend, I’d be happy to give guest lectures on various topics.”  She knots the belt and walks back onto the veranda, leaning against the rail next to Tom.

For quite some time, they stand in silent next to one another.  The breeze catches the sleeve of her robe and the fine silk brushes against his arm.  The smell of her is so close to him, it wraps around him and becomes part of his memory.  From the corner of his eye, he can see her tears still silently fall and her chest heaves.  Tenderly, he places his arm around her and holds her close.  The Latina beauty melts into him and is so right in his arms.  He prays for a different outcome some day, but knows in his heart this isn’t what either of them need right now.  They both still have some growing up to do.

When her cries subside, her body warms again and she chuckles quietly.

“What’s so funny?” he asks, kissing the top of her head and stepping back to look down at her.

“Well, Sir, could you define ‘friend’ for me?”  Her eyes dance and he knows her teasing tone.  Sassy.  Thalia.  “Do you mean the ‘let’s get a coffee and catch up’ kind, or the ‘Hey, I just happen to be in your city and wondered if your bed was available’ kind?”

Tom’s ‘eh, eh, eh’ laughter bounces off the walls of the patio and birds startle and fly from the trees.  His amusement echoes hers.  “Oh, my darling, you are a wild child!”  With a slight push, he turns her around and points her towards the bedroom.  “Go get dressed, and let’s finish our sightseeing list for today.  We’ll just take it one day at a time, and learn a new way to be with one another.”

Thalia nods.  “Yes, Sir, what would you like me to wear?”

She laughs and runs away when he swats her rounded ass.  Out of his reach, she turns and sticks out her tongue.  “I’ll be a bit.  Gotta wash my hair; make a few calls for work.  You get some more planning done,” she orders.

All thoughts of getting any work accomplished have escaped him.  He knows she has reports to write for her office as well, so they’ll have to settle down again later in the evening.  Sighing, he cleans up his papers and shoves things back in his leather satchel.  His eyes rest on his glasses, folded on top of the copy of ‘Hamlet’ she’d lovingly held.

He whispers aloud, “Oh my dearest Thalia… ‘Doubt thou the stars are fire; Doubt that the sun doth move; Doubt truth to be a liar; But never doubt I love.’”

His eyes fill with tears again and he chuckles quietly.  The words of the Bard always provide him comfort somehow…  Sucking in a deep breath, he pushes forward.  He only has two more days in Paris before meeting with his sister in London for a short visit before going back to the States to restart his life yet again.

Tom feels like he’s always running from something, but maybe now Thalia has shown him a greater purpose, something to run towards; to not be scared of the next time he sees it.  Picking up the spectacles, memories of their love and lovemaking dance through his thoughts.  He wonders for the hundredth time if he did indeed take advantage of a student, purely for his own whim and fantasy.  Walking into the little cottage he rented outside the city, he turns on the kettle and prepares to make a fresh cup of tea.  He decides it doesn’t really matter how it happened – he’s simply glad it did.

Click here to read Chapter 45 Mended

Author’s Note:  There are only two remaining chapters of Educating Thalia

 Copyright © 2017  avenger-nerd-mom and devikafernando.  All rights reserved. Intellectual property of avenger-nerd-mom

Choose

et ch 33 choose june 25 2017

Educating Thalia

Collaboration by @avenger-nerd-mom & @devikafernando

AU FICTION

Chapter 33

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: 1380

Warnings:  Language, Adult Situations, real life discussions, angst

Summary: Things get out of hand when the shared time at the cabin prompts Chris to ask Thalia for more.

Click here for intro to Educating Thalia

Enjoying the comfortable silence between them, Chris was really glad he’d asked Thalia to go hiking.  He’s quite surprised by her knowledge of the wildlife in the area and indulged her wish to sit on the shore of the lake to watch a flock of Great Blue Herons skate across the patches of ice and break through to hunt for food. She happily clicks photos of the view, but ignores the occasional beep of messages coming in.  After about the fourth time she quickly types a response and powers down the phone, throwing it in his backpack. He doesn’t say a word. It’s none of his business, although his heart stings, wondering exactly how she ended up with a free weekend.

Absently she digs through the snow at her feet and finds a small stone, throwing it out and watching it skitter across the frozen surface.  “What’s next, mountain man? My ass is gonna freeze to this log if we sit much longer.”

“Thank God.  I was waiting on you.  Mine is frozen,” he laughs, rubbing his hands roughly over his ass as he stands up.  Reaching for her hands he pulls her up next to him laughing as she wraps her arms around him to help him with the task.

“You’ve got a nice ass babe, it’s just not as padded as mine. “

“Yea, you tease.  You keep reminding me you’ve got all that padding back there but then you never let me fully use it.”

She slaps his ass playfully.  “I’m fine with our play back there so far.  You just keep tempting me. Some day. “

“Some day.” He takes her hand in his and leads her back into the path.

The pair continue their walk through the woods, startling a doe and her fawn.  Talking quietly, they exchange more stories of their childhoods, spilling details about troubles they caused for their parents and high school hijinx.

At the back of the porch, Thalia stops, refusing to follow up the steps.  She looks out over the view, her brow furrowed in thought.  Chris sits down on the rickety old riser, noting it needs to be fixed soon.  Leaning one forearm on his thigh, he waits in wonder at her thoughts.  He plays with the buttons at the wrist of the worn plaid shirt, his coat laying next to him, warm from the walk.  Lost in her ruminations, he wished he knew where her mind went sometimes.  It’s not that he hasn’t been around her on her period before, but she usually takes those days to herself.  This is different.  Alone in the woods, they are entirely dependent on one another, and she’s not quite herself this afternoon.

Pivoting on her heels, she turns to him, fresh tears in her eyes.  “Why did you bring me here Chris?”

The million dollar question.  He wished he had a good answer for her.  Picking at a scuffed mark on the toe of his hiking boot, he can’t make eye contact with her, although he feels her eyes boring into the top of his head.   He decides to go with honesty, just as she did once.  “I knew you’d appreciate the history.  I wanna win you over; for you to see we’re good together.”  He looks up, his eyes fierce.  “Fuck, I’m not asking for forever, Thalia.  I know you wanna travel and see the world, and Avery scares you a bit, but I want you to see I’m the better man.”

He sees the flash in her eyes, wanting to rise to the defense of the unknown stranger, but he pushes onward.  “Even if you don’t choose me, don’t choose him either.  He’s not right for you.  The bruises, the sadness you sometimes have; constantly hiding your stress.  I get it; I do.  I lived it but didn’t know it for what it was two years ago.  But juggling two of us is running you down.  I can see it.  But I also know we have fun together, and I don’t wanna lose that.”  Rising to her he steps down next to her, placing his hand on her arm, her whole body closed and defensive.  He hates the pain in her eyes he causes now.  “I’m willing to ignore things just because I like being with you; I hate you have another man, and you still cling to him after all this time.  I want it to be me and only me.  I feel more alive with you than I have in months; I don’t really know who needs healing most here, but I know I need you.”

“Chris, I… I can’t… I just…”

She turns to walk away, going to the front of the house and he jogs up behind her, grasping her arm and spinning her to him, forcing her to look at him.

“Dammit, Thalia, you can’t just walk away every time something gets rough.  I’m telling you how I feel and if you care, you’ll listen.  You’ll talk to me.  Explain it, because I don’t fuckin’ understand.”

“Don’t you get it, Chris!”  She shouts, her voice echoing in the valley, a sound of release.  “Don’t you get it,” she repeats, quieter.  “I don’t have a damn clue myself.  I know it’s a hot mess.  And everyone’s gonna be hurt; and it fuckin’ sucks.  But I don’t know how to end it, or even if I want to.”

She pulls away from his grasp, walking to the swing hanging under the big tree in front of the cabin.  “Are you asking me to make a decision now, because if you are, I just can’t.  I keep… I keep hoping when I hear about my internship, I can get my head together.  The adult thing…”  She sighs, pushing her legs off the ground as she rocks back on the swing.  “The adult thing to do is for me to walk away from you both.”

“Wait till the end of the semester?”  Chris grabs the rope on the pendulum and stops her in motion, bringing her to a halt as she hits against him.  “Just get on the plane and not look back?  How does that help make it better?”

She drops her head, placing her hand over his, still clutching the rope.  “It doesn’t.  And I’d never do that to you.”  Looking him in the eyes, she tells her fear.  “Leaving either of you cuts me in half.  I need to be whole; just a bit longer.  You said it about yourself, and I feel it too, I feel alive with you… but,” she chokes on her words.  “But I feel the same about him too.  I’m sorry.  It’s childish; I want you both, and I know I’m going to lose you because of it.”

Righting the swing, he holds the rope with both hands, like a lifeline, looking down on her.  She looks small and lonely.  Not the Thalia he knows…  Words bubble out before he even knows where they come from… “What if…  What if I just take myself out of the equation?”  Stepping back, he leans against the tree, arms crossed and defensive.

Leaning forward on her knees, her shoulders wrack with silent tears.  His heart breaks.  That’s the last thing he wants to do, and he doesn’t really want to force his hand.  But he doesn’t know if he can see another way out, or another way to get her to make a decision.

Shoving off from the tree, he walks to the porch, pissed this discussion got out of hand.  He can’t really take it back now.  Maybe harsh words will lead her to a decision?

Gruffly, he says, “Don’t stay out too long.  It’ll get cold.  I’m going in to pack up my things.  We’re going back tonight.”

Fuck.  He wants nothing more than to turn back to her.  To sweep her in his arms and pretend none of this ever happened.  But he needed to speak his piece, to know where he stood and she gave him the perfect opening to get it out there.  Before he steps inside the house, he hears her say, “Fuck you. Why’d you go and ruin a perfect weekend?”

He’s not sure if she’s talking to herself or him and the door slams shut behind him.

Click here for Chapter 34 Boots

 Copyright © 2017  avenger-nerd-mom and devikafernando.  All rights reserved. Intellectual property of avenger-nerd-mom

Cabin Fever

etch 31 cabin fever june 18 2017

Chapter 31

Educating Thalia

Collaboration by @avenger-nerd-mom & @devikafernando

AU FICTION

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: 3766

Warnings:  Language, Adult Situations, real life discussions, fluff, angst, weight issues   

Summary:  Due to a cancelled weekend date, Thalia has time for a special weekend with Chris.

Click here for intro to Educating Thalia

She taps her phone against her chin, replaying their call in her mind.  Darling, I know this is very last minute, but I have to cancel our plans for the weekend.  My friend, Professor Harelson?  The one I took the teaching position from?  He’s decided to elope with his love and he’s asked me to attend the ceremony as his best man.  I’d love to take you to Canada with me, but other friends might be there, and we can’t risk our secret.

Shoving away from the counter, she walks to the fridge, looking over her calendar for the week. She can’t believe it’s already near the end of March and Spring Break is just around the corner. The only big thing on the agenda is the test Thursday. In her effort to comfort Tom, she’d promised they could go to dinner that evening and she’d drive him to the airport..  She totally understood the concept of keeping things secret, and she wasn’t at all upset about missing the wedding of a person she didn’t even know, although she would miss him. She sighs happily, thinking of Tom and how things have been more balanced these last few weeks.  Movie night has become more commonplace, and their get away two weeks ago to see a play in New York had been wonderful.

Continuing to look over her schedule, she smiles at the notation about work hours on Friday and makes a hasty decision.

Dialing Chris’s number quickly, she opens the door of the fridge and pulls out the juice bottle, taking a long gulp, nearly choking when he answers so quickly.

“Do you just sit around and wait for my call?” she giggles, screwing the lid back on and putting the bottle back on the shelf.

“Yes, oh great one, I have nothing better to do than to wait for you,” he teases, an infectious warmth in his voice.

“I like that.  Keep it that way,” Thalia jokes.  “So, uh?  Plans this weekend?  Mine changed, and I was thinking maybe I could convince my boss to let me skip work Friday afternoon?”

Waiting while he rustles some papers around, she assumes he’s looking at his calendar.  “But you work for me on Friday.”

She laughs, resting on the couch and pulling her book to her, settling in for a night of study.  “Yea… I’m telling you now, I won’t be in to work.  I’m gonna convince my boyfriend to go do something fun.”

“Oh really?  Hmmm… He’s a lucky guy,” Chris teases, playing along.   She hears him moving around other things and then a quiet groan as she presumes he drops to the couch.  “I miss you.  I hate that Avery and I were sick this weekend and we missed our Sunday.”

“I know, baby, me too.  I’ll see you at the history department breakfast tomorrow?”

He sighs.  “Not the same…  Alright, Niña, I’m gonna let you get to studying.  If Jim can let you have the whole week off to study for midterms, I need to respect your time.  Besides, I have planning to do.  I think I have the perfect idea for this weekend.”

#

The longer they are in the car, the quieter she gets until he realizes she’s fallen asleep.  Works herself too damn hard.  I can’t believe she even managed to get away for the weekend.  And it’s not just work, it’s that other guy too. Fucker, I sure would-

Stop.  That’s not conducive thinking to a romantic getaway, he laughs to himself, turning off on the exit and following onto the small two lane highway.  Watching her peacefully, he gently tugs back at her pink scarf, thinking it’s too warm in the car to have it on her neck.  Another bruise.  She swears up and down the bastard doesn’t hurt her, but he just can’t seem to let his worse nightmares escape even his waking thoughts.

Chris signals right, even though there probably isn’t even another car for miles.  He’s glad he drove up earlier in the week and got the cabin ready.  He’s not been out here in a few years.  He and Maura last came for their anniversary.  Right before he realized she was fucking their friend.  Kinda spoiled memories of the old family homestead.  He’d like to create new memories, with Thalia.  Find a reason to love the place again.  If not, it’s time to pass it over to his brother, let him get good out of it, and still keep it in the family.

Pulling the car up to the front porch, he gently eases the car into park.  He turns down the music and removes his seat belt.  He leans over the console and gently pulls Thalia’s arm free from around her waist.  “Hey, babe.  We’re here.  Wake up Niña.”

She is the most difficult person to wake.  He chuckles, wondering if she’d ever just respond back with a punch in her sleep.  He tugs the scarf and says a bit louder, “Sleeping Beauty, wake up, come on.  You can sleep when I get you inside.”

Her eyelids flutter open and she yawns, quickly clamping her hand over her mouth.  “Onion ring breath. Disgusting.”  Rubbing the sleep from her eyes she rolls her head across the back of the seat to face him.  “Why’d you let me eat those?”

“I believe your exact words were, ‘These are all mine; if you touch them, I’ll stab you with my fork.’”  He chuckles when she covers her face in shame and giggles.  “Besides, those are the best onion rings in the state; we couldn’t turn them down.  Stay here; I’ll get the door.”

She rests her hand on his arm, holding him in place.  “You do realize I’m in my boots, not heels this time.  I’m perfectly capable of opening a door for myself.”

He chuckles, “Damn independent woman.  I know you are.  Doesn’t change the way my mama raised me.  Keep your stubborn ass in the seat.”

Chris climbs out the car before he can hear her smart remark.  He jogs around the front of the car, the fresh powdered snow kicking up around his ankles.  Snowball fight. Definitely.  Hot chocolate.  Warm fire.  The whole nine, like some frickin’ chick flick.  He wants the weekend to be all about her, her needs.  When he reaches her door, she’s making funny faces at him through the glass.  Opening the door, he laughs, “One beer too many at dinner; you’re goofy.”

“Yeah, I’m not a beer girl,” she shrugs her shoulders.  “I was raised on the hard stuff.  I can handle it like nothing.  Three beers and I’m toast.”

“Good to know,” he teases, pulling her from the warm car seat.

Thalia steps aside, wrapping the scarf back around her neck while he closes the car door.  “Where are we?” she asks.  “It felt like we were driving for ever.”

“Well, Miss, in a sense, I’ve kidnapped you.  I’ve taken you across state lines without your permission.  But I figured that was the only way to get you out of the bar and away from your books.  Welcome, my sweet, to the Evans’ cabin home.”

Sweeping his arm in a grand gesture, her eyes take in the little home behind him.  The cedar shakes covering  the front porch are partially hidden by snow, icicles hanging from the edges.  She takes in the small windows, and notices smoke from the chimney.  “This isn’t a resort?” she asks, a bit confused from her stressful week and classes.  “There’s a fire going?”

Chris takes her hand, and guides her up the steps, careful for any patches of ice.  “The groundskeeper came up earlier.  He knew I was coming and started a fire for us.  The house should be warm and toasty.”

Thalia sucks in her breath, sinking in the history before her.  She smiles at Chris warmly.  “It belongs to your family?  How long has it been here?”

“Since the early 1900s.”

“So these logs were hand hewn by one of your ancestors, painstakingly put together for his family, to protect them; to keep them safe?”  Her hands brush over the worn wood, aged with time.  She steps closer, pulling her phone from her pocket and turning on the flashlight to admire the work.  “You can still see the ax marks.  That’s amazing!”  She runs to the end of the porch, checking to see the style used for placing the logs together.  “Notched?  That took a lot of extra effort;  and the brush marks in the chinking?”  Turning to Chris with her eyes wide, she grins.  “God, I can’t wait to see it in daylight.”

His grin equals hers.  He just knew she would love the old place.  When he pulls the keys from his coat pocket, she takes them from his hand and he eyes her questioningly.  She turns them over in her hand, admiring the heavy brass key from days gone by, being used now as the key ring to hold the modern ones together.  She cocks her head and smiles, taking a deep breath and sighing.  Blushing, she hands it back to him.  “Kinda nice to get away someplace that doesn’t open with the swipe of a plastic card, ya know?”

Raising his eyebrow, he’s not really sure, but he can see her brain spinning, absorbing the history.  “Whatdya mean?”  he asks.

“It means something.  It’s real; there’s a history and an importance to it.”  She pauses, biting her lip as he ushers her into the warmth of the little cabin.  Blushing a bit, she continues, “I mean I’m not knocking fancy hotels, but this…  It’s something that lasts…. What did it go to?”

“One of the ancestors to originally live in the cabin worked in the local bank during the depression.  The key was to one of the vaults.  Story tells he brought it home every night and placed it under the mattress for safe keeping, along with the cash that was supposed to be in the vault.  He didn’t trust the bank system himself and wanted to keep his friends with money there safe and secure.  So he kept it at home instead.”

He watches her expression as he flips on the lights.  His parents did renovations on the home while he was still a toddler, to allow for plumbing and electricity, and he’d spent many summers visiting as a child.  Liking the cabin, the lake, the woods, had always been a deal breaker for him, and he’d dumped a few girlfriends back in his youth for not feeling the same…  Her eyes are wide and she smiles at him.  He nods his approval and she moves forward, tenderly fingering the quilt over the back of the couch.  “My great, great, great grandmother stitched that,” he tells her, a quiet awe in his voice.

She walks around the room, taking in the little details.  “So much history…”  She runs her hands along the mantle, looking at the pictures, some dating back to the early 1900s, with small descriptions placed in the frames to identify the family members.  “Genealogy…  Wow.”  Bending down, she pokes at the fire a bit and then admires the masonry of the fireplace, swinging out the arm for the old fashioned kettle.  “We could pop corn in this!”  Her grin is huge and Chris releases the breath he didn’t know he’d been holding.

“That’s the plan, there’s some in the kitchen.  You wanna do that now?”  He asks, shrugging out of his heavy coat and laying it over his grandfather’s rocking chair.  Her appreciation of the small details has him bouncing on his heels in veiled excitement.

“No.  No; come here.  Sit with me.”  She removes her coat, wrapping up the scarf around her hand and placing it into the pocket.  “I wanna hear all the history of this place.  Is that where your fascination with the past started?”

Chris pulls an album and family bible from a shelf and brings it to the hearth to join her.  She snuggles next to him as he tells her all he knows about the home and shows sketches passed down for generations, hidden in the pages of the leatherbound book.   At her prodding, he shares tales of his childhood, the mischievous troubles he caused with his siblings, and the time their father actually chased after them with a switch from the willow tree off the edge of the back porch.  Tossing her head back in laughter at their antics, her eyes light upon the loft above.  “Is that where we’re sleeping?  I’m not real balanced on ladders,” she shares, biting her lip, squeezing his knee.

“No, I thought we’d stay in the larger room, an addition on the back.  It’s not original to the cabin.  Dad, Pappo and Scott and I built it when I was about sixteen.  Cut the logs down ourselves and everything.  Following the notes left in the bible and the trees we used were-”

“Wait, wait,” her hands fly to his chest and he instinctively flexes under her touch.  “I need to picture this.  You.  With an ax.  Chopping logs and splitting them to build a house with your damn bare hands…  That’s just… Shit, I need a cold shower.”

Throwing his head back in full body laughter, he pats his chest, feeling the soft plaid flannel under his fingertips.  “Oh, Niña, believe me, at sixteen I was not the fine specimen of the man you see before you now.  I was a theater geek.  I took dance lessons at Mom’s studio.  I played lacrosse but was the worst player on the team; girls weren’t exactly beating down the door to date me.”

Flipping a few pages in the album, she finds a picture of him in his youth.  Tracing her finger over the image, she says lowly, “They were idiots.  Sounds like you were just the kind of guy I dreamed of.”

He tilts her chin up to meet his eyes.  “What about you, Thalia?  Tell me about you, what kind of boys did you date, what was your childhood like?”

“Chris, I don’t… Ah, you know, you’re gonna bug me all weekend if I don’t answer, aren’t you?”

“I can be very persistent,”  Chris smiles.  “I could maybe even withhold some things you’re needing.”

Needing?  You think very highly of yourself, don’t you?”  Her hand graces down his chest and pushes against the bulge in his jeans.  “Fine, put some more wood on the fire.  Let me get something from my bag.”

Seeing the hurt in her eyes, he holds her close, kissing the top of her head.  “Oh, Thalia, I didn’t mean to make you sad.  I just wanna know you; all of it, the good and the bad.”

“It’s okay, really.  Isn’t that why we’re here?  Getting to know each other more?  You mean a lot to me; I think… I think I want you to know.  But it’s not stuff I really talk about, you know?”  She shrugs her shoulders, tenderly kissing his cheek, her lips grazing his, but not a fully planted kiss on the lips.  “There will be tears… I’m tough, but you’re too big of a softie.  You won’t be able to handle it.”  Winking at him, she pulls from his grasp and stands up.

“Oh is that right?”  His stomach coils, wishing he hadn’t even started this line of conversation.  She’s probably right.

#

The pause in the conversation lasts longer than he anticipated as she took time out to make coffee on the stove, an addition to the cabin in the late ‘30s.  The wrought iron metal beast was no trouble to her, something Maura never mastered in twelve years.  The kettle whistles and she pours two mugs over the instant brand he’d brought earlier in the week.

“Real caffeine.  None of that tea shit you’re always making at work,” he teases as she hands the steaming cup over the back of the couch to him and then a package of cookies.

“Real caffeine,” she laughs, a blush rising over her cheeks, taking one of the cookies he offers before she rests between his legs.  “But I happen to like tea also, so don’t knock it.  It’s a talent in how you make it.”  She sets her coffee on the little table behind the couch and leans back against his chest, pulling the quilt over their feet.

In the dark, the room lit only by the warm fire, she shares details of her past.  Her mom leaving one day when she was barely six years old and never coming back; how her father retreated into himself, not really knowing how to raise a little girl.  With more nephews in the family at the time, she was just raised like ‘one of the boys,’ and could hook a worm and change a flat tire faster than any of them.  Her father always dreamed of sharing his shop with her one day, but she knew her dreams were bigger.  Chris hears her story and it tugs at his heart, wanting to make sure to always remember Avery needs to be a girl.  But a side of tomboy isn’t so bad either, if it leads her to have the confidence Thalia has, an inner sense of self.

“No one ever talked to me about it, it’s just always what it was.  When Dad married Stacey, when I was nine, things changed.  She took me to therapy, but by then the physical damage was already done,” she tells quietly, pulling a photo from the back of her wallet.  “This was me, at eleven.  Food was my solace, and it was the one thing I could have control over.  My mother reappeared when I was ten and for awhile I was shuffled around between the two homes.   She always had boyfriends, and some of them gave me the creeps, so I ate more.  If I was fat, no one would pay attention to me.”

Chris’s hands stroke her arms tenderly and hold her close, resting his lips against the top of her head.  The more she talks, he can feel her relax in his stronghold, like all the years of therapy and all she needed was this.  She continues her story, how books and intelligence was her way out.  “Stacey really saw something in me no one else did; she encouraged Dad to send me to camps and her parents were my surrogate grandparents and they footed the bill for a lot of things Dad couldn’t afford.  I worked hard for scholarships, but I took a year off college.  I came out East to establish residency to cut down on school tuition.  I stayed with Big Jim and his wife and worked at the hotel in town.  I met a woman there who hired me as a nanny for her son.  I later overheard her talking at a luncheon with some of her friends, saying that at least her husband wouldn’t stray with the ‘fat nanny.’  She should have been more worried about what her step-son was up to under her own roof, sanctimonious bitch…”  She pauses and shakes her head.  “Anyway, my aunts all thought that it was a wonderful job, that I’d finally tap into the ‘mother gene.’  No such luck.  That child was the devil’s spawn.”  Turning in his arms, she looks over her shoulder.  “He was like eight, or something.  One day, he was supposed to clean his room and I went to do laundry?  The kid climbed out the second story window, jumped on top of the pool house and ran away and hid for hours.” She pauses in her storytelling and takes a deep breath.  “My job was already on the line, but the final straw was the day she found me in bed with the step-son.  But by that time, I’d taken free use of their home gym, the pool and the nutritionist.  I was just the help.  She never paid attention to me.  She hadn’t realized while I was running after her brat every day I’d lost over fifty pounds.”

Chris lets her words flow, fighting the urge to clench and fight against the rich bitch, and her step-son.   Her tone drops.  “I’m not necessarily proud of it, but that job helped me get ahead.  I knew I wouldn’t survive in the heat of archaeological digs at my weight, so I got in better shape.  Round?  It’s a shape, right?”  She giggles.   “A lot of her pals are alumni at school.  They knew some secrets might not be safe, as I had been in their circle.  After that, getting scholarships and fellowships wasn’t as difficult as it had been before.  My first year of school was practically paid for by that group.  Since then, I’ve rejected their money, and worked to attain other connections.  Now, my education is what I can control, and my food choices are just for pleasure.  All things in moderation…”

She quiets and the silence hangs between them for a bit.  Her head lulls against his chest as she watches the fire, still fingering the edges of the photo of the heartbroken chubby little girl she once was.

His ears and heart take it all in, wanting to patch up her pain.  Breaking the silence, Chris speaks.  “Fuck.  That’s quite an origin tale, Thalia.  Ya know, you’re an amazing woman.  What a bunch of assholes!  I don’t know who I wanna hit first… Ok, yea, I do… the fuckin’ step-son…”  She chuckles, and he wraps his arms tighter around her holding her to his own pounding chest.  “What do you think pushed you the most, to be who you are now?”

When she doesn’t answer, he shifts her against his side, so he can see her face in the light of the flickering flames.  Tears wash over her freckled cheeks and his stomach drops; his heart hurts with hers and he quickly wonders if there’s more pain to her tale she’s keeping to herself.  He finds tears stinging at his eyes. She said I’d cry; she knows me too well.

“Always feeling like no one wanted me, or knew what to do with me” she whispers into the night.  “That’s my origin.  I had to be strong for me because no one else was.”

Gently pushing her forward, Chris wiggles out from behind her and stands up.  “I want you,” he tells her boldly, sweeping her up in his arms and carrying her to their room.  “And I definitely know what to do with you.  Thalia, let me be strong for you.”

Click here to read Chapter 32 Prize

Copyright © 2017  avenger-nerd-mom.  All rights reserved. Intellectual property of avenger-nerd-mom and devikafernando

Baking Cakes

baking cakes june 5 2017

*Emery&Chris*

*a Chris Evans fan fic*

by avenger-nerd-mom

Chris gets some time away from filming to surprise his wife Emery at their Savannah home.  He knows it will be a difficult visit, but home is where he is needed.

Word count: 2481

Drabble inspired by the cover photo in my collection.  It was found on Pinterest of actress Rachelle Lafevre, the “faceclaim” for Emery Thomas Evans.  Emery has been telling me parts of this story for weeks, and it’s a plot point I’ve known would happen since I began writing their tale in 2015.

Rumors of sightings in Atlanta and Chris’s birthday coming up prompted me to sit down and write this chapter.  The thing I’ve always loved about Emery&Chris is the fact that even though he’s a famous movie star, when he’s with Emery, he’s real.  And real life shit happens.  This is just a step on their path; no matter what happens, they’re together “till the end of the line.”

Warnings: Real life, Marriage, Language, Fluff, pain, loss, tears, depression, angst, fertility issues, insecurities, anxiety, family support

Based on these warnings, if you would like more information on this chapter before reading, please send me a message.  I do not want to give away any plot points to the story, but I also don’t want to trigger emotional distress for any of my readers.

Click here to find out more about Emery & Chris!

June 2017

“Lucy, I’m home!” Chris calls out in a silly voice, reminiscent of an old TV show.. The door bangs open and West’s barks echo through the house; happy her favorite playmate is home.

“Shit,” comes the muttered response from the kitchen.

Dropping his bags at the door, Chris chuckles, grabbing a stack of mail from the shelf on his way past.  “Is that any way to treat your returning war hero?”

Emery whirls around quickly stretching her arms wide on the counter to hide what’s behind her.

“Oh, honey.  Fuck.  Do you gotta come home in costume?  I think my panties just burst into flames,” she giggles.  “But… but.  You gotta go away.” Her mood changes and panic crosses her face.  “Go do…  something.  Go to the mancave and get a beer, or take West for a walk or something.”

“Emery Rose!  I have not seen my wife in… in what?  Seven days?”  He holds up his hands in surrender when she starts waving a spatula at him.  “No welcome home kiss?  Aren’t you- Em, are you hiding something?”

“Chris, go away! Please!”  She begins to pout when he dodges right and left to try to get a look at what she’s hiding on the new island counter.

Tossing the mail onto the table, he moves closer. “What is it?  Let me see!”  He says, finally grabbing her wrist with the cream covered spatula.  He raises it to his mouth and tentatively sticks his tongue on it.  “Buttercream.  My favorite.”

“Chris!  No. Stop.  You’ll ruin the surprise,” Emery nearly cries, her eyes welling up.

The handsome movie star freezes in his tracks.  “Alright. I’ll stop.  If you won’t walk away from whatever it is, then follow me to the living room.”

Still holding her by the wrist he begins to walk out of the room and she follows him, only to have been tricked when he twirls her around to see what she was hiding.

“Oh my God, Em.  Really?”  He steps forward, his own eyes starting to mist over.  “Is that for me?”

“Well, actually no, this one wasn’t for you.  It’s a practice cake.  I’m still working on getting it down perfect.  There’s a bubble in the fondant and-”

The counter is littered with bowls, measuring cups and egg shells.  In the center of the mess sits a round cake on a spinning wheel platform, slightly lopsided and only half decorated.

“Emery,” he pulls her close, truly looking at his beautiful wife for the first time since he’d walked through the door of their small Savannah home.  It’s theirs now.  It’s where they fell in love.  He’s not about to let it go.  He pushes her red curls back, seeing the flour dusting across her cheeks, covering the cute freckles he loves.  “You made me a cake from scratch?”

“Yea, well,” she shrugs.  “You told me to find something to take my mind off things.  I wanted to surprise you, so I’ve been taking some cake baking and decorating classes.”

“But my birthday is still a few days away…” He says, delivering a faint wisp of a kiss to the tip of her nose, holding her tight and trying to keep the tears at bay.

“I know.  This was a practice.  I was gonna take it over to Mom and Dad’s tonight so we could sample it.  Then next week I was going to make the real one- Susan was going to let me come to their rental house and use the big kitchen there and then I was going to bring it to the set and surprise you.  So, surprise!” she giggles, wiping away her tears.

“Robert’s wife?”  She nods and he wipes her tear stained cheeks.  “Stop crying.   The flour and the tears will make a paste on your cheeks…  I promise, I’ll still be surprised.”

She taps her fist against his muscular arm.  “Fool, you know that’s not why I am crying.  I cry all the time; it just won’t stop.”

He holds her tight and let’s the wave of sobs wrack through her little body.  Her pain is killing him and there is nothing he can do.  “Shh, shh… it’s okay, honey, I’m home now.  We got this; we got this.”

When the tears stop, she hiccups a little and reaches behind her for the bowl of frosting.  It’s hardened during the short period of time and is no longer useful.  “Well, I hope you think it looks good as is, ‘cause I can’t finish it now.”

“It’s perfect, kitten, just like you,” Chris says against her temple.  He steps back.  “I should have told you I had some time off, but it really came up quick and I wanted to surprise you.  You have other plans?  A hot date?”

Shaking her head, she wipes her nose on her sleeve.  “Just with Mom and Dad.  They wanted me to come over for dinner; he was gonna grill burgers, but I can cancel and we-”

“No, no.  Actually nothing sounds better right now than a real burger and a beer.  Why don’t you go get the shower going and I’ll give them a call and tell Mom to cook for one extra?”

He hides his concern for her, not collapsing in the kitchen chair until he hears her enter the bedroom.  Banging his fist on the table he holds in his own despair, trying to be brave for his wife.  But right now, he could really use a dose of Mom and Dad too, and his own are too far away.  He punches in the familiar number on the keypad and the Southern twang on the other end instantly brightens his mood.  “Hey, Mom.  Got room for one more at dinner?”  he asks quietly, trying to keep it together.

His mother-in-law, Anita, instantly knows his chest is tight and he’s holding in his own feelings. “Oh, Chris.  Of course.  There’s always room for one more.  Sounds like the whole gang might be here; is that too much?”

He shakes his head, digging in his pocket for a pack of cigarettes, wishing he hadn’t given them up for Lent at his new bride’s insistence.  It’s an old habit but he really could use one now.  She’s not even Catholic, and he doesn’t practice anymore, but she’d required they both make one positive change in their lives to remember the season of rebirth.  He rolls his eyes and smiles.  “I don’t know, Mom, what do you think?  I… I came home because I may have to work hard, long hours the days right around my birthday.  I mean, they gave me time off when I needed it, but that messed up some schedules for other people and now I feel like I’m paying for it.”

“Chris, honey, you can’t control any of that.  If anything, this is just a lesson in how little control any of us really have.  The good Lord works in ways we don’t understand and-”

His gut twists and Chris interrupts.  “I really can’t over the phone, Mom.  I haven’t been home in two weeks; we had a great time when Emery was in Atlanta with me last week; but if you don’t think Em can handle the family all together, she and I can do something else for dinner tonight.”

“Nonsense, son.  I think she’ll be okay; it’ll be good for you both.  It’s actually been easier on her since she finally put it out in the open and started talking.”

“Alright, Mom.  Hey, did you know she’s been learning to bake cakes?”

“Oh, child, let’s hope this one is better than the ones a few weeks ago.  They were like lead bricks in my stomach for hours,” she teases.

Hanging up the phone, Chris turns to admire the blue cake with white stars.  He can see the red frosting mixed and hardened into a bowl and smiles at the design she must have planned.  The outer layer of frosting is tough, but stabbing the knife through it, the inside is edible and he carries the bowl and knife with him to the room.

He’s surprised to find her laying on their bed, playing with her wedding ring.

missing him.png

He sucks in a breath and sits on the bed next to her.  Offering her a dab of frosting, she huffs and shakes her head ‘no.’  They sit in silence and he continues to lick the frosting from the end of the butter knife, humming his delight.  Emery stares at her ring, rolling it in her fingers, her elbow now rested on his knee.

“Chris?  Are you ever sorry we got married?”

“Oh, hell, babe.  How can you even ask that?”  Wiping his hand over his face in frustration, he then pulls his shirt out of the waist of his pants, wanting more room to move.  She continues to stare at something only she can see, avoiding his eye contact. “Emery, I know these first six months have been tougher than we thought, and we never expected any of this.  You were sick most of the winter, your grandmother’s passing and then…  Well, and then... “  His throat chokes on the words and he can’t bring himself to say them.   “It was just a lot of stress on you; on us.  But no.  I still know marrying you was the best decision I’ve ever made in my whole damn life.”

Leaning forward, he places the bowl on his bedside table.  He kicks off his shoes and lays down next to her.  On his side, he watches her, thinking of the freckles on her face and how he adores them.  Her long lashes flutter closed and she rolls her head to look at him.

“What if that was our one shot?  What if something isn’t right and we can’t have kids; would you be sorry then; if I can’t give you what you want?”  Her voice shakes and he can barely hear her whispered words.

His hand takes hers and he carefully pries the ring from her grasp, sliding it back on her finger where it should always be.  Where it will always stay.  He kisses her hand gently.  “I married you for YOU, not what you can give me someday…  You know the doctors said we’re both fine.  All the antibiotics and steroids you took when you were sick; we weren’t even trying.  I mean, how often does the pill fail?”

Holding his hand tight, she scoffs.  “Are you asking for a statistical lesson?”

Placing his hand on her hip, he pulls her close.  “No, kitten, I’m just begging you not to sink into it too low.  All those medicines in your system; that baby just wasn’t a fighter like his mama.   We’ll really try again when you’re ready.  And you know if it doesn’t work, there are so many other options for kids,” he sighs.

“You’re right; I know.  It’s just…  Is it crazy to miss something the size of a peanut?  I mean, he wasn’t even kicking yet.  But he was a part of us, you know?”  Tears escape her eyes and she tries to wipe them away.

Wrapping his arms around his girl, he rolls her over on top of him, squeezing her tight, trying to hold her together.   He cradles her head to his chest as the salty tears gather on his shirt collar.  He loves that she thinks of their lost child as a him, although at only a nine weeks along, they had no way of knowing the gender.  His wife is always so strong and tough, a steel magnolia, so he finds her insecurities unsettling and struggles with his own pain and sadness at the loss.  They’ve talked about it, and therapy has been good for them both. He doesn’t want to be an ass and just tell her to ‘move on.’  He’s hoping in time this pain will be less and she’ll start to be more herself.  But time and patience is all he can give her now.

“I understand, sweetheart.  I feel the same.  Like there’s nothing to physically mourn, but there’s a whole in my chest.”

She sniffles again and he’s pretty sure she wiped her nose on his shirt.  “You know, all this has been rough.  I picked cake baking because it reminds me of something MawMaw Dalia used to always say.  She said havin’ kids was like baking cakes.  Everything has to be balanced just right for the cake to rise and not to open the oven door too much, ‘cause the cake knows what it’s supposed to do.  She said the same with kids, balance them right and they’ll grow up with what they need, and they’ll rise to do what they should.”

Chris can’t really wrap his head around the Southern analogy, so he stays quiet, simply running his fingers through her long red curls.

“So I keep baking cakes for practice and taking them to the schools where I work.  Teachers love to hear there’s food in the workroom.  And I keep telling myself our cake just wasn’t balanced this time.  I cry a lot and then I make another cake.”

“Whenever you’re ready, we can practice again, making our ‘baby cake.’  I’d really like to have lots of practice,” he laughs.  “Lots of it.”

Pulling away from him, she wipes her tear stained face for what seems like the thousandth time. Looking down into his beautiful blue eyes, she can’t help but laugh with him.   Her teary, red shot eyes rest against his suit and she cocks her eyebrow.  “Well, seeing as how you came home dressed like Steve, maybe later tonight you could convince me to help you rehearse?”

“Oh no,” he chuckles, relieved to have lifted her even just slightly from her sadness.  “Tonight, I’m having sex with my wife, if she’ll let me; not Steve.  I mean I know we like that role play every now and then, but tonight it’s just us.  After dinner with your family, of course.”

“Mr. Evans, I still didn’t get that shower.  I got lost in my thoughts.  How about you join me, and help wash all my troubles away.”

“Well, Mrs. Evans, I think that sounds like a lovely plan!  And then some of that cake?  It’s looks amazing, and I don’t think I can wait till dinner.”

Sliding down from his body and rolling off the bed, she stands and pulls her flour dusted tank top over her head, tossing it to him.  Remembering the night she first told him she loved him, a thought jumps to her mind.  “You always did want dessert first; come on.  Let’s clean up, Jelly Bean, so we can get dirty.”  She winks playfully, a lift to her spirits as she runs off to their bathroom, squealing when he finally catches up to her and spins her around in his big, strong arms.

Author’s Note: R.I.P. “MawMaw” Nadalia- March 3, 2017.  Author’s license was taken from something I once said to my husband about baking cakes and raising children, but was given here in memory of my grandmother.

Click here for the next Emery&Chris story, Online Shopping

Copyright © 2017  avenger-nerd-mom.  All rights reserved. Intellectual property of avenger-nerd-mom

 

 

Step Up

et ch 25 step up may 28 2017

Chapter 25

Educating Thalia

Collaboration by @avenger-nerd-mom & @devikafernando

AU FICTION

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: 1847

Warnings:  Language, Adult Situations, angst, drinking, argument, harassment

Summary:  Thalia has a bad day, which prompts Chris into action.

Click here for intro to Educating Thalia

The minute she catches his eye across the smoky bar, he can sense something is wrong.  He nods to a few of the regulars, surprised he’s become a regular there himself.  The game is showing on two of the screens and the place is more packed than usual.  And it’s one of those nights- she’s working and got her book open on the bar top.  He nods to Jim and the older man expresses his displeasure, but turns to get a glass for his favorite Scotch anyway as he pulls himself onto the barstool he’s claimed as his own.  Reaching down the bar, he grabs the bowl of mixed nuts, but she shakes her head no, and hands him a fresh one.  And that’s the only acknowledgement he gets that he’s even in the room.

When the game ends, the place clears out fairly quickly and the quieter sound is almost deafening to him.  “Niña, you doing all right there?” he asks as she passes by with a tray of empty glasses.

She drops it into the clearing bin and he hears one of the glasses shatter.  Jim starts to shout at her, but her look is lethal.  The grown man actually puts his hands up and backs away.  Thalia turns on Chris, hands on her hips.  “No.  I’ve had a shit day.  Maines announced a last minute quiz, and it was shit I haven’t reviewed, thinking I didn’t need it till closer to the end of the semester.  The power steering is acting up in my car again.  The apartment is fuckin’ freezing, and you…” She throws her hands up and mutters in Spanish, walking away from him.  She returns with a bottle of Fireball and pours a shot.  He’s surprised when she downs it herself, slamming in back to the bar.

Eyebrows raised, he knows it’s best in these situations to play dumb and stay calm.  Playing dumb won’t be difficult, because he has no idea why she’s angry.   Nodding gently, he moves the glass between his hands, sliding it across the dark wood.  “What did I do, babe?”

“I’m not your ‘babe’ or your’ sweetie’ or even your Niña.  You haven’t called me in two days, since I last saw you at the club.  I’ve decided I’m tired of this shit.  You can’t just come in here and expect to go home with me.  I’m tired of being your fuck buddy.”

Some of the patrons catch her last phrase and lean in closer.  The look on Jim’s face shows confirmation of what he’d feared all along, and Chris wonders if the burly man would punch him or kick him out.  “Thalia… You’re more than that, we’re more than-”

“No.”  She slams her book shut, pulling off her apron.  “I’m going home alone.”  Removing her coat from the hook, she tells Jim, “Keep him here.”  Looking back at Chris, she finishes, “Being secretive doesn’t have to make me feel like…   like a whore.  If you want this, date me, romance me, treat me the way a man should treat a woman.”  She shrugs her shoulders, “Or I’m done.”

She’s out the door before Chris can even say anything, and Jim has advanced on him, standing behind him to make sure he can’t leave after her.  “You seem like a nice guy.  Don’t do anything stupid,” Jim tells him quietly.  “She’s a good girl, but if you hurt her, you’ll regret it.”

“Fine, I hear ya…  Twenty minutes?  I won’t go to her place, I promise,” Chris claims.

Jim steps aside and Chris sits back down to finish his luke-warm drink.  When the bar gets busy again, Chris sneaks out.  Going to his car, he pulls the box with the bow on it out of the trunk and carries it across the street.  He sees Tina in the window and taps the glass.  Recognizing him, she lets him in and he slowly walks up the stairs with a heavy heart.  Setting the box on her welcome mat, he knocks on the door a few times before walking away.

He would have loved to have seen the expression on her face to find the new electric heater, but today just wasn’t his day.

#

Chris waits quietly around the corner, knowing her routine.  When she walks up to the coffee counter, he slides up behind her, giving his order as well and telling the clerk to put it on his bill.  “Miss Bareo, so glad I ran into you!  I had a few questions about the documents for the performance hall exhibit.”  When the server hands over the coffees, he reaches for them both, handing hers to her kindly, ignoring her shocked expression.  “Can you spare a few moments to sit with me?”

Giving her no choice, he guides her to an empty table in the center of the Commons.  “What the fuck are you doing, Chris?” she hisses nervously, spying around the room.

“I’m talking to the most beautiful, intelligent woman I know.”  He pulls out a stack of documents and lays them out on the table, pretending to pour over them.  “I’m trying to set things straight…  I never meant to make you feel any less than a woman, than someone I care about.  I-”

“We’re not doing this here. Someone could hear you!”  She hides her irritation behind the cardboard coffee cup.

“It’s too noisy.  Can you hear those people right there?” He tilts his head to the closest table.  “Nope.  Me neither.”  He shrugs, continuing.  “I went to see you last night because I knew you were having a hard week.  You’d cancelled work twice and I saw that creep, the frat boy, giving you a hard time in the hall yesterday.  Like always, you handled yourself before I could step in.  You aren’t a dainty flower needing rescuing.  You need someone strong enough to take it when you push back.  I didn’t think you wanted the dating thing, a commitment.  I honestly thought you were too tied to your schoolwork and to the other…”  Pushing his glasses up, he pinches the bridge of his nose, closing his eyes and leaning back momentarily before randomly pointing at something on the papers in front of them.

She looks to his hand, and shakes her head.   Pointing to something else on the documents, her hand brushes against his.  “You’re important too, I just-”

“You just weren’t getting what you needed… I see that now, Thalia.  You’re so fiercely independent and strong and you know exactly what you want and..”

Placing her elbow on the table, she rests her forehead in her palm.  “I’m none of those things.  I’ve just developed a tough skin to protect myself over the years.  You don’t think I know what people say, or think of my weight?  My step-mother always tried to help.  No junk food in the house, exercise classes.  That just made it worse.  She didn’t understand the genetics and I would just eat behind her back.  I’m puertoriquena- I’m supposed to have a fat ass,” she laughs.  “But I am none of those things you say I am.”

“You’re more, Thalia, and I’m crazy about you.  ”

Her eyes pop open wide and she sits stunned almost too afraid to see if anyone around them heard him.

“And I kinda like your ass, it’s perfect,” he winks.  Turning serious, he lowers his voice, “I’m dying to hold your hand in mine as I ask you out on a real date.  We can’t stay in town, but I know a great little place about an hour away.   I wanna pick you up at your door and watch you awkwardly decide what to do with the flowers I bring you, and then help you slide on your coat over a pretty dress that hugs your figure and hold the car door open for you and pretend not to look at your amazing legs while you get in the car. I wanna hold your hand as we drive down the highway, and compare suggestions as we stare over the menu.  I want to-”

Giggling, she covers her mouth, hiding her sweet smile.  “Ok, ok, enough.  I get it.  Shh…” she says, looking around cautiously.  “Save your other plans for later.  Surprise me.  When is this great… event?”  She questions surveying the Commons again.

Chris follows her gaze and sees the frat boy that was behaving so rudely with her yesterday.  He plans to have words with that young man later.  Bringing his mind back to the present as she rises to leave, he suggests quietly, “Tomorrow? A quarter till six?”

Closing her eyes as if she is thinking, she lifts her coffee cup and readjusts her book bag on her shoulder.  “Make it six-thirty and it sounds like a perfect plan, Professor Evans. I have a study group I can’t miss.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get to class.”

He nods, a bit dazed she acquiesced so easily and he watches her walk away, seeing the dick head student giving another female a hassle.  Leaving his papers on the table, he walks to the young man who is leaning aggressively over the woman and he grabs his arm.  “You.  This is the second female student I’ve seen you harass in two days.  What’s your name, kid?”

God, he so wanted to call the kid a dick, but his job is already on the line if anyone finds out about his relationship with Thalia.  He motions for a nearby campus security guard to come over, as the girl moves out the way.  The school employee assesses the situation as Chris explains it to him and the student is whisked away for more questions.  Chris sees to it the young woman was not harmed in anyway, and advises her to always remember to be safe on campus, especially at night and not to be out after hours alone.

Back at the table, he gathers up his papers when a brisk movement causes many to fall to the floor.  “So, so sorry,” says the polite but clipped British voice.

Chris sighs as the gentleman bends to retrieve the papers.  “Hey, you.  What do you know about that asshole that’s been harassing Miss Bareo?

Taken aback, Tom falters.  “What?  She’s never said anything to me about that before?  Are you sure?”

Nodding, Chris shoves the papers in his bag.  “I know she works with you a lot and likes you, why I have no fuckin’ clue, but it happened in the hall near your office and I just turned him in for forcefully bothering another young woman.  I thought you might want to be aware if something was going on in your classes. Thalia is such a smart, sensitive woman. She doesn’t deserve crap like that.”

“Thank you, mate.” Tom stretches his hand out and offers him a firm handshake.  “When she comes into work this afternoon, I’ll check with her on that.”

Chris waves him away, distracted by the message on his phone, “What color dress would you like me to wear?”

Click here to read Chapter 26 Yes, Sir

Copyright © 2017  avenger-nerd-mom.  All rights reserved. Intellectual property of avenger-nerd-mom and devikafernando

It’s Complicated

et 24 Its complicated may 24 2017.png

Chapter 24

Educating Thalia

Collaboration by @avenger-nerd-mom & @devikafernando

AU FICTION

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:  6000 IT’S LONG BUT IT WAS NECESSARY- SORRY!

Warnings:  : Language, Adult Situations, stepfamilies, food porn, drinking, NSFW, fingering, exhibitionism, angst, real life discussions

Summary: Thalia enjoys some time out alone with her stepmother, glad she didn’t have to choose between her suitors for Valentine’s Day, but missing them.

Click here for intro to Educating Thalia

Tired from the long day of classes, the drive into the city, and a few errands, Thalia hides her yawn as she sits at the table. The two women pour over the menu.  The older blonde, polished and sophisticated, taps the table with her perfectly manicured nails.  Looking over the top of her reading glasses, she asks the young woman what she plans to order.

“Mmm… I can’t decide,”  Thalia admits.  “It all looks so good, my mouth is watering just reading the descriptions.”  She happily sighs.  “I think the fish with a baked potato and the house salad?  And their garlic bread is to die for!”

“Thalia, that’s a lot of food?  You really shouldn’t be eating all those carbs.  I mean, you look great, but…”  begins the older woman.

Thalia takes a deep breath, steeling herself as she carefully places the menu on the table.  She’s used to her stepmother acting this way, and she knows if they can get through the first hour without killing one another, they’ll end up having a great visit together.

Shaking her head slightly, she purrs.  “Stacey.  I’m never gonna be stick thin, like you.  I know my limitations and if I decide to indulge there’s always the gym tomorrow.  Besides.  I can’t eat too much tonight. Everyone knows tomorrow is half-price chocolate day!”  Smiling sweetly, she pats the woman’s hand.  “Thanks for always worrying about me, but I know my shape. Big and round.  And I’m learning to own it, and appreciate it.  I’m actually really healthy right now, Moms.”

The woman takes the younger woman’s hand and squeezes it.  “You do look great.  Really happy…”

She pauses their conversation as the waiter takes their order, appearing to be miffed they didn’t order the dinner special.  Thalia looks to her right and left and it’s an endless sea of couples with the steak dinner in front of them.

Picking up the conversation where it left off, her stepmother takes a sip of her wine before asking, “Would this have anything to do with the gentleman visitor at Christmas?”

Smiling when the waiter returns with the bread basket, Thalia takes a piece of the bread and smiles up at her mom secretly.  “Maybe, yea, a little.”  Pursing her lips together, she isn’t sure how much to give away.  “He’s… He’s really amazing.  So sweet and caring, and he…” She stops and shakes her head, realizing she’s talking about both men and almost hating how this sentence ends in her mind.  Cuz it’s fuckin’ true of them both, and for the thousandth time, she can’t believe she let this happen… Tearing off a piece of the bread, the warm cheese stretches between the two parts and she dips it in the olive oil before popping it in her mouth, chewing carefully.

“Thalia, spit it out.  What are you not telling me?” The woman prods.

“Fuck, Stacey.  It’s kind of a mess, but it’s also really wonderful.  And I think…” She props her elbow on the table and rubs her fingertips across her brow with exasperation.  “I think he loves me.” She shakes her head and laughs.  Both of them do, and she knows it, and it’s just a fucked up mess she’s created.  “We haven’t said it yet, but I think he loves me.  And not ‘in spite of’ my size, but partly because of it.”  Trying hard to control the grin on her face, she just can’t stop herself.  It is Valentine’s Day afterall…  “He’s really just… something else, ya know?”

Stacey stares in disbelief for a moment and then releases a happy squeal.  “Oh, my God, honey!  That’s so wonderful!  Do you love him back?  Is he cute?  Is he still in school?  Holy shit, I didn’t think you’d spill the goods before the food arrived,” she chuckles.  “It usually takes a pry-bar to get you to open up.  He must really be under your skin.”

Taking a drink of her wine, she tilts her head slightly to the side while dozens of images race through her mind of both Chris and Tom.  Her smile reaches all the way to her eyes and she feels she’s positively glowing in the candlelight.  Candles on the table.  Romance. Damn.  She leans forward and blows it out, the smell of smoke filling the air.  “In the best ways possible,” she hints.

Their salads arrive and Thalia picks off the tomatoes, laying them to the side.  The woman across from her raised her since she was nine and she adores her with all her heart, but she can’t bring herself to fully open up with all her sordid secrets.  Hell, she tries not to think about it herself.  Sometimes, she’s afraid if she opens up to someone, things are bound to topple over and smack her in the face. As if this is all some magical fairytale and as soon as she breathes a word about it, the bubble will burst. She doesn’t want to be judged – least of all in her own head, and she has a pretty good idea she’ll start doing that automatically if she shares the details of her secret little love triangle.

She tries her best to answer the questions without actually confessing anything.  Scoffing, she replies quickly.  “Yes, he is still in school,” grinning at her own little joke.  “Devilishly handsome.  Glasses.”  She tilts her head back, eyes closed and euphoric, and shakes her whole body happily. God, she’s such a nerd.  “He’s got the most adorable accent and he gets so excited about learning new things, he’s like a puppy sometimes, bouncing all over the place.”  In her mind she wonders again how two men so different can actually be so much alike…

“Thalia María Bareo!  You are in love with him!”  Stacey drops her fork and bounces with glee.  “I never thought I’d see the day, but you are head over heels for this guy.  Oh, man!  This is amazing, honey!  I’m so happy.”

Oh, fuck.  She’s right. Her step-mother is always right.  When the hell did that happen?

She quickly downs the rest of her wine and signals the waiter.  “Scotch on the rocks, please.”

She fends off a few more of Stacey’s questions, answering as obliquely as possible.  She doesn’t want to give her stepmother any details she can nail down.  Their conversation dies off as the food arrives.  Thalia turns her focus to her mother and asks the required questions about family and adopts an air of interest as Stacey talks about the convention she is attending in the city.  Her thoughts begin to drift to ‘kill me now, I’d never survive the business world’ when her phone begins to buzz, hopping all over the table.  ‘God Save the Queen’ chimes and Stacey looks confused as to the choice of song.

Wiping her mouth on her napkin, she lays it next to her plate.  “Stacey?  Can I?” She indicates she wants to check her phone and her stepmother frantically waves her approval, mouthing the words ‘is that him?’

“It’s a text.  He can’t hear you.”  She shakes her head at the woman’s flightiness. Thalia unlocks the screen to see a selfie of Tom, presumably laying on his bed, wearing the shirt she gave him and the book she found in an old shop lying on his chest.  The message reads I miss you, darling.  Have fun with your mother. Can we meet for tea and toast in the Commons in the morning?

She runs her fingers over her lips nervously, thinking of the timing and knowing she has to attend a history department meeting at eleven with Chris to take notes about the upcoming exhibit.  Who is she kidding?  She’s juggled them both this long…  Of course, Tom!  Can’t wait to see you SIR.

Good girl.  I can’t wait either.  I have something I wish to ask you.

Thalia’s heart jumps into her throat.  At least with Chris, she can see where his thinking goes.  He sometimes misses the domestic life, and tries to replicate his favorite parts of it with her…

But Tom?  She has no idea where his mind wanders off to sometimes. It’s like he’s truly foreign to her.  Some days it’s so frustrating to be with him because his British demeanor can be cold and seem harsh, when she knows that underneath it all, he’s just a teddy bear that wants to believe in love again, to have someone to love him.  Dear God, please don’t let me hurt him…  She has no clue what he’s thinking; what he might want to ask.  She finds it unnerving.

Finishing her drink, she pushes her plate away, her appetite lost.  Stacey reads her emotions accurately, and asks, “Honey, if you’re so crazy about him, why are you here with me and not with him?  It’s Valentine’s Day?”

Nodding, she turns her hands and examines her nails, smiling absently to the waiter as he carries away her plate.  “It is.  It’s Valentine’s Day and that’s exactly why I couldn’t see him today.  It’s complicated.”

#

Over the loud music and the roar of the revelers, Thalia yells at her stepmother.  “How the hell did you talk me into this?”

“I’m your ride home!  Now shut up and have another shot.  Live a little!”

Stacey turns back to her friends from the convention and Thalia considers calling a cab back to the hotel.  The group of older ladies were enjoying the Anti-Valentine’s Party atmosphere of the night club.  Although most of them were married, that didn’t stop them from flirting, accepting drinks or dancing with the scores of good looking men who stopped by their table.  The party scene had never been Thalia’s style, but she’d danced and was having fun.  However her responsibilities are too great and she’s exhausted from her long hours.  Sliding down from the barstool she reaches across the table to her stepmother to tell her she’s going to leave when a strong arm wraps around her waist.  A familiar scent fills her nose and a heat radiates through  her.  She tries to maintain a straight face.  Reaching around her, the solid brick wall of a man standing behind her slams another shot of the dark amber liquid down on the table.  Rubbing his cock against her curved ass, he growls in her ear, “Another.”

Picking up the tiny glass, she turns to face him.  She can’t hide her smile at the handsome face that floats before her, a sure sight for sore eyes in a sea of strangers.  Shooting it down quickly she hands it back to him with a wink. In her husky timbre she boldly says over the loud raucous crowd, “Four.”

With his head thrown back in laughter she pushes past him to the dance floor.  She can feel his eyes following every move, knowing her high heels add more of a swish to her ass than usual.  Realizing he desires her is so stimulating and builds her confidence. Over her shoulder she sees him visibly panting and trying to discretely adjust the already growing bulge in his pants.

Shaking her head she finds a spot in the middle of the crowded dance floor and begins to sway to the music.   As one thumping song blends into the next, he shimmies up behind her.  His grasp on her is seductive and as she moves the seam of her tight jeans pushes her panties between her aching lips, soaking up her flood.  Reaching over her head and behind them, she drapes her arm around his neck, pulling his head down to rest on her shoulder.  Turning her head she yells in their close space.  “Chris! What the hell are you doing here?”

His hands reach all the way around her and rest on her belly pulling her back to him as they grind to a pulsing Latin beat.

“Stag night,” he yells in her ear.  “Some of my single friends thought they’d prey on heartbroken women.  Looks like they found some at your table.”  He nibbles on her ear and she lets him.  The movements are so sensual it’s like fucking in public.  As the crowd presses around them, his hands tease down her hips squeezing the tops of her thighs.  “Is one of those ladies your stepmom?”

“Shh… Don’t talk.  Keep doing that.”  She wants to lose herself in the music with him.  In public.  Like a goddamn real date on Valentine’s Day.  It’s like Cupid heard her wishes to be with one of her men; she pushes the thought away that maybe it’s meant to be a ‘sign’ that Chris was the one that appeared?

How could she ever hurt Tom?  How could she hurt Chris?  Her head pounds in a beating pulse and for one more night, she doesn’t want to have to come up with an answer.

His hands are rough on her body, tugging and pulling to the beat of the music, unknowingly lifting her from her negative thoughts.   His thick fingers grasp at her flimsy top and with each grope higher up her hips and sides, he lifts the silky red fabric until he can drag his fingers along the waist of her jeans.  Tickling at her belly button, he traces a path to the snap on her jeans.

Feeling her pupils dilate as another rush of wet releases between her legs she turns her face to his.  “What are you doing?   We can’t…” Her words come out as a rush of air, no real sound to them but the fire returned in his eyes lets her know she heard him.

“Look around, no one’s paying attention.  I can finger fuck you right here and no one would know.”

The sea of dancers swells around them and they are hidden in plain sight.  She can’t even see the group of Stacey’s friends and she doesn’t recognize a single face.  The ache in her body is intense.  Looking down she can see her nipples are hard, obviously peaking under the silk shirt, teased from the lace bra brushing against them.  “Aw fuck, Chris.  We can’t…”

Changing dance positions his other arm comes up over her shoulder and snakes over her breasts, pinching one of her peaks. “Fuck you,” she whispers.  “I already ache.”

“Let me make it better,” he offers quietly in return.

She leans back into his body, his cock throbbing and rubbing her ass.  If unclothed, he’d fit right into her.  No wonder he finds her heeled boots so damn sexy, she thinks.  We’re the perfect height.

“Niña, don’t think.”  His hands dip lower into her pants, the fabric relaxing and pulling away, allowing him access.  “You know if you want me to stop, you just have to tell me.  You’re so wet, I’m not even to your sweet pussy yet and I can feel your juices on my hand, our dance moves shifting your clothes, teasing you, spreading the wet.  The lace is soaked, baby girl.  So damn sexy.”

The dancers move and swirl around them, new pairings dividing off and others joining in.  Chris is her constant, pulling her to the edge with just his hands and his voice.  Her heart pounds in her chest.  Her head drops back against his shoulder and he bites her neck as he dips into her well, stroking the lace through her lips.  “Shit,” she moans.  Other party-goers jostle against them and his arm is bumped causing him to push deeper.  Not expecting the force, her ass pushes back against him and a gasp escapes her lips.  He keeps up the pretense of their dance as she melts in his arms.

Pulsating to the beat, Chris holds her tight and fucks her well.  “Thalia? Do you want me to stop?”  With a barely noticeable turn of her head, she breathes heavily against his skin.  “No.  No. I need this.  I need you.”

His hands are magic and she can’t say no.  His long fingers quickly make work of her as he whispers in her ear, encouraging her to let go, to relax.  “Come, come all over my hand and I’ll know it the whole drive home.”  His breath is hot and damp, and the smell of beer as he puffs against her skin seems to add to her own intoxication.  The music builds to a crescendo as she comes at his request, spilling over him and the dew seeping down her pants leg.

Removing his hand slowly, he wipes himself clean on the inside of her jeans, tugging her shirt back into place.  Keeping up their pretense of a dance, Chris holds her tightly so her limp form doesn’t collapse.  “Beautiful, so fucking beautiful.  Your mind, your body, your spirit, Thalia.”

Coming back to earth she can see Stacey’s blonde head bobbing up and down over the top of the other dancers, searching for her. Chris spins her quickly, her back to her mother and claims her with a kiss. “Let me take you home,” he begs.

Tucking her hair back she tries to clear her mind.  “No. We said ‘no Valentine’s Day’. This is pure coincidence; you got lucky I was here.  I’m staying with her at the hotel and I’ll see you at lunch tomorrow.”  She pushes away from his massive chest, ignoring the pounding pain in her head.  “I gotta go.”

“Been a long time since I had a girl run off ‘cause her mother was looking for her,” he teases.

Thalia tugs at his shirt collar, catching a glimpse of his tattoo, one of her favorite quotes.  “Cradle robber,” she jokes, trying to make light of the situation.  What kind of magic spell did he just weave?  Bastard.

Yanking her close for a moment longer, he shakes his head in total disagreement.  “You’re all woman, and you’re mine.”

“Just remember, that makes YOU MINE too, so don’t you be flirting with any of these desperate old hags”

Fleetingly, he touches his fingertips to her lips and she smells the proof of her ownership. Pivoting on her heels to walk away, he smacks her on the ass.

When she reaches her table and gathers her coat, she looks around for him and realizes he’s gone.

#

The women decide it’s only three blocks back to the hotel so the walk in the cold would be easier than finding a cab.  Thalia mentions Uber and most of them look at her like she’s speaking an alien tongue, so she just falls back in the group.

The air is cold against her wet jeans and she fears the smell will be detected in the winter breeze. “Jesus fuckin’ Christ,” she whispers aloud, rubbing her knuckle across her lips like she does when deep in thought.

Stacey steps in next to her and links arms.  “I’m sorry I couldn’t get out of my meetings today.  I can’t wait to see your new tattoo.  Glad you decided to go ahead and do it, for Amy’s memory.“  The blonde side steps some broken glass on the sidewalk.  “That was a fun night, baby girl!  I always wanna go out like that, but your father wants to sit at home.  I’m glad you came with us!”  She takes the end of Thalia’s pink scarf and wraps it tighter around her neck.  Thalia blanches at the use of her family’s nickname for her, having been so long since she’d actually heard family use it.  She palms her hand over her mouth and her stomach twists.

Baby girl.  Aw, fuck.  What have I done?  Stacey continues to prattle on, but Thalia hears none of it.  All she can think about is how she’s broken her own rule. Where did all her determination go?  She was the one who didn’t want either of them as part of her day, just to be fair to them both. She had wanted to prove to herself she could have fun without them. She shouldn’t have given in so easily, to Chris- letting him claim her like that, out in the open. But damn, the man is irresistible… She’s betrayed herself, dammit. And to top it all off she let him manipulate her thoughts and he fingered her in a goddamn public place where anyone could have seen them.  She feels sick about all the consequences if anyone from campus saw them.

“Hey, I lost ya.”  Stacey takes her room key out of her purse to gain access to the hotel lobby at the late hour.  “You okay?”

The women wait for the buzz of the door to let them in.  They all say their goodnights and head off in their individual directions, some staying by the warm fireplace to warm up and chat longer.

Thalia can feel the fakeness to her smile.  “Fine. Really. I think the evening just caught up to me and I’m dead on my feet.  I need some aspirin and to lie down.”

“Can do that, honey.”  Stacey replies leading them to wait with the group at the bank of elevators.  She leans in conspiratorially.  “Damn, I know you’re in love and all, but that man you were dancing with?  Hell, he was hot sex on a stick!  Yummy!”

“Stacey!”  ‘In love.’ Her stomach lurches at Stacey’s words.  Fuck.  She is.  With both of them, and her wanton public behavior tonight is such an insult to Tom and the privacy of their relationship… Jesus, what the hell am I doing?

“What? Just because I’ve been married to your father for sixteen years doesn’t mean I can’t look and appreciate the male form.  And believe me, he had a nice one.”  Stacey bumps her shoulder and giggles.

Girl stuff.  Thalia was never good at that.  Pulling herself together, she focuses on the now with her stepmother.   She giggles too and plays along.  “Yes, he did.  Solid too.”

“A man built like that?  He’s just right for a girl like you.  He could throw you around like a ragdoll,” Stacey smiles, her eyes bright from her slight inebriation.

“Oh my God.  Hello?  Boundaries.  You’re still my mother, ya know.”  Thalia laughs for real and shakes her head at the absurdity.  She wonders if Stacey will remember this conversation in the morning as she kicks off her heels in the elevator car.

“You need a man,” Stacey warrants, bending over to rub the ball of her foot.  “If men like that in clubs drool all over you, pick one.  And hell, I’ll stop worrying about you and food and your weight.  I’ve never had a man look at me like that before, honey.  Like he couldn’t wait to see you under all those clothes…” Other women from the club chime in their hummed agreement. The blonde tumbles a bit when the elevator stops at their floor. Righting herself she finishes with her audience. “If you can get a man like that one, take him and ride him to the altar and don’t let him go.”

Echoes of “hell yeahs” reach through the doors as they close and the silence to Thalia is deafening as they are alone and quiet for the first time all night.

Her demeanor changes and she sighs bitterly, really hoping her stepmother doesn’t remember her anger in the morning, just her words. “Dammit, Stacey, slow down.  Thank you for finally giving me permission to eat whatever the hell I want, that’s so kind of you…  But grasp your head around this one now: marriage isn’t in my cards.  At least not for a while…  I did not spend all this time and money on an education to give it up for a man and raise his babies.  I’m not ‘riding’ anyone anywhere right now, or for a long time for that matter.”

Her headache is growing worse by the minute and she just wants to get to the room and wash the club off her, the smell of smoke out of her hair.  She’s angry and she knows exactly why and Stacey just happened to say the wrong thing at the wrong time.

“Girl, you’re all grown up,” Stacey says as she slides the plastic card into the lock.  “You don’t need me to tell you what to do.  And I’m so proud of all the things you do… I just don’t want you to be lonely.  Find a good man, not a boy, and know the difference.  Someone who lets you be you and makes you want to be… well, more.

Stepping into the room, Stacey moves to her bed and flops down face first kicking her feet up in the air.  Thalia closes the door and leans against it, banging her head back and closing her eyes.  “Maybe that’s the problem.”

Pushing away from the door the quote from Chris’s tat swirls in her brain.  When you lose touch with your inner stillness you lose touch with yourself.  When you lose touch with yourself, you lose yourself in the world.

Tugging her fingers through her hair, she wonders if she even knows how to be herself without them anymore. It’s like being with them has opened a Pandora’s box, and now she doesn’t know how to close it again. All the new experiences, the self-discoveries. Even though it ties her brain into knots sometimes to deal with the secrecy and onslaught of a dozen different emotions, she wants this, needs this like air.

God, how far gone is she? Will there ever be a point that is too far?

#

When Thalia arrives to the student Commons for her meeting with Tom, she’s ten minutes late and gritting her teeth. She knows how much he values punctuality, but this morning, nothing much has gone her way, traffic was bad leaving the city, and she probably looks as frazzled as her mind is.

He’s sitting at the far corner, a little secluded, alternately fumbling with his glasses and rubbing his lips. Surreptitiously straightening her clothes and hair and wondering for the umpteenth time what he wants to talk about, Thalia walks over.

Her heart gives a guilty little lurch when she sees that he’s ordered her favorite morning treat – coffee and a blueberry bagel with cream cheese.

He looks up and his jaw tightens as he’s watching her approach.

Shit. She’s not sure she can handle a pissed-off Tom this morning, with the mix of emotions churning away in her gut and the almost sleepless night making her grumpy.

“Professor Hiddleston.”

She stops in front of the table, wondering what to say. He taps his watch and lifts an eyebrow, giving her that stern look that’s infuriating and sexy at the same time.

“You’re uncharacteristically late, Ms. Bareo.”

Ugh. No use making excuses. “I’m sorry. It won’t happen again, sir.”

His expression softens ever so slightly at the last word and he motions for her to have a seat.

Thalia tosses her bag in an empty seat and sits down, crossing her legs. Tom is wearing one of his hundred nearly identical sweaters today, and the soft burgundy fabric stretches invitingly over his muscles as he folds his arms.

With a swallow, Thalia shifts in her seat. She needs coffee to survive this.

To keep up the pretense, Tom goes through a few project-related things first while they work their way slowly through their breakfast. She keeps having flashbacks of Chris pressed against her on the dance floor, and of the conversation she had with her stepmother.

Why did this have to happen to her? All those years without a real man to catch her attention, and now she has two who couldn’t be more different but mean the world to her.

“Ms. Bareo?”

With a start, she realizes Tom has been waiting for an answer from her. Blushing, she takes a last fortifying sip of coffee.

“I’m sorry,” she apologizes again.

He looks at her with narrowed eyes, but all of a sudden, his glare gives way to concern. Leaning forward, he lowers his tone. “Are you alright, darling? You look a bit out of it, to be frank.”

There it is again, the caring, kind side to him that not many people get to see, although he’s always politeness personified. She nods. “Yeah, I’m okay. Just a bit of a rough night.”

“I hope your stepmother didn’t give you any trouble?”

“No, nothing like that. She and her friends dragged me into a club and we got in late. So I’m a bit hung over, to be honest.  I feel as if I’m over forty and they’re the party-hungry teenagers or something.  They were all laughing and ready to go this morning like it was nothing!”

Tom laughs his characteristic ehehe, but sobers up quickly. Now that the somewhat stern look is gone, she can see that he seems nervous beneath his mask. He keeps adjusting his glasses and pushing the rest of his food around on his plate.

Changing the subject, he asks, “Did you and your stepmother get your tattoos?”

Thalia caresses over the tender spot on her breast carefully. “Yea, I did.  Hurts like hell too.  But when the redness goes away, it’ll be beautiful.  Stacey claimed she couldn’t get out of her meetings, but I think she punked out at the last minute.”

Tom smiles warmly, but his fidgeting hands bely his usual confidence.

Why is he nervous when she’s the one who should be feeling like that? It only makes her even more anxious.

“Didn’t you want to talk to me about something?” she offers quietly, hoping to alleviate his anxiety.

He swallows hard and starts playing with his empty teacup, long fingers handling the delicate porcelain with utmost care. God, what those fingers can do. They’re just as lethal when they’re gentle as when they grab her hard enough to leave bruises. She wonders, if given the chance, would he have done the same at the club – driven her crazy with his nimble fingers, leave her panting and wanting more?

Probably so, and his words would have been filthier.

And she’d have loved every goddamn minute of it too.

Who the hell am I becoming?

She closes her eyes briefly and forces herself to focus.

When he speaks, his words are so low she has to lean forward to hear him.

“Would you be my sort-of date at the Alumni Gala next month?”

The napkin she’s been twisting slides from her fingers to the table.

“What?”

Tom runs a hand back through his hair. “Bloody hell, that came out all wrong. I’m sorry.”

He takes a breath and continues in a surer tone. “You know that my project is going to be honored, and I want you there by my side because you’ve played such an important role in it. Without your research, this wouldn’t have been possible.”

His blue eyes seek out hers, everything about his expression earnest and appealing. She can feel her pulse racing at the thought of accompanying him to the gala. He’ll probably wear a three-piece suit or tux and look way too handsome. But…

“Won’t I stick out like a sore thumb?” she questions, worrying her lip. “All the staff and dignitaries and VIP guests, and then plain, old, plump me.”

He narrows his eyes again, reaching out to her but stopping himself at the last moment and taking a gulp from his water glass instead.

“Nonsense, Thalia. It won’t be the first time in history that a grad student has attended the gala for some very valid reason.”  Looking around the Commons, it’s still rather quiet the morning after the holiday, and she sees now she isn’t the only dragging, hung over person on campus.

His voice drops and her gaze is drawn to his lovely angled face again. “Darling, there’s no way you could ever be ‘plain.’  You’re such a beautiful, charming creature.  Everyone will fall at your feet and want to listen to your musical voice.”

Blushing, she tries to read him and understand his uncertainty.  His gaze softens. “It’s perfectly alright for me to invite you. Nobody will think twice about it…and I’m pretty sure the sight of you in a gorgeous gown will make rational thought impossible for anyone, especially me, anyway.”

A flirtatious spark darkens his eyes, and she feels her resolve melt away.

“Please accept my invitation, oh fair and gracious lady,” Tom adds with a theatrical expression that has her suppress a giggle. “Have mercy on this poor lad who doesn’t want to face the crowd alone. I haven’t got the faintest idea how Americans handle such events.”

Feeling more herself now, she raises a brow at him. “So, you only want me there to save yourself the embarrassment of putting your foot in your British mouth?” she challenges.

Something in his expression shifts from one moment to the other. It’s an art he’s mastered, and it never fails to throw her off balance.

“Oh, I have a whole list of ideas how you could keep this British mouth of mine busy,” he half-growls in a low, deep voice that sends delicious shivers down her spine.

“Tom,” she hisses, “not here.”

She’s had enough with public displays of… lust this week.

A smirk curls his thin lips before he pretends to busy himself with a bite of now cold toast.

“Seriously, though,” he goes on, sending her a pleading puppy-dog look. “I’d love to have you by my side and sing your praises, maybe even steal a few hidden touches. You don’t necessarily have to stick to my side, though I’d love that. And it will look really good for you, academically speaking, that you’ve been invited and received some recognition.”

Thalia leans back in her chair and sighs. “You’re right, of course. As usual.”

He smiles. “So you’ll be my date?”

“I’ll be your guest,” she says, stressing the last word and automatically smiling back.

“Marvelous. Don’t worry too much about it, you’ll fit right in.”

“I doubt that,” she mutters more to herself than to him. Her eyes widen when she realizes something. “Oh my god, I don’t have anything to wear! What sort of gown do you think is expected?”

Tom runs an appreciative gaze over what little of her body is visible, and she feels it like a caress that warms her from the inside.

“I’m sure there are photos or something from previous events to get an idea. Just pick whatever catches your eye, you’re going to look more stunning than all the women there put together, no matter what you wear.”

Blushing furiously, she wants to say something, but Tom holds up a finger.

“And by the way, I’m paying for the dress. No, don’t even think of protesting. You’re doing me a huge favor and honor by accompanying me, and a gown for a gala dinner isn’t going to cost a couple of bucks. I insist.”

“But, but…” she splutters, only to be cut off again when he adds in a low, warning tone, “Are you going to be a good girl and do as I say, or do I need to pick out a dress for you myself?”

Well hell, that doesn’t leave her with much of a choice.

“Damn you, Professor, you aren’t playing fair,” she complains, crossing her arms.

“Stop pouting like this or I’ll have to drag you into the next best room and kiss the pout right off your lips.”

The sexy threat makes her breath hitch.

Damn, he knows just how to push her buttons.

“Yes, sir.”

The look in Tom’s eyes is full of promises.

“Glad we’ve got that settled then.  Choose something to show off your lovely legs.” He gestures to the meal. “Any more coffee or tea?”

Thalia huffs and shakes her head. Ever the gentleman, Tom rises when she does. He bends to retrieve his leather briefcase and uses the move to whisper into her ear.

“I can’t wait to see you bedazzle the crowd, my precious orchid. You’re going to make all the other wallflowers wither away.”

Click here for Chapter 25 Step Up

Copyright © 2017  avenger-nerd-mom.  All rights reserved. Intellectual property of avenger-nerd-mom and devikafernando

Disclosure

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Disclosure

Chapter 20

Educating Thalia

Collaboration by @avenger-nerd-mom & @devikafernando

AU FICTION

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: 3263

Warnings:  Language, Adult Situations, angst, difficult real life discussions

Summary: Tom and Thalia sit down for a serious talk.

A special thanks to @deathbyukmen and @itsliterallythis for their advice and input on this chapter

Click here for intro to Educating Thalia

Enjoying light chatter over their coffee and chocolate cake, Tom feels Thalia holding back.  This late at night, the shop is nearly deserted.  Being far from campus, he reaches his hand across the table to her, moving his chair closer.  “Thalia, darling, you’re awfully quiet.  What’s on your mind?”

Turning his hand over in hers, she runs her fingertips over the ridges mapped across his palm.  “Ever wish sometimes you could see the future?  Know what was going to happen, Tom?”

He trembles at her touch, delighting in the sweet sensuality of it, but sits quietly, sensing she needs to gather her thoughts as she builds to whatever it is she wants to say.  She sighs and lays her palm against his, looking to him with her wide innocent eyes.  “Do you see a future in us together here, Tom?  I mean, what are we doing?”

His heart plummets to his stomach because he knows he doesn’t really have an answer for her.  Not a good one.  Not one that won’t hurt them both.

Reading her expression, he knows when she figures it out.

“It’s so complicated, Thalia.  I just-”  he huffs, pulling his hand back from hers and grasping it tightly, moving his leg to brush against hers; to connect.  “I just don’t know, and I don’t think there’s an easy answer.”

Giving his hand a squeeze, she removes hers from his grasp and leans back against the chair. Defensively, she crosses her arms over her chest, her glorious tits resting across the line she creates.  “Does it change anything since I’m just auditing your class this semester?  It’s not graded?  Can we be seen together now?”

Removing his glasses and resting them on the table, Tom roughly pushes across his forehead, having to face all the questions he’s asked himself over and over again late at night.  “Darling, I want nothing more than to hold your hand and walk across the Commons together, or grab lunch with you at one of the pubs right off campus.  You deserve that much, but you know we can’t. You still work for me.”

He watches as she runs her tongue across her teeth in thought.  Nodding, she offers,“So what if I quit?”

He chuckles.  “Then you really would need someone to take care of you and your finances, and you’ve made it painfully clear that’s not what you want.”

She makes a low growl in the back of her throat. “You don’t get it, do you?”  She rubs under her chin in frustration.  “It’s not that.  I mean, yes, I want my independence, but caring for someone is a give and take.  Tom, you give a lot, but you don’t let me care for you.  That bothers me.  This?”  She gestures her hand back and forth between them.  “This is the most we’ve communicated in weeks about us, and not about work or exhibits or whatever fucking piece of knowledge we’re trying to show off for each other.”  Her smile softens her words, but Tom still feels the punch.

She’s right.  Their time together is often a show, a game; part of her ‘education.’  Tom loves the dominance of it all, the ceremony, of enlightening her and watching her bend to his will as it becomes hers as well.  Like tonight in the theater.  ‘Fucking menace’ rings in his ears and he loves the throaty sound of her voice when it replays in his mind.  He made her want what he wanted, but not with malice. He’d never force her to do anything he didn’t think she’d like.  If she doesn’t want it, she knows the safe word…

“Are you listening, or are you in your own thoughts now?” she asks sharply.

Moving his leg against hers, he brings himself back to the conversation.  “Thalia, I’m just trying to think of the right response, to be honest.  The one that will make you stay; the one that won’t make you want to walk out of my life.  And I don’t know if there is one. What’s this all about, darling?  Does this have anything to do with talking to your friend today?”

Thalia’s eyes dart away and she bites her lip.  He can see her pulse rising as the blood rushes through the veins in her neck.  He worries about her response, sensing her physical discomfort.  He leans forward and rests his hand on her knee.  “Thalia, what’s wrong?  Tell me.”

“Shit,” she hisses out under her breath.  “Tom, it was… someone I knew, a friend, but… it was kind of a date.  It… It just kind of happened, and… and it wasn’t anything I planned and-” she stammers over her words.  “I feel bad you didn’t know ahead of time.  I wasn’t-”

Fuck.  He wasn’t expecting that.  He can’t deny the kick to his gut.  But her pained expression hurts him even more.  “Thalia, Thalia, stop. Stop.”  His fingers brush lightly over her thigh.  “It’s fine; it’s fine.  We said- ok, I said- we should see people to take suspicion off us.  I don’t need to know the details, as much as it pains me. We’re both adults, things happen.”  His stomach turns and he wants nothing more than to beat against his chest and claim ‘mine’ at the top of his lungs.  Possibly even throw her over his shoulder and run away with her, but that’s his foolish heart.  He has to think clearly from his head right now.

“I just didn’t want you to think it was planned out; or I was keeping anything from you.  It’s not something I would normally do, Tom.”  Low and quiet, her voice is full of sorrow and remorse. “It just… happened.”

“Hell, Thalia, it’s not like I planned on seducing you in the library months ago either,” he chuckles, trying to soothe her.  “It just happened.”  He smiles, repeating her words. “There is no easy way to render our situation.  Neither of us are at a point in our lives to make long term decisions, other than you following your career path.  It’s important to me that your reach your goals; I’m not here to sidetrack you.”  He gives her knee a gentle squeeze.  “I’m content where I am now with my work and happiest with you.”  He leans back and thoughtfully runs his hand over his scruff, trying to mask his turned down frown.  “But if you want to leave; if I’m not what you need, now is the time to do it… before any other investments are made, and either of us wind up broken.”

The tears shimmering in her eyes shatter him as he holds back his own.

She hits her leg against his, sliding it along his thigh. “Tom, that’s not what I want; I’m not looking to get out, but it’s all just so consuming.  You can be really intense.”

Wiping away her tears, her voice is raw with emotion.  “I sometimes feel like I forget how to be me.  I mean, I am ‘me’ when I’m with you, but it’s like a different version. The ‘learning me’ that wants to know everything you know, that wants you to show me.  Let’s be real- the “me” that wants you to make my sassy ass submit to you.”  She giggles, and the heave in her breasts as she pauses for a moment, possibly as her own thoughts of their times together pass through her mind, causes a tightening in his pants. Sighing deeply, she taps her fingers on the table top.  “But sometimes I just need to sit on my ass at home on my couch in my baggy sweatpants, you know what I mean?  I’ve been on the go too much lately, many times at your beck and call.”

Pulling down on his pants leg, he shifts in his seat.  “I’ll give you whatever you want, darling. I’ll try not to be so possessive of you, you are your own person, free to make your own choices.  I want to control you, yes, but not like that.  You understand that, don’t you?”

Actually with their arguments lately about her work and money, he doubted she did, although she gently nods her head. He’d pushed her away when he only wanted to hold her close, possibly driving her right into the arms of another man.  Damn his foolishness, but he knows he doesn’t really have the right to claim her.

“Thalia, if you’re asking me for a commitment, that’s something we don’t have the luxury of attaining right now.”  Her deep brown eyes look back to his, searching his face.  “You work for me; for my department.  You are a student. I can’t ask you to take risks like that with your academic career.  I care about you too much to let this be something to destroy your future, all you’ve worked for.”  Looking at his watch, he doesn’t want the night to end, but knows she needs to get home.  “Do we have to make any rash decisions tonight, darling?”

Thalia giggles as she stands up from her chair.  She sweetly pushes back the curl falling across his forehead and gives his hair a little tug.  “Do I have to make any decisions?”

Rising next to her, he places his arms around her waist and holds her close.  “So far it seems to work well when you let me make them?”

She playfully hits his chest.  “Isn’t that what this whole discussion was about?  My need for some independence?”

“I thought it was about making some sort of commitment?” He raises a questioning brow at her.

“Dammit.  It was that too.  You’re right.  It’s all just too complicated- but, sir, that doesn’t mean you get to make all the decisions.” She defiantly shakes her head once, making her curls bounce.

“Duly noted, Miss Bareo.”  His laughter echoes into the night, as he walks her back to her car in the newly fallen snow.

“You’re not mad?”  She clasps his face in her hands as she did earlier, tracing his prominent cheekbones and then his jawline lightly with her fingertips – and as soft as her touch is, it has a possessive feel to it and he allows the gesture to burn itself into his mind.

Placing his hands over hers, he wants to pause the moment in time.  The innocent expression on her face; the flakes of snow momentarily sticking in her hair.  She’s going to break his heart.  It has to be that way, because he knows he couldn’t live with himself if he broke hers.

“No, Thalia, dear, how can I be mad when you did what I said to do- I said ‘date’ and you did?”  He releases her hands, nodding as she pulls a pair of bright blue gloves from her pockets and slides them on.  “You’ve been upfront with me, and that’s honestly more than I could have asked for.  Just please tell me it’s not that prat from our class?

“Oh, God, no.”  Tom leans in to start her car and turn on the heat while the two share a laugh about the frat boy and his ridiculous comments on the works of Shakespeare, stomping their feet in the cold to stay warm.

“Darling, are you sure you won’t go with me tonight?  I don’t want to push you…”

She places her gloved hand tenderly against his chest.  “Sometimes I like it when you push me,” she teases, cocking her eyebrow.  “But I really do need to finish some studies up, and my application for Paris is due at the end of the week.”

“Say no more.  I understand that there are more important matters tonight.  Will I see you tomorrow?”  Tom can’t keep the hope out of his voice, and the look in her eyes is full of understanding, which only makes him feel worse.

“Of course, and our date is Tuesday?”  She pulls the collar of his coat up, tighter around his neck.

“I already have reservations made.  Think of it as preparation for France!”  He winks, waiting to see her response.

“French food?  Please don’t make me eat snails,”  Thalia says, eyeing him warily.  “And don’t be so cocky.  If I don’t get that internship, I’ll want to drown myself in buckets of ice cream.”

“I promise.  No snails.”  Tom crosses his fingers over his heart. “And if that happens, we can eat all the ice cream you want, darling.” Mirroring her earlier gesture, he cups her chubby-cheeked face and leans in for a kiss that is gentle yet firm at the same time. He makes it last as long as he can, wishing he didn’t have to let go. “Good night, Thalia.”

“Good night, Tom.” The smile she gives him seems to come straight from her heart, but there’s a wistful, almost sad edge to it that makes his heart clench.  He hates feeling like he can’t be all she needs, but she’s young and still needs to spread her wings.

Closing the door for her, he waves a little goodbye and strides away quickly, willing himself not to look back as her car drives away.

#

Chris has an extra bounce in his step as he heads to his office.  With the displays needing to be readied for the local historian group, the head of the history department agreed a part-time assistant seemed like a logical plan for completing the work on time.  His meeting in the office of student affairs also went well, and they approved his request for an assistant if the student was interested in the work.

Passing by the workroom, he hears her laughter and it fills him with joy.  He slows down, stopping at the doorway.  She’s with him and they are chatting over cooling mugs.  Probably hot tea.  Who drinks that shit anyway?  Time to rescue the damsel from the boring Brit.

“Ah, Miss Bareo!  Just the student I was looking for,” he announces as he steps into the room, throwing his leather satchel on the nearest table.

She jumps on her feet and Hiddleston returns his usual scowl.

Timidly, a blush rising on her freckled cheeks, she responds.  “Professor Evans?  You were looking for me?”

Reaching into the staff fridge, he procures a carton of yogurt and tosses money in the cup on the counter.  “I’ve just been down to the office of student affairs, needing short term assistance on the project for the local historical chapter and they recommended you, if you have the time available?”

Her eyes grow huge and Hiddleston turns to look at her, obviously flustered.

Chris winks at her behind the other man’s back and smiles, adopting a more casual demeanor as he sits at the table, propping his feet up on the chair across from him.  “Oh, hey, I forgot a spoon.  Can you hand me one?”

“Evans, for heaven’s sake, an assistant isn’t a slave. And you look like a barbarian in a public place with your feet propped up like that. I’m certain Ms. Bareo already has her hands full with-”

His British demeanor gets on Chris’s nerves, but it’s equally fun because he knows he crawls under the lanky man’s skin as well.  So he’ll drag this out just for fun.  Class doesn’t start for another ninety minutes.  He’s got nothing better to do.

Clearing her throat, both men look at her as she steps forward and hands Professor Evans a spoon. Chris notices she’s closer to the door for an exit.  She needn’t worry.  He has no plans to spill their little secret, for fear of getting her expelled or himself fired.

With a bit more confidence in her voice, she addresses the gentleman standing at the counter.  “Professor Hiddleston, I appreciate your concern, but if a student is recommended by the office, the pay is more per hour.  That extra pay helps my expenditures that aren’t covered by the university when I go on expeditions.  You know, sir, I’m fully capable of taking directions to complete a task in a timely fashion.”  She pauses thoughtfully, gathering some papers from the table.  “It would also allow me to cut back some hours at the bar.”  She says quietly, turning and  smiling warily to Professor Evans.  ”How many hours a week do you need help?”

“Six, maybe eight.  I really don’t think it will be more than that.  There’s not a lot of work, really, but I’m busy editing my next book.  I just need help until the exhibit is ready, after the Alumni Gala in late-March.”  He licks the spoon wickedly, hoping to see a rise from her as Hiddleston turns back to the counter to rinse out his mug.  Chris bites back his laughter when she runs her middle finger across her perfectly arched eyebrow.  “And on days there isn’t much to do, I can always find other work.  Word has it you are great at grading freshman essays, Miss Bareo.”

Hiddleston and Thalia both groan and Chris joins in their laughter.  “The state of the American education system is appalling,” Hiddleston laments.

“Well, gentlemen, as a product of the American education system, I must get to my next class.   Wouldn’t want my brain to turn to mush so my professors can talk about me behind my back.  I’d really hate that,” she says somewhat sharply, her eyes on Chris.  “What are your office hours, Professor Evans?  I won’t be available to start till the day after next?”

Running his hand around his bicep in the sweater he was wearing the other night, he stretches back in his chair.  “Thursday? I have a commitment that morning at my daughter’s daycare, but I can be in the office by 10:00?  Will that work for you?”

“I’ll check my schedule and if it doesn’t, I’ll be in touch.  And Professor Hiddleston, please don’t forget we have the meeting with the drama department today at four to discuss the accuracy of props.  And then you said something about a study of French culture this evening, is that right?”

“Yes, Ms. Bareo.  Thank you, and thank you again for the lovely cup of tea.  You’re getting quite good at fixing it.”

She blushes and dips her head, exiting the room quickly.  Chris watches her walk away, that sweet little sway to her ass.

Snapping his fingers to break his stare, Hiddleston barks at him.  “Evans? What are you on about?  That girl does not have time for your busy work.  She’s working towards attaining some of the most prestigious honors our University offers and interviewing for internships.” Hiddleston wipes down the counter and hangs the towel to dry, “as well as putting the final touches on our research for publication.  If I find out you have her grading freshman essays, I’ll lodge a complaint to the Dean.”

“Cool it.” Rising from his seat, he cleans his trash.  “I know she’s an intelligent woman.  She’s been in my class and I’m familiar with her work.  The exhibit is important for us to receive more funding for an archeological dig in Honduras that might interest her.  I’m trying to aid a student who deserves it.”

“She doesn’t need your kind of aid,” Tom comments vehemently. “I may be fairly new around here, but I’ve heard the stories about you and the help you give your female students.”

Placing his bag over his shoulder and across his chest, Chris replies, “Man, you’re a real prick.  I’m not even gonna defend that with a response.”  Placing his spoon in the sink, he exits the room without another word.

Click to Chapter 21 Bliss

Copyright © 2017  avenger-nerd-mom.  All rights reserved. Intellectual property of avenger-nerd-mom and devikafernando

Changes

ET ch 18 may 3 2017.jpg

Educating Thalia

Chapter 18

Collaboration by @avenger-nerd-mom & @devikafernando

AU FICTION

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: 2173

Warnings:  Language, Adult Situations, fluffy, angst, parenting, aftermath of divorce

Summary: Chris deals with the demons from his past and puts his foot down. It’s time to make some changes and move forward.

Click here to the introduction of Educating Thalia

Sitting in the driveway, he waits to see if she’ll answer the text.  He meant it when he typed if she didn’t answer by three pm, he’d knock on the front door.  She still has about twelve minutes to respond.

Leaning his head back, he admires the small craftsman cottage in the peaceful neighborhood. The dream house.  Thinking over bittersweet memories, he remembers painstakingly putting in the rose bushes and placing the pavers just so to create the winding walkway.  Looking at his lightly calloused hands he realizes he’s forgotten how much he enjoyed ‘doing things’ with his hands.  Creating something to last.

The door opens and she walks out in a tight jeans and a sweater shawl wrap.  Rolling the window down, he simply says.  “You look good.”

She freezes, obviously stunned by his compliment, before approaching the car tentatively.  Chris reaches over and turns down the radio, noticing the monitor in her hands.  “Wanna sit in here with me where it’s warm?” he offers.

“Chris, you can’t just come by unannounced,” she responds pulling the shawl tighter and looking around to see if anyone is watching.

“Maura, you didn’t answer my phone calls and texts.  She’s my daughter.  I get to see her.”  He grips the steering wheel keeping his temper under control.

“You smell like a bar,” she replies.  “Stale cigarette smoke,” she sniffs.

“Yea. Because I was pissed as hell you didn’t let me get Avery last night.  I’ll admit, I got a little drunk. Stayed with a friend.  Totally sober now… What was the excuse this time?” he asks bitterly.

His ex-wife kicks at the tire of the car.  “Avery had a birthday party at Susie’s house; they were swimming and it would have been bed time after so-”

“So?  I could have taken her there and brought her back to my house.  We’ve been to Mark and Patty’s house a million times.  And a birthday party, Maura?  You’d have had that on the calendar for weeks. You couldn’t give me a heads up, and we could have changed dates?”  He turns off the ignition and gets out of the car.

“What are you doing?” she asks, stepping back.

“Don’t act that way, like I’d hurt you, in case the neighbors are watching.  I’m not playing games.  I’m going inside to see my daughter.”  Chris pushes past her and follows the winding path up the snow covered steps.  He waits for her at the door.  “May I enter my house?”

She runs her hand through her short blonde hair and sighs.  “Of course.”  She tilts her head.  “Do you want to take her tonight?  Can you get her to preschool before eleven tomorrow?”

His heart beats wildly.  Not expecting a sudden show of kindness, he simply nods his head and blinks back his tears.

“Don’t try to trick me with your beautiful lashes there, Professor,” she says as she steps into his space and pushes up his glasses to wipe away a tear clinging to the long black hairs.  He holds her wrist and gently pushes it away.

“You don’t get to console me anymore, Maura.  I’ll find someone else for that…”  The image of just the right person for that flits across his mind, tanned skin and curves, challenging brain and sweetest laugh…  Crossing over the threshold the smell of fresh paint assaults his nose and he cringes.  “You never liked the beige color, did you?” he scoffs.

Shaking her head, she laughs quietly.  “No, I didn’t; the dining room is now the buttercup yellow I always wanted.” Hanging her sweater up, Maura points to the stairs.  “She’s in her room, probably just waking up from her nap.  Just throw some clothes in her back pack; whatever you’ll need for your place.”

She tries to push her body to him again but he ignores her advance and takes the stairs two at a time to reach his little Avery faster.  Quietly entering her room, he watches her sitting in her big girl bed whispering to her dolls and their dog, Tramp.  Her jumbled words don’t make sense to him and again the tears fill his eyes and he sniffs.  Turning around at the sound, she bounces gleefully and claps her hands.  “Oh, Poppa!  Is ‘at really you, or am I dreamin’?”

Chris rushes to her bedside and drops to his knees, wrapping his big strong arms around his favorite little package.  “No, Bug, it’s real.  Poppa’s here.  Momma says you can come stay with me tonight.  Would you like that?”

“Oh yes! Yes, please!” she covers his face with tiny kisses and his face stings from the salty tears of happiness.  “Don’t cry, Poppa, you’ll get my fav’rite shirt wet.”

Maura’s voice sounds from the door.  “She wears it all the time.  Refuses to take it off, Poppa.  You’re gonna have to buy more just so she has one to wear when I have to wash the other.”

Chris looks over his shoulder and smiles to his ex, while she starts gathering a few things to put in an overnight bag.  Pulling back from his little one, he looks at her shirt and laughs as he reads, ‘Daddy’s Favorite Girl” on the front with a kitten wearing a crown.  “I can do that, no problem, Bug.”  She jumps off the bed and lands in his outstretched arms and the dog hops down too, barking and wagging his tail.  “Poppa, Tramp misses you too. Can he come?”

The battle over keeping Tramp had been almost as tiring as deciding the best residency for Avery.  And neither are still fully worked out.  Tramp was their first child, the stray they adopted shortly after they bought the house, long before they even thought of having children.  Chris looks to the pretty blonde hopefully, but the words choke in his throat.

“Fine, you can take the dog too.  He actually goes to the groomer tomorrow.  Can you get him there by noon?”  she smiles.

“I’ll just be your taxi service tomorrow, getting everyone where they need to be,” Chris replies, standing up with Avery still in his arms.  Balancing her on his hip, he reaches down for her favorite doll and blanket, making sure those are along for the evening as well.  Eyeing a sparkly dress in her closet he tells Maura to pack that also.  “I’m taking my girl out for dinner.  We’re gonna dress up fancy.  What do you say to that, Bug?”

“Oh, Poppa!  You’ll be so handsome; I wike it!”  The little girl giggles and blows a raspberry against her father’s cheek, giggling louder when his beard tickles her lips.

Maura leads the way out to the hall, the overnight bag in one hand, and another bag in the other.  “Here’s some more clothes and things I’d already packed for you to keep at your place.  She needs to feel comfortable there too, Chris.”

Chris rolls his eyes.  “She does Maura; she’d even feel more that way if you’d let her stay over on a regular basis, like the court papers say.”

She purses her lips together.  “We go back to the mediator early next month.  Maybe we can get it all figured out by then.  It’s just I worry that-”

Setting her down to the ground, Chris leans down to tell Avery, “Hey, run on downstairs and get some cans of food for Tramp, his leash and put your boots on.  I need to talk to Momma for a few minutes.”

The little girl looks expectantly at her mother, who shakes her head in agreement and the little girl and dog slowly take off down the stairs, grasping the rail tightly in her tiny hands.  As soon as she’s out of earshot, Chris hisses to his ex, “You worry what? I’ll have a string of women in my condo?  Maura, you know that’s not true.  I know why you didn’t want me going to the party for Susie’s birthday yesterday.  You didn’t want me to fuckin’ kill Mark or spill your little secret to Patty- “ The angered man ignores the shock on her face.  “Yeah, I know about that affair too, not just the trainer at the gym… And you forget I work with your friend Brianna, and I know you’ve had three other ‘boyfriends’ since the divorce was final.  You fucked up our marriage.  And instead of respecting me enough to ask out, you decided to screw it into the ground.  One date, Maura.  I’ve had one date in nearly eighteen months as I watched my marriage fall apart and I try to rebuild my life.”

“Chris, I-”

Moving down the stairs, he looks over her shoulder at her stricken face.  “No.  I’m not playing games anymore.  I pay the child support, I pay what you need, but I’m not gonna sit back and let you keep me from Avery.  Or the dog, for that matter.”

“I still love you.”  Her pink lips form a pout he once found beguiling but now it just turns his stomach.

“Well you had a fucked up way of showing it, then didn’t you?” he spits out.  His face red with anger, his hands ball into fists at his sides as she descends the stairs and reaches out to him.  He steps back.  “Stay away, Maura.  Your cute little body can’t fix this.  Share it with someone else.”

The little blonde curls bounce around the corner with three cans of food for Tramp in her hands and he hides away his anger as quickly as it grew.  Opening the coat closet, he pulls down Avery’s puffy purple and blue coat and her warm fuzzy hat while she plops on the floor at his feet to pull on her boots.  Spying an empty store bag, he takes shoes for school the next day and her silver sequined shoes to go with her dress for dinner.  “Avery!  Did you steal these from Cinderella?”

She giggles. “No, silly Poppa!  They went with my dress for Christmas.  Momma got them for me.  It’s not nice to take things that aren’t yours.”

“Hear that Maura.  Even the five year old gets it…”  He zips up the toddler’s coat, seeing the blush of embarrassment rush over his adulterous ex-wife’s face.

Standing back up, he tugs his coat back into place.  “Are my boxes still out in the garage?” he asks.  She nods.  “I’ll get a moving truck later this week.  Be back to get them.  Sorry it’s taken so long.  But I think this little show, and something a friend recently said to me, makes me realize it’s time to move on, but keep doing the right thing.  Can I go out there? There’s one or two things I want now.”

“Sure.  You know the code.  I haven’t changed it.  Just come get the stuff whenever.”  She sighs, wrapping the sweater shawl around her shoulders again.  “Maybe when you come get Avery Wednesday night, like every week?  I’ll move her to a different dance class.”

“Yes, you do that.  Wednesdays are mine until we meet with the mediator,” he nods.  He knows he’ll get more time then, and things will be better balanced.

“I’ll get her in her car seat while you’re in the garage.”  She takes the little girl by the hand and the faithful dog follows them out into the cold.

Chris quickly finds the boxes he wants and takes them to the car.  Making sure Avery and Tramp are settled in, he walks back around to Maura.  “I want us to be friends.  For her sake.  And because I’ve loved you longer than I’ve hated you.  That hate doesn’t do me any good.  It just makes me old and bitter before my time.  You destroyed me once.  If you ever really loved me, stop all this.  Focus on her first.  But I’m a good dad, and you know it.”

He hugs her lightly and gets in the warm car, backing out of the drive and away from his old life, finally ready to make some changes.

#

A few hours later, as the sun begins to set, he’s on his way to dinner with Avery.  He’s promised to take her to their favorite Italian restaurant, dressed to the nines, but he can’t help himself.  Driving several miles out of the way, he drives down Thalia’s street, absently smiling to himself.   Avery is singing along to the CD he plays and he watches Tina shuffle down the street, a bag in her hand.  He slows when the door to her building opens and by pure coincidence, the latina beauty steps out in her signature skirt and cowboy boots, her hair a wild mess of curls, a pink scarf wrapped around her neck.  She walks to a little junker car and bounces on her heels as she unlocks the door.  Turning his head so she can’t see him, it kinda tugs at him that he’s elated to see she’s not all dressed up for what he’s pretty sure is a date with the other man.

Click to Chapter 19 Night at the Movies

Copyright © 2017  avenger-nerd-mom.  All rights reserved. Intellectual property of avenger-nerd-mom and devikafernando